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Cal Bears linebacker Elarms-Orr (MCHS ’21) hungry for tackles and experience: ‘I’m striving to be the best’

Kaleb Elarms-Orr ’21 Cal Bears 2nd in the Pac-12 in tackles
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Original Story from The Mercury News by Jeff Fauraudo | October 6, 2023 at 8:05 am

BERKELEY — Even before there was any tangible evidence suggesting it might happen, Cal inside linebacker Kaleb Elarms-Orr has always had confidence he will someday play in the NFL.

He believed it at Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward, where he was a three-star prospect at a different position, projected to play on the edge or outside linebacker.

He believed it his freshman season at Cal, even while rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered during a spring 2021 senior season at Moreau.

And he kept the faith last fall as an anonymous special teams player.

“I always believed in myself. Always believed that I was going to do good things,” Elarms-Orr said. “I knew I had tools to be somewhat good. I’ve just got to keep working hard.

“Not to be cocky or overly confident, but I’m confident in what I do. I’ve always believed I could make the NFL, it’s just a matter of time.”

He’s not there yet, but from zero tackles in 10 games as a third- or fourth-stringer a year ago, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound redshirt sophomore is No. 2 in the Pac-12, averaging 9.4 tackles through five games. He comes off a career-high 15 tackles vs. Arizona State and had 13 against Auburn several weeks back.

Elarms-Orr and the Bears (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) will get a stiff test Saturday night at Memorial Stadium against No. 15 Oregon State (4-1, 1-1), which boasts a top running back in 2022 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Damien Martinez and a veteran offensive line.

“That’s really the engine of the whole operation,” Cal defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach Peter Sirmon said the Beavers’ offensive line. “There’s no dents in the armor.”

“Their line’s good,” Elarms-Orr confirmed. “You can tell they’re very well-coached. They’re going to work hard and be fast and be physical. We’ve got to be the same as a defense.”

Elarms-Orr is most often answering the call so far in his first full season as a position player for the Bears.

“I know he’s gaining confidence because he is producing,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. “I hope, like we do, he sees he’s not close to his ceiling and if he reaches it then he could be a really good player.

“He’s still young and he’s still learning but it’s great to be learning when you’re having that much production.”

Elarms-Orr says he’s taking it game by game, trying not to focus on stats but merely doing what he can to help the Bears win. He said it’s been a huge benefit having Jackson Sirmon, a fifth-year senior and All-Pac-12 player, lining up next to him inside.

“I’m learning from my mistakes every game—what to do and what not to do,” he said.

He made one in the first quarter during Cal’s 24-21 win over ASU last week, misreading a play that allowed wide receiver Melquan Stovall to gain 34 yards after a short pass completion.

Elarms-Orr declined to lean on inexperience as an excuse. “I could have been better at handling the route — that’s not on anybody else but me. I’m going to definitely learn from that.”

“We’ve got to clean that up. I think we can. He has the ability to do these things,” said Wilcox, describing Elarms-Orr as explosive, tough, and fast.

Peter Sirmon says the dramatic improvement is the result of Elarms-Orr dedicating himself to learning the position last offseason. That involved hours watching tape to better understand what he was seeing.

“What he did in the winter and what we saw in the spring kind of catapulted him into what he’s doing now,” Sirmon said. “I’m not actually that surprised by his production. He has very, very good tools.

“As he develops, the thing he can’t rush is just getting more experience.”

Elarms-Orr concedes he’s something of a perfectionist, which can be a double-edged sword as he continues to ascend.

“I feel like I can improve everything,” he said. “I’m just very hungry. I’m striving to be the best.”