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Tyler Fredrikson Tyler Fredrickson, Cal kicker and budding Spielberg. (BAP photo)

Focusing on footage: Bears' kicker Tyler Fredrickson turns his lens on the team

– Like Adam Vinatieri, the New England Patriots placekicker whose last-second field goal clinched Sunday's Super Bowl, Cal kicker Tyler Fredrickson knows about pressure. In the Bears' Insight Bowl match against Virginia Tech on December 26, the score was tied 49-49 with only 2 seconds left in the game. Fredrickson, known to his fellow Bears as "Mr. Fourth Down," was up. It was the Bears' last game of the year, and the last of Fredrickson's Cal career. More than 42,000 screaming fans filled Phoenix's Bank One stadium.

Tyler Fredrikson
The Bears hoist Fredrickson aloft after the kick that won the Insight Bowl (photo courtesy Associated Press); Fredrickson going for a field goal against Washington (Michael Pimentel photo)
Unfazed, Fredrickson blasted a 35-yard field goal through the uprights to win the game. Wasn't his heart hammering? His mouth dry with nervousness? The 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound graduate student grins and shrugs. "The good news was, we weren't losing," he says. "When you're tied, if you make it, you're the hero; if you don't, you go into overtime."

Overtime, of course, can increase the stress exponentially: the Bears' game against the University of Southern California in September went into triple overtime, ending only when Fredrickson nailed a 38-yarder to give Cal a 34-31 victory - and the Trojans their only loss of the year.

Now that football season has ended, you'd think Fredrickson would be glad to put all that pressure behind him. Instead he's going to relive it, over and over again, as he edits more than 10 hours of digital video footage he shot this season, creating a documentary for his master's thesis on athletes and stress. After finishing his bachelor's in Film Studies in December 2002 - only three and a half years after he started UC Berkeley - Fredrickson enrolled in a one-year master's program in education, in the Athletes in Academic Achievement program, under the Language, Literacy, Society and Culture banner. His master's thesis will examine how Division I football players prepare for games. The footage shows his teammates at hotel the night before a game, at pregame meetings, at half time, and after the games.

"Instead of writing a 40-page thesis - I did plenty of papers for film studies - I wanted to make a movie about what goes on in a football program," Fredrickson explains. "The idea of this documentary was one of the ways I sold myself into the education program. I said, 'I have a unique opportunity here: I'm a film student who plays football, so I have access to a Division I football team and I'm comfortable with the players.'"

Fredrickson had no trouble getting his thesis adviser on board, and Bears' football coach Jeff Tedford was also amenable to the idea. "He said as long as you don't lose focus, it's OK with me," reports Fredrickson. To make sure he didn't miss anything during the meetings, Fredrickson would hand off his video camera, along with a shot list, to injured teammates. "It would not have been cool for me to be thinking about what great close-ups I was getting instead of listening to Coach Tedford's instructions right before the game," he laughs.

Fredrickson kept his promise, Tedford says: "He was never obtrusive with the camera. I was rarely aware that he was filming."

The as-yet-untitled documentary will have an academic focus on how student athletes handle stress, possibly assisted by narration from Fredrickson. He also wants it to be entertaining, "not drone on and on, but capture the rah-rah of the game." His footage covers the buildup of the pressure that comes from playing in front of large crowds of fans, family, and media; team dynamics; how coaching affects pregame preparation, and how players prepare mentally. "Some guys blast loud music, others scream, some talk and laugh, and some just sit there and stare into space," he says.

For his part, Fredrickson tries not to get "too pumped up" before the game.

"When I played soccer, I would run around the field to get my energy up, but as a kicker, it's all about clearing your head, not getting too excited or overwhelmed by the atmosphere," he says. Before the game, Fredrickson visualizes setting up the ball and the exact mechanics of the kick. During the game, he tries to ignore opposing fans and players who attempt to distract him. "Sometimes the fans will yell things at you that they've gotten out of the media guide, like 'Go Back to Santa Barbara!'" he says. "Luckily, we can't hear anything on the field, because you can't let emotions take hold. You have to remain focused."

Focus is not something Fredrickson has ever had trouble maintaining. After playing football when he was 8, he concentrated on soccer, basketball (his favorite sport, he says) and baseball through junior high. He started ninth grade playing just soccer for Dos Pueblos High School in Santa Barbara, then was recruited as kicker by the school's football coach. Despite stacking up honors in both sports throughout his four years of high school, he began his Bears football career as a walk-on, as a relief punter for the legendary Nick Harris. By 2001, he was the starting punter, finishing in fifth place in the Pac-10 with an average of 39.5 yards per punt.

From the beginning, Fredrickson had his eye on the "holy trinity" of kicking. "My initial goals were to get a scholarship to play football, and to do all three jobs: kickoffs, punts, and field goals," he recalls. He got the scholarship in 2001, a year after he joined the Bears, and achieved the latter this past season. Academically, he maintained a 3.44 GPA as an undergraduate, has a 4.0 as a graduate student, and earned Pac-10 All-Academic honors for three straight years.

While juggling both football and school, Fredrickson also was pursuing his childhood dream of working in film. During his sophomore year, he had a year-long internship with Allied McDonald, an ad agency that handles marketing in San Francisco for large film production companies. By the end, he was working with theater managers to set up advance film screenings, the ones attended by movie critics and winners of radio call-in contests. "They're also called word-of-mouth screenings, because they hope you'll tell all your friends to go see it once it opens in general release," he explains.

The internship provided a reality check about the movie business. "Marketing is 50 percent of the success of your film," he marvels. "I don't know if many filmmakers realize how much their future relies on small publicity firms. Without good marketing, you're done."

The summer after his junior year, he picked up creative experience with an internship at director George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch in Marin, where he worked on sound design for Steven Spielberg's movie "Minority Report." This was a dream come true: Spielberg is Fredrickson's favorite director. "I love his movies - 'Jurassic Park,' 'Jaws,' 'Schindler's List' - he's got them all. He's done so much for film in general," he says reverentially.

Unfortunately, Fredrickson could only work at Skywalker Ranch for two months before football practices started. "I would have liked to do more, but football has a lot of time constraints," he shrugs. "I made the time where I could, because I wanted to get that exposure to film."

For Fredrickson, the master's was a way to make a documentary about a subject close to his heart, and to pick up some training that may come in useful later in life. "I know I'll want to coach my kids' sports teams," he predicts. That day might not be that far in the future: two days, after the Insight Bowl, the 22-year-old Fredrickson (he'll be 23 on February 26) proposed to his girlfriend of two-and-a-half years, Jessica Wiley, a Berkeley alumna ('01, Math). They plan to get married within the year.

Once his thesis is done - the plan is by May - Fredrickson will not be heading straight to Hollywood. Nor does he plan to go into coaching or sports administration, as many of his graduate-school classmates will. Instead, Fredrickson hopes to kick for the NFL. He does not expect to be drafted, but is training hard so that he can be signed as a free agent for a pro team - much like his walk-on start at Cal. If that doesn't work out, he's not opposed to playing for NFL Europe or the Arena Football League.

"I figure it's worth a shot," Fredrickson says. "I'm in the best shape of my life, kicking well, and I'd like to see if I can do this a bit longer. I don't want to talk about my college career 30 years from now and wonder if I could have made it. The good thing is, you can be 40 and go to film school."

Tedford thinks he has a shot. "Tyler has a great leg, and lots of potential," he says. "He is really focused. I know he'll go far if that's what he sets his mind to do."