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Marques Tuiasosopo continues his Pac-12 journey at California

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Marques Tuiasosopo's new job as quarterbacks coach at California has a key parallel to his first foray into the college football world 20 years ago.

When Tuiasosopo was a high school senior in 1997, a bevy of Power-5 programs wanted him -- but as a safety. Hometown Washington was one of the few to guarantee Tuiasosopo a chance to compete for quarterback, so the 6-foot-1 prospect signed with the Huskies.

"I could have gone to any school," Tuiasosopo said. "But I loved quarterback."

The insistence to be under center paid off: Tuiasosopo played quarterback as a true freshman for Washington, became the only player in college football history to throw for 300 yards and rush for 200 more in the same game as a junior, and won Rose Bowl MVP honors as a senior in 2000.

Fast forward to 2016. Tuiasosopo, now UCLA's quarterbacks coach, faced the prospect of leaving his beloved position group when offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone went to Texas A&M.

But Cal offered Tuiasosopo a chance to remain a quarterbacks coach, so his decision evoked a similar one he had made two decades prior.

"The ability to stay at quarterback, coaching them -- that's what I love so much and know so well," Tuiasosopo said. "It has a draw for me. As a competitor, whether you're playing or you're coaching, I know I can do the best job at that quarterback position. You want to put your best foot forward working for a friend and a person you respect in the business."

That friend is new Golden Bears' head coach Justin Wilcox, who first worked with Tuiasosopo in Washington back on Steve Sarkisian's staff in 2013. The two both followed their boss to USC in 2014 before Tuiasosopo moved across Los Angeles to join Jim Mora at UCLA last year.

When Wilcox landed the Cal job in January, he invited Tuiasosopo to join him in the Bay Area. So continues the former quarterback's grand tour of the Pac-12, which has now included six coaching stops around the conference this decade, including all the California schools except Stanford.

The Cardinal, of course, happen to be the Bears' archrival.

Perhaps it's fitting, then, that Tuiasosopo tormented Stanford more than any other team as a player, delivering the aforementioned 300-yard passing, 200-yard rushing performance in a 1999 win against the Cardinal. A year later, Tuiasosopo pulled a three-play, 80-yard drive out of the hat in the final minute at Stanford Stadium, securing a miraculous 31-28 Washington victory that would keep the Huskies' Rose Bowl hopes alive.

That was one of five straight second-half comebacks in a 2000 Washington season that featured an early 34-29 win over Miami -- a Hurricanes team that's considered one of the most talented in college football history -- and a grand finale in Pasadena, where Tuiasosopo out-dueled Purdue quarterback Drew Brees in a 34-24 win.

"That Rose Bowl was my favorite moment," Tuiasosopo said. "When the clock hit zero, when we won, just to look at each other in the eyes and have that sense of accomplishment. In that moment, all that blood, sweat, and tears flashed in front of my eyes. All the joy that brought to our team -- that's something no one can take away from you."

Seventeen years later, Tuiasosopo's objectives have shifted while retaining their central pillar: He now wants the players he's coaching to enjoy that same taste of accomplishment.

"I've got a lot of experiences to share," Tuiasosopo said. "I have a passion for this game and I want that to come across in the way that I coach them. I want them to feel it. Because to win, they have to have that with their teammates in the locker room."

Tuiasosopo says he found much of his coaching zeal while playing for Jon Gruden, who drafted him to the Oakland Raiders in 2001.

"[Tuiasosopo's] Jon Gruden impersonation is legendary," Cal quarterback Ross Bowers said. "Gruden must have had a big impact on him in meetings, because almost every meeting he does here, he impersonates him."

Tuiasosopo only laughs when asked about his imitation skills, instead steering the conversation to the passion for coaching that Gruden instilled in him. He points out that, during one stretch of his football career, he played for or worked under nine different head coaches over eight seasons. All this turnover exposed Tuiasosopo to a bevy of different assistants and their ideas. He even became an expert on the Pistol while at UCLA when working with Jim Mastro, who developed that attack with former Nevada head coach Chris Ault.

"He brings a wealth of knowledge from all these different coaches," Bears' quarterback Chase Forrest said. "You have to absorb all of that."

This versatility makes Tuiasosopo an excellent match with new Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, whose offense is as adaptable as they come. And in that way, this job has provided Tuiasosopo with two opportunities.

He's returned to a region that feels like home -- Tuiasosopo lived in the Bay Area as a member of the Raiders and when his father, Manu Tuiasosopo, played for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s). And he's also signed up for another test: A job working with a new offensive mind and a whole fresh collection of ideas.

"You're always going to get better if you're challenging yourself," Tuiasosopo said. "You can always stay in the same place and learn the same stuff, but that's why I like this new opportunity. It's more fun to build something than to work on something that's already been established."