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April 30, 2011From now on, when former California defensive back Chris Conte hears "Go Bears!" he might just have to ask for clarification.
After a recruiting battle between the Golden Bears and the UCLA Bruins -- the Baby Bears -- brought the 6-foot-2, 197-pound Los Angeles Loyola product to Berkeley, Conte will now head east to Chicago to play for the NFL's Bears.
"That was probably the most exciting moment that I've ever had," Conte said. "It was the culmination of a whole bunch of different feelings, and I was the most excited I think I've ever been.
Together with family and friends at his Los Angeles home, Conte got the call Friday evening from head coach Lovie Smith, telling him that he had been selected with the 93rd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
"I got a call from Lovie Smith and became a Bear," Conte said. "When he called me, I was so excited, he didn't really let me say anything. He was just telling me how exited they were to have me, and that they've had their eye on me for a long time, they believe in me, and that I can come in and get in the mix and be a part of this football team, this great franchise, this hard-nosed, tough defense, and be a part of the Monsters of the Midway."
Conte's first phone call after he hung up was to recruiting classmate and safety partner in the Cal secondary, Sean Cattouse, a native of the Windy City.
"Sean Cattouse was the first person to call me and welcome me to his home city," Conte said. "That was pretty cool, it was a good phone call and I was pretty excited. I talked to him right after I got off the phone with Lovie Smith, so that was pretty cool."
Conte will head to Chicago tomorrow to begin acclimating to his good friend's old stomping grounds.
"It was awesome. That definitely made the experience even better," Conte said of the call from Cattouse. "That was the first phone call that I got after talking to the Bears. To come in with Sean, to play next to Sean, we've always talked with each other."
After a torturous decision-making process that led him to choose Cal over UCLA, Conte has absolutely no regrets about his choice now, four years removed.
"I think, ultimately, I made the right decision," Conte said. "It made me who I am. Things worked out pretty good. I don't think I could ask for a better situation and I wouldn't want to change anything because the people and the experiences I had at Cal really shaped me into a better person. I'm very thankful to Coach (Jeff) Tedford and all the coaches, Coach (Ron) Gould who recruited me and brought me in there. I'm very thankful, 100 percent. I wouldn't wish for anything different."
After spending his first three years in Strawberry Canyon as a cornerback, this past season, Conte was shifted over to his natural safety position by newly-arrived defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. At his new position, Conte had the strongest season of his collegiate career, earning first-team All-Pac-10 recognition while starting all 12 games. Conte ranked third on the team with 72 tackles and tied for No. 23 in the conference with an average of 6.0 tackles per game.
"I think I learned how much of a prospect I was from Coach Pendergast," Conte said. "I think he believed in me a lot and really told me how good of a player that I could be and told me to believe that, and to know that he's seen guys go to the NFL and develop. How much he believed in me really built my confidence that I could make it, and from then on, I just developed from there. Every week, I was more and more confident and then by the end of the season, I pretty much felt like I had a solid chance at getting drafted. From there on out, it seemed like my stock just grew, higher and higher. It was a great experience. He tells me all the time about how great an NFL career he thinks I can have."
Conte added two tackles for loss, a pick, three pass breakups, a forced fumble, two kick returns for 41 yards and the team's only blocked kick of the season against Arizona State this season.
"(Moving to safety) was 100 percent of it," Conte said. "I think I would not have been drafted if I didn't play safety this year.
"I think (safety) fits me and my style of football better. I can be a lot more aggressive and I can see the field more. I can still use my skills at covering on the slot receivers and the tight ends and it diversified the amount of things that I can do. I can be more of an all-around football player instead of just being on the island the whole time."
For his career, Conte played in 50 of 51 possible games and made 17 starts, piling up totals of 157 tackles, 4.0 TFLs (-13 yards), two picks, 11 breakups, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, three kick returns (55 yards, 18.3 YPR) and one blocked punt that he returned six yards for a touchdown against the Sun Devils this year.
"Having that ability to play corner, not a lot of people have that," Conte said. "Being able to be a Pac-10 corner shows that I can cover and have the athleticism to do it. Bringing that to the safety position helps a lot."
The third former Bear taken in this year's draft, Conte was projected to go anywhere from the third round to signing as an undrafted free agent, so he held no illusions going into Day Two of the event.
"Honestly, I was very hopeful that I would go today," Conte said. "I had a pretty good feeling that I had a good chance of going today, just talking with teams. A lot of teams had a high grade on me, but waiting around, coming to the end of that third round, I was looking at the teams, and I was starting to worry. I was like, 'Man, I don't want to have to wait another day.' Sitting around and waiting is not a fun feeling. Looking at the last six picks left, I was looking at the teams, and the only one of these teams that it was looking like, the team that I'd talked to much, the only team that possibly could take me is Chicago. About a couple second later, Chicago called on the phone."
Chicago first came into things during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last month, when Conte scored the 13th-best broad jump with a leap of 127 inches, clocked a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, put up 18 reps on the bench, popped a 35.5-inch vertical leap and recorded times of 7.01 seconds and 4.19 seconds in the three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle.
"I talked to them a little bit at the Combine, but I didn't have one of those 15-minute scheduled meetings with them," Conte said. "I had a good talk with them at the Combine and talked with their safeties coach, I just met with him for about 15 minutes at the Combine. I think they got a good impression from me at the Combine and then, before Pro Day, I met with the safeties coach and another one of their scouts, Marty Barrett. After that, I hadn't really talked to them, but I think they had a good feel for me."
Conte now becomes the 38th Cal player on an NFL roster, which places the program in the top-10 of pro talent producers.
"I think the talent that's come out of Cal is remarkable," Conte said. "(We're) rivals with USC and some of the top schools in the country, so it shows the kind of talent we've had over the years and I think that kind of talent will continue to be produced from Cal."
As a junior in 2009, Conte played in all 13 games with one start, when he was in for the opening defensive snap against Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl. He finished the season with 25 tackles and one pass breakup.
Conte played in 12 games with one start as a 2008 sophomore, tallying 28 tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss (-5 yards), one interception and seven pass breakups to rank 18th in the Pac-10 with an average of 0.58 per game. He recorded a season-high eight tackles and had a career-high-tying two pass breakups vs. Colorado State.
In his 2007 true freshman season, Conte earned honorable mention Freshman All-American honors from Sporting News, playing in all 13 games with three starts. Conte posted 32 tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss (-3 yards) and a fumble recovery. His campaign included a season-high 10 tackles in the first start of his collegiate career against Washington State. His 32 tackles were the most recorded in a season by a true freshman at Cal since Donnie McCleskey had 45 in 2002.