Cal’s Mike Tepper has quite a story


There are more coveted offensive tackles in this NFL draft class, but none with a more compelling story than California’s Mike Tepper.

By Tepper’s count, he told the story 40 times Thursday, the first day of the scouting combine. Most intrigued were NFL team doctors, who snapped to attention when he explained the surgery scars on his lower right leg.

“When you do these medical exams downstairs with five or six doctors, they hear you broke your leg and say, ‘How’d it happen?’ You go, ‘I got ran over by a car twice,’ ” said Tepper, who grew up in Cypress and attended Pacifica High. “Everybody’s ears are perked up and they want the story.”

The injury happened in June 2005, the summer after Tepper’s redshirt freshman season, when he was walking in Berkeley with a female neighbor. Some thugs drove up and tried to pull the girl into the car. The 6-foot-7, 320-pound Tepper intervened and an argument ensued.

“The guy in the driver’s seat punched the gas in reverse,” he said. “The front end swung out and clipped me, got my [right] leg caught in the wheel well. I was dragged for about 30 feet and got run over going forward.”

The result was gruesome. Tepper suffered four breaks of his lower leg, with the shattered fibula protruding from his skin, as well as a torn shoulder muscle.

When Tepper tried to stand, he was looking down his leg at the sole of his right shoe.

Just a block away was an off-duty Berkeley police officer. She called for help and the suspects were chased by police before eventually crashing into a parked car. The driver, John Ray Smith, who was out on parole, was returned to prison. A year later, he plea-bargained for a six-year sentence, but, Tepper said, was a third-strike offender and is now serving a life term.

Tepper, meanwhile, said doctors briefly considered amputating his foot. He made an astounding recovery, however, and was back doing some light jogging four months after the incident. He wound up playing in 39 games with 28 starts, first at left tackle then at right.

“I’ve had multiple doctors say to me, ‘Hey, listen, kid, if you walk, congratulations. And if you run? That’s amazing,’ ” he said. “But I’m not a medical reject. I’ve been playing on it for almost 40 games. I passed all the physicals.”

At this point, Tepper is generally considered a mid- to late-round prospect. Pro Football Weekly ranks him as the 30th tackle in the draft class, and projects him as the 11th guard.

“The reality is he’s going to be making a transition to the highest level of football,” said Rob Rang, senior analyst for “The fact that he’s overcome those type of injuries and made it through that traumatic situation speaks to his mental toughness, perseverance and determination.

“Those are the type of things he’s going to need to make it in the NFL.”

The top tackles at the combine are Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung, Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga, Oklahoma’s Trent Williams, Rutgers’ Anthony Davis, Maryland’s Bruce Campbell and USC’s Charles Brown.

Many people around the league believe there could be a run on offensive tackles at the top of the draft much like two years ago, when seven were selected in the first 26 picks.

Tepper is unlikely to be part of that first wave. But he feels plenty blessed anyway. He’s made it this far, and that’s impressive in its own right.