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Cal linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk always looking to give defense a lift

Maybe sensing that the weight room needed a jolt of energy before the Cal football team took off for spring break, Jordan Kunaszyk recently started adding 45-pound weights one after another on both sides of a long bar.

As he stockpiled 325 pounds in the middle of room, his teammates starting taking notice. When he powered the weights from the floor to his midsection, even more teammates gathered.

By the time the inside linebacker completed the hang clean by tossing the weights above his chest and standing from a squatted position, the entire room was hooting and hollering at his efforts.

“I’m always trying to step up more in a leadership role and get the most out of everybody around me,” said the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder, who will be a senior next season. “I think we have a lot of great guys on our team, people who are motivated, love to be out here and are eager to learn, so it’s not that difficult.

“But I would love to be known as the energy of the defense.”

In a lot of ways, Kunaszyk claimed that role last season after Devante Downs was lost for the season with a knee injury. In seven games, Downs racked up 65 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

After returning from his own injury, Kunaszyk put up a team-leading 74 tackles, 3½ sacks, two interceptions and both a fumble forced and recovered in nine games. But to truly replace Downs, defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said Kunaszyk has to find ways to make the entire defense better.

“I want to see, not only his game elevate, but also see how he elevates guys around him,” DeRuyter said. “I thought Devante did a great job of that last year. To have Jordan back this year with experience, I expect him to know what to do and how to help guys around him elevate their games.”

On top of his weight room motivation, Kunaszyk gathers the defensive players for Sunday meetings.

Sure, they talk about football, but the get-togethers are mostly so he can define things that make each of his teammates tick.

“A big part of defense is knowing and trusting the person next to you,” senior outside linebacker Alex Funches said. “Having opportunities to jell together, learning about each other’s backgrounds and what might fire him up or tick him off, are things Jordan understands. He fires me up for every practice.

“When you see somebody doing all the right things, it makes you think, ‘What could I be doing better?’”

Kunaszyk was doing all the right things in the weight room when he set a personal record with the 325-pound lift.

Video of his teammates swarming him after the feat nearly went viral on social media.

“You got a taste of what JK does every time we touch the weight room,” inside linebacker Derron Brown said. “He brings the same energy to the field, and he makes sure that energy touches every single person on the entire defense.”

Rusty Simmons is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @Rusty_SFChron

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