Neuheisel is driven to prove crit­ics wrong Ju­nior is vy­ing to be UCLA’s quar­ter­back

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Chris Foster

Jerry Neuheisel is 22, but not so old that he doesn’t connect with the ageold les­son from a clas­sic chil­dren’s story.

“I keep telling him,” his fa­ther said, “about ‘The Lit­tle En­gine That Could.’ ”

The moral of the story: Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate some­one who be­lieves in him­self.

Which Jerry Neuheisel does, prompt­ing an add-on from his fa­ther: “He keeps say­ing, ‘The Lit­tle En­gine That Could, did,’ ” Jerry said.

Which brings us around to the way the UCLA foot­ball team chugged Tues­day into its first spring prac­tice.

The Bru­ins have 18 starters re­turn­ing, but Brett Hund­ley, their quar­ter­back the last three sea­sons, isn’t one of them.

Neuheisel, who will be a red­shirt ju­nior in the fall, has been a backup the last two sea­sons. Now he is vy­ing to be­come the starter, but he prob­a­bly wouldn’t re­ceive a vote among UCLA fans.

The popular can­di­date is Josh Rosen, a fresh­man from Bellflower St. John Bosco High, who en­rolled early to com­pete for the job.

He was rated very highly among the best high school quar­ter­backs in the na­tion.

Yet, it was Neuheisel run­ning the first team at the first prac­tice, and dis­lodg­ing him won’t be easy.

“Jerry is a very, very com­pet­i­tive per­son,” re­ceiver Jor­dan Pay­ton said. “He takes what he does se­ri­ously. There is no chance that this just gets handed [to Josh]. This is go­ing to be a true battle.”

Neuheisel has been fight­ing for re­spect, and play­ing time, for years.

He was quar­ter­back for a very good high school pro­gram at Los An­ge­les Loyola, but some peo­ple con­sid­ered his schol­ar­ship to UCLA a fa­therly gift. The head coach who of­fered it was his dad, who was fired be­fore his son ar­rived on cam­pus.

“I’d be ly­ing if I said there wasn’t a chip on my shoul­der,” Neuheisel said. “Ev­ery­one thought the schol­ar­ship was handed to me, that I didn’t de­serve to be here. That mo­ti­vated me more and more.”

Jerry’s fa­ther, Rick, is a for­mer UCLA quar­ter­back who be­came the Bru­ins head coach. Rick ar­rived at UCLA as a walk-on — with­out a schol­ar­ship — but worked his way into be­com­ing a starter who led the Bru­ins to victory in the 1983 Rose Bowl.

His son was given the walk-on tag unof­fi­cially.

“It’s a lit­tle frus­trat­ing for him,” Rick Neuheisel said. “But he un­der­stands why peo­ple think that. He has just done the best he can to be ready.”

Jerry Neuheisel was ready in Septem­ber when Hund­ley was in­jured dur­ing a game against Texas. He com­pleted 23 of 30 passes for 194 yards and two touch­downs, in­clud­ing a 33-yard strike to Pay­ton that gave UCLA a 20-17 victory.

Af­ter­ward, peo­ple stopped giv­ing UCLA of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Noel Maz­zone a skep­ti­cal look when he talked glow­ingly about Neuheisel.

“He has the skill set to do what we ask our quar­ter­backs to do in this of­fense,” Maz­zone said. “I’m ex­cited about him. He has been in our of­fense for three years and un­der­stands it.”

Coach Jim Mora said that a de­ci­sion on a quar­ter­back will al­most cer­tainly be put off un­til the sum­mer.

“We just want to see them make progress and set them­selves up go­ing into [train­ing] camp in San Bernardino,” Mora said.

Dur­ing the spring, the quar­ter­backs will ro­tate so that two will get all the 11on-11 work in a prac­tice.

Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard, who will be a red­shirt sopho­more in the fall, took the first shift. Rosen will get his chance later this week.

There will be lit­tle heard from Rosen dur­ing spring. He is off lim­its for in­ter­views un­til the last spring prac­tice.

Mora said that Rosen’s most dif­fi­cult chore would be “man­ag­ing ex­pec­ta­tions, whether it’s his own ex­pec­ta­tions or our staff’s ex­pec­ta­tions or our fans’ ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Rosen’s play Tues­day, even when limited to in­di­vid­ual drills, said plenty. He looked sharp, mak­ing zi­pline throws on deep passes.

Neuheisel’s arm strength could not com­pete. But once he be­gan run­ning the of­fense he looked in com­mand.

“I knew go­ing into this spring that peo­ple had writ­ten me off,” Neuheisel said.

“I think the play is go­ing to speak for it­self.”

Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

QUAR­TER­BACK JERRY NEUHEISEL , who is headed for his third sea­son at UCLA, has been fight­ing for re­spect and play­ing time for years.

Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

JERRY NEUHEISEL , left, a red­shirt ju­nior and UCLA’s backup quar­ter­back the last two sea­sons, fig­ures to be pressed for the start­ing job this sea­son by highly re­garded fresh­man Josh Rosen, right.

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