Bank­ing on new to re­gain the old

Bru­ins hope changes spark a turnaround af­ter fin­ish­ing with a 4-8 record last sea­son.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ben Bolch

The new $75-mil­lion Wasser­man Foot­ball Cen­ter at UCLA comes with a lounge — for high school re­cruits. Cur­rent play­ers can get their hair cut in a bar­ber­shop or drip their way from a hot pool to a cold pool to a cus­tom pool de­signed to as­sist with ther­apy and fit­ness. They may feel like a lengthy soak af­ter a few hours prac­tic­ing in re­designed uni­forms awash in what’s be­ing called pow­derkeg blue.

As strik­ing as it may be, the new look of UCLA foot­ball has not ob­scured one sim­ple truth.

“I mean, the new build­ings and jer­seys don’t mean any­thing if we don’t go out there and win games,” re­ceiver Dar­ren An­drews said this week as the team pre­pared for the start of train­ing camp Wed­nes­day evening on its two new ar­ti­fi­cial­turf fields.

The Bru­ins will need re­solve wor­thy of the spiffy digs.

Coach Jim Mora con­tem­plated changes in ev­ery as­pect of the pro­gram af­ter a 4-8 sea­son that was by far the worst of his first five

years in West­wood. He mulled the food play­ers ate, their prac­tice re­cov­ery meth­ods and even the way they dressed, mak­ing ad­just­ments wher­ever he felt they might be ben­e­fi­cial.

Play­ers held 25 prac­tices with­out coaches present to ac­cel­er­ate their fa­mil­iar­ity with a new of­fense and es­tab­lish ac­count­abil­ity. “Get­ting 1% bet­ter each day” be­came such a well-worn mantra that you ex­pected some­one to trot out a T-shirt bear­ing the slo­gan.

No one will know for sure whether the changes have been worth­while un­til UCLA’s sea­son opener against Texas A&M on Sept. 3 at the Rose Bowl. But quar­ter­back Josh Rosen said he liked the way things were trend­ing.

“There’s a dif­fer­ent en­ergy in the locker room,” said Rosen, who is com­ing off an in­jury-short­ened sea­son in which he played in only six games. “I think ev­ery­one’s re­ally ex­cited to at­tack the year.”

Their early ef­forts will come on cam­pus in­stead of in swel­ter­ing San Bernardino, where they had held a por­tion of train­ing camp in each of Mora’s first five sea­sons. The Bru­ins are stay­ing lo­cal in part to uti­lize their new foot­ball cen­ter and the 1-year-old Luskin Cen­ter, an up­scale ho­tel abut­ting their prac­tice fields where they will re­side.

Play­ers cel­e­brated the change in train­ing camp lo­cale.

“I wanted to shake coach Mora’s hand and take him out on a date for do­ing that,” line­backer Kenny Young said with a wide smile, “be­cause man, San Bernardino is not some­thing you en­joy.”

Af­ter ini­tially say­ing prac­tices would be closed be­cause of space con­straints on the new fields, UCLA an­nounced that the pub­lic could watch the first two weeks of train­ing camp from the top level of Park­ing Lot 8.

Two days be­fore the Bru­ins held the of­fi­cial open­ing of the Wasser­man Cen­ter on Tues­day, their re­cruit­ing lounge was al­ready pay­ing div­i­dends. High school re­ceiver C.J. Parks, line­backer Matthew Tago and de­fen­sive back Olai­jah Grif­fin all an­nounced their com­mit­ments to UCLA on Twit­ter in the hours af­ter an event for re­cruits at the new fa­cil­ity. De­fen­sive end Ab­dul-Ma­lik McClain tweeted Mon­day that he had com­mit­ted to the Bru­ins.

Train­ing camp should come with ev­ery­thing short of a quar­ter­back quandary. The Bru­ins are try­ing to master the scheme of new of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jedd Fisch, whose play call­ing is ex­pected to be more dy­namic than that of pre­de­ces­sor Kennedy Po­la­malu.

“You can use what­ever words you want,” Rosen said when some­one sug­gested the “dy­namic” ad­jec­tive. “Foot­ball is foot­ball. It’s an of­fense. … I think [Fisch] has a re­ally good idea of what we’re good at and how to take ad­van­tage of those strengths, and I think he can tai­lor the of­fense to take ad­van­tage of what we’re re­ally good at.”

There will be po­si­tional bat­tles at punter (Ste­fan Flintoft ver­sus Austin Kent), guard (An­dre James, Kenny Lacy and Na­jee To­ran are vy­ing for two start­ing jobs) and run­ning back (look­ing for a pri­mary op­tion among Bolu Olorun­funmi, Soso Jam­abo, Nate Starks, Jalen Starks and Bran­don Stephens), among other spots.

Mora said the de­fense could di­ver­sify its at­tack be­cause of its fa­mil­iar­ity with third-year de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Tom Bradley, whose wis­dom is un­ques­tioned among his play­ers.

“Coach Bradley’s like Yoda, man,” Young said. “He just knows it all.”

When it comes to the tra­jec­tory of a pro­gram that had soared un­der Mora be­fore last sea­son’s 1,000-foot drop, the Bru­ins hold one truth to be self-ev­i­dent.

“This past year was not UCLA foot­ball,” Young said. “It was not our stan­dard. And the guys rec­og­nize that. Right now, it’s about cre­at­ing some­thing spe­cial.”

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

UCLA JU­NIOR quar­ter­back Josh Rosen, whose 2016 sea­son was lim­ited to six games be­cause of an in­jury, says “there’s a dif­fer­ent en­ergy in the locker room.”


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