No two-a-days, but still long days

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ben Bolch ben.bolch@la­times.com

It’s push­ing 11 p.m. as a throng of UCLA foot­ball play­ers linger to chat on one side of the team’s new on­cam­pus prac­tice fields. Some have peeled off their jersey tops, re­veal­ing backs slick with sweat from the toil of the first day of train­ing camp.

For a good chunk of the team, th­ese idle min­utes con­sti­tute a mid­day break. Play­ers en­rolled in sum­mer classes will head back to their dorms af­ter the three­hour prac­tice to study for fi­nal ex­ams be­fore re­turn­ing to the Wasser­man Foot­ball Center for meet­ings at 6:30 the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

“This is a grind for th­ese guys the next three days,” Bru­ins coach Jim Mora said not long be­fore Wed­nes­day turned into Thurs­day.

The NCAA’s elim­i­na­tion of two-a-day prac­tices, de­signed to lighten the load on play­ers, has ac­tu­ally length­ened their days — at least un­til fi­nals end Friday. That’s why UCLA’s first three prac­tices were sched­uled to be­gin at 7:15 p.m. to ac­com­mo­date play­ers’ al­ready crammed sched­ules.

The trade-off from no two-a-days is more one-adays, the Bru­ins push­ing up the start of camp nearly a week from last sea­son and hold­ing prac­tices dur­ing sum­mer school for the first time dur­ing Mora’s six sea­sons in West­wood. They are sched­uled to hold 18 prac­tices through Aug. 20 be­fore be­gin­ning for­mal game prepa­ra­tions for their opener against Texas A&M on Sept. 3 at the Rose Bowl.

Mora said he sup­ported the NCAA’s rule change even if it did add an­other item to play­ers’ busy itineraries.

“We’re putting this enor­mous load on them for three or four days and it’s very chal­leng­ing,” Mora said. “And they’ve just pushed through it; they grind, they’re great kids. I think once we get to Saturday and we’ll have more time, it will re­ally be great.”

UCLA will close its prac­tices once camp is fin­ished, no easy task given the clear sight lines of its fields from an ad­ja­cent park­ing lot and the ad­join­ing Luskin Center, an up­scale ho­tel that has al­ready been pelted with foot­balls that cleared a pro­tec­tive net be­hind a goal post.

Bru­ins play­ers are sched­uled to oc­cupy the ho­tel be­gin­ning this week­end, but Mora ac­knowl­edged that there could be an is­sue once those rooms are va­cant dur­ing the sea­son.

“We will have se­cu­rity,” Mora said. “That is a real con­cern and it’s not far­fetched to think that peo­ple can rent a room and sit up there and video­tape a prac­tice. If you have video­tape of a prac­tice, it’s a pretty good deal. But we’ll have se­cu­rity there and we’ll have se­cu­rity up in [Park­ing] Lot 8. We’ll do the best we can with what we got. I’m not go­ing to worry too much about it. We have a plan in place.”

Not just for kicks

Sopho­more kicker J.J. Mol­son has a new role model worth em­u­lat­ing: Morten An­der­sen, the NFL’s all­time lead­ing scorer who will be in­ducted into the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Mora re­cently helped Mol­son con­nect with An­der­sen, whom Mora coached dur­ing part of An­der­sen’s 25-year ca­reer and is ex­pected to at­tend a few prac­tices be­fore the sea­son starts.

“He’s got pages of notes from talk­ing to Morten about the men­tal as­pect of prepa­ra­tion and rou­tine,” Mora said of Mol­son, “all of the things that Morten did that’s en­abled him to be a guy go­ing into the Hall of Fame this week­end.”

Mol­son, who made 12 of 20 field-goal at­tempts last sea­son, nailed each of his tries dur­ing the first day of camp, in­clud­ing a 45-yarder.

Quick hits

Line­backer Mique Juarez, who red­shirted last sea­son while deal­ing with the pres­sures of be­ing a high-pro­file fresh­man, looked slim­mer as he com­peted with the sec­ond team than he had dur­ing spring prac­tice. “It’s been a long road for him,” Mora said, “and I just re­spect the fact that he’s just con­tin­ued to push and stay com­mit­ted and he’s gone through some things that a lot of peo­ple go through and he’s coming out the other side in a pos­i­tive way.” … The Bru­ins re­ceived com­mit­ments from at least four high school play­ers in the first 24 hours af­ter hold­ing a re­cruit­ing event at their new foot­ball fa­cil­ity. “I think [for] any­body who gets to say, ‘This is go­ing to be my home for four years,’ ” Mora said, “it’s pretty im­pres­sive.”

Wally Skalij Los Angeles Times

THE BRU­INS prac­tice at their new fa­cil­ity on cam­pus. Coach Jim Mora said clear sight lines of the fields from nearby build­ings ne­ces­si­tate se­cu­rity mea­sures.

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