No two-a-days, but still long days
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.
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.”
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.