Olorun­funmi looks like the top tail­back

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

UCLA ap­pears to have iden­ti­fied a pri­mary tail­back. His name is well known but his lean build and quick burst don’t seem all that fa­mil­iar.

That’s prob­a­bly a good thing for Bolu Olorun­funmi and the Bru­ins. Olorun­funmi av­er­aged 3.9 yards a carry last sea­son, part of a plod­ding Bru­ins rush­ing at­tack that gained only 84.3 yards a game to rank No. 127 out of 128 major col­lege teams.

The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Olorun­fumi weighs only five pounds less than last sea­son but has trans­formed his body-fat ra­tio from 12% to about 9%, mak­ing him ap­pear vis­i­bly slim­mer. He’s also much swifter as the re­sult of off­sea­son run­ning, stair climb­ing and weight train­ing.

“It’s fun to be lighter and it’s kind of dif­fer­ent to play at the weight I am than what I was be­fore,” Olorun­funmi said this week. “I’m more ag­ile, I’m able to see things bet­ter in a way and I can move faster.”

Olorun­funmi has re­ceived the bulk of the car­ries with the first-team of­fense dur­ing train­ing camp, partly as the re­sult of in­juries to other tail­backs and partly be­cause he’s just been more im­pres­sive than ev­ery­body else.

“Bolu’s do­ing a great job,” Bru­ins run­ning backs coach DeShaun Foster said. “He’s got the nod right now.”

UCLA tried a five-man tail­back ro­ta­tion last sea­son, with Olorun­funmi, Soso Jam­abo and Nate Starks get­ting the heav­i­est work­load. No­body stood out, the Bru­ins fail­ing to pro­duce a 100-yard rusher in a game and reach­ing that thresh­old as a team only once in their fi­nal seven games.

Foster said dur­ing spring prac­tice that the team prob­a­bly would tighten its run­ning backs ro­ta­tion this sea­son.

Joshua Kel­ley, a trans­fer from UC Davis who won’t be el­i­gi­ble until 2018, has ar­guably been the sec­ond-most im­pres­sive tail­back in train­ing camp while Jam­abo and Starks have been slowed by in­juries. The Bru­ins had their full com­ple­ment of tail­backs at prac­tice Fri­day, though Bran­don Stephens did not par­tic­i­pate in team drills.

Olorun­funmi, a ju­nior, has held up just fine de­spite the ex­tra car­ries, his dura­bil­ity en­hanced by his new physique.

“You lose weight, it takes pres­sure off your knees and stuff like that,” Foster said, “so he doesn’t have any­thing nag­ging and he’s just hav­ing fun.”

Not al­ways. UCLA’s de­fense ap­pears laden with play­mak­ers, giv­ing Olorun­funmi a daily test that might be as dif­fi­cult as any he faces in the com­ing months.

“To me, they’re one of the best de­fenses in the na­tion, if not No. 1,” Olorun­funmi said. “To go against them ev­ery day … it’s just great. It just makes us bet­ter.”

The only way the Bru­ins tail­backs can go af­ter last sea­son seems to be up. Olorun­funmi said pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment among coaches has been a daily rit­ual.

“It’s less the plays than the coaches just mo­ti­vat­ing us, telling us you can do it,” he said. “You just need to tell your­self you can.”

Fan fete

UCLA will hold Fan Ap­pre­ci­a­tion Day start­ing at 3:15 p.m. Satur­day on the top of Park­ing Lot 8, where fans are in­vited to watch the team prac­tice on its new ar­ti­fi­cial turf fields. Admission is free, but on-cam­pus park­ing is $12.

Sea­son-ticket hold­ers have been in­vited to watch prac­tice from the ter­race of the Luskin Con­fer­ence Cen­ter while en­joy­ing com­pli­men­tary food pro­vided they re­serve a spot by vis­it­ing https://oss.ticket-mas­ter.com /aps/uclaath­let­ics2/-EN/ buy/quick­buy/1244.

In­jury up­date

Guard Na­jee To­ran and re­ceiver Audie Omo­to­sho re­turned to prac­tice af­ter be­ing side­lined by in­juries ear­lier this week. … Of­fen­sive line­man Poasi Moala and de­fen­sive back Colin Samuel did not prac­tice.

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