Darius Bell cannot point to any one specific patch of the City College of San Francisco turf, but he can certainly recall the last time he played in the stadium.
“The only thing I really remember about this field is our last game; we played (American River) and I started the game 0-for-3,” Bell said. “(Oregon head coach) Chip Kelly was in the stands, and I was pretty nervous because that was the school I thought I would go to, and I ended up completing my next 23 passes with five touchdowns. That’s my last performance for this school, and it’s a memory I keep with me.”
It’s been an eventful – and much anticipated – week for Bell.
First, his older brother, former UCLA running back Kahlil, had his first career 100-yard game on Christmas Day for the Chicago Bears against the Green Bay Packers. Then the Bruins headed up north to prepare for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, with practices at Bell’s former college. But Bell had to shake both distractions off to compete with junior Nick Crissman for the backup quarterback duties behind Kevin Prince, with Richard Brehaut suspended for the game for a violation of team rules.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” Bell said. “This is a place that has done so much for me, and so much for other kids across the country. Kids come from everywhere to play here to get another chance. Sometimes all kids need is a second chance.”
Bell, who practiced as a wide receiver for much of the year on scout team, was lightly recruited out of San Francisco’s Riordan High and even after a standout season for CCSF in 2009, his only offer aside from UCLA was from San Jose State. But Rick Neuheisel saw Bell as a potential fit for the Pistol offense and came calling.
“I’ve never looked at myself as a JC guy; I just looked at this place as a stepping stone,” Bell said. “I know at least 10 guys from this junior college alone who are in the NFL. The Jeremiah Massolis, the Aaron Rodgers, and look, Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL right now.”
It has been a winding road for Crissman, as well, one also filled with potholes.
The No. 9 quarterback prospect in the class of 2008 according to Scout.com – for comparison, three-year starter Kevin Prince was the No. 40 quarterback recruit in the same class – has battled myriad right shoulder injuries since his freshman season, missing both the 2008 and 2010 seasons.
“It’s been a really long, tough road,” Crissman said. “Any chance I can get to get out there and play football again is awesome for me. At the expense of another teammate, you never want that, but it’s the nature of the game. I’ve learned to never give up.”
Johnson said on Tuesday that he was unsatisfied with the team’s conditioning after their return to practice from a lengthy layoff, and that he wanted to do additional running on Wednesday, but the Bruins did not do much extra.
“I think we’re going to be in OK shape,” Johnson said. “The way we’ve been practicing will get us in the conditioning and shape we need to be in. We want them fresh on Saturday.”
Bumps and Bruises
UCLA junior cornerback Andrew Abbott suffered a right ankle sprain during Wednesday’s practice, but Johnson expects him to be ready for the bowl.