Bruins must get with the program if they hope to become one

UCLA football players spent the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s Spring game in a delirious afterglow, all smiles and backslaps, wading through an adoring crowd at the Rose Bowl, signing autographs, posing for pictures, kissing babies, satisfied at their performance after a mostly entertaining three-plus hours.

After 15 spring practices that left more than two dozen wounded at one point, practices that tested their mettle, their courage, their ability to downblock, the work was over. The mission, accomplished. The pain, gone.

Wrong.

Now it begins.

For the first time in a long time, UCLA football players feel as if they are being treated to a year-round program, much of that having to do with the hiring of a coaching staff with a lengthy NFL pedigree. Young, fiery, eager coaches who seem to share the same bravado they hope to extract from their players. It is a loud, boisterous, vivacious group, any one of them seemingly ready to sprint on the field to jostle with a referee or fill in as a back-up.

Now the Bruins have to treat it as a year-round program right back. Simply, they have to find a way to summon that intensity even when it’s not being barked at them.

For UCLA to become the team it wants to be, that success-starved fans hope it can be, that for Dan Guerrero it needs to be, the next three months are going to be pivotal.

The difference between a college football team and a college football program is the dedication of the players, particularly during the off-season, particularly when no one is watching.

“I just got done telling them now is the time that they really need to start working harder,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said after the spring game. “There’s three months before we get back to camp, and to me it’s what they do between now and Aug. 1 that will make a decision on what happens this next season. I’m really looking for some ownership from our players.”

Mazzone knows a thing or two about external motivation, and he’s given some to his quarterbacks.

Mazzone and head coach Jim Mora pushed the decision to name their starting quarterback back three months, to the middle of fall camp, essentially telling the group, “Game on.” They are eager to begin, looking forward to organizing throwing sessions, 7-on-7s, even late-night study groups. Senior Richard Brehaut, vying for the starting nod, is giving up baseball, choosing to devote himself in full to football.

But it’s not just the quarterbacks.

Much of the work is needed on the offensive and defensive fronts, where there are more spare tires than a used-car lot. Mazzone’s offense demands tempo and quickness, and if some UCLA offensive linemen don’t trim the fat, coaches are going to do it for them. Perhaps no other unit needs to devote itself during the summer than the hogs up front, who have been long-criticized and even-longer-unproductive.

They’ll only go as far as their defensive counterparts will join them, a similarly disappointing unit for two years that has an abundance of talent but has lacked technique.

“Offensive and defensive linemen need to continue to work with each other on different drills we’ve done,” defensive line coach Angus McClure stressed on Saturday. “That’s only going to make them better. They need to practice football, and a lot of times, linemen forget to do that.”

No, they bulk up in the weight room, getting bigger and stronger but oftentimes not faster, because it is easier for a 300-pound lineman to hoist a 45-pound dumbbell and flex in the mirror than it is to cajole a teammate into working on proper hand technique. It’s easier to get tangible results in the squat and clean-and jerk than to run two miles and risk that specific pain that hits directly under the right rib.

That pain is necessary if UCLA is to become the team it wants, though.

Scratch that.

The program it wants.

“Summer is when you become the player you are during the season, it’s when you put the most work in, you get the weight up to the top,” rising junior defensive lineman Cassius Marsh said. “It’s that extra. You’ve got to get that extra during the summer and I think everybody is committed to do that.”

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  • bibs

    Very insightful article Jon. How much contact can the coaches have with the players during the summer? Are they allowed to teach a class on a football related subject?

  • localbruin

    Well written. My response: Horse Feathers. Same as it ever was.

    Big talk, lots of energy followed by lots of losses. Call back when we start actually beating people and pulling in the 5 star line prospects (not named Datone Jones).

  • bruinbiochem06

    A follow up question to Bibs. Is it safe to assume that the players work closely with the strength and conditioning coach over the next three months?

  • Reasonable Bruin

    Horse Feathers? Keep the negativity to yourself Gramps.

    Another great article Jon.

  • bruinbiochem06

    Localbruin, have you not heard of Ellis McCarthy?

  • Coach Rick Neuheisal

    Well by oversigning we certainly are acting like a big program. Doesn’t seem like the UCLA way to promise a kid a scholarship and then yank it. We should save that for the Alabama and SUC’s of the world. I could see one or two, but seven? Classless.

  • Semi-Pro

    All football scholarships are 1-year in length. Nobody is promised a 4-year scholarship.

  • Anonymous

    so a kid could have his scholarship yanked but if he decides to transfer, he might have to sit out a year or two?

  • Semi-Pro

    If he transfers to a school that gives him a scholarship, he might have to sit out, but he’ll still get a free education that year. Take it up with the NCAA if you don’t like the system.

  • Daniel

    Semi-Pro is absolutely correct.. All football scholarships are on a year to year basis.. A player has to continue to earn a scholarship through his entire playing career.. You’re gonna tell me that these kids should get a FREE EDUCATION without putting in the time to work hard in the classroom and on the football field?? Some of you must be crazy.. We were 6-8, 4-8 etc. because players were not being held responsible for their play on the field and their work ethic off of it. Sure a lot of that is on our past coaches, but these young men are still MEN and it’s time that they take some responsibility for not putting in the effort to continue to work for their scholarships year in and year out. You think someone who gets an academic scholarship can fool around and get a 1.5 GPA and keep their scholarship??? NO!!! Guys 18 and older (and younger for that matter) all over the world take much bigger and tougher responsibilities and the least that these kids can do is work hard when they are given an opportunity at a free education and a shot at going to the NFL if they work hard enough at their football craft.

  • Anonymous

    so what is the rationale for having them sit out if they transfer? if an athlete’s scholarship is revoked due to poor performance on the field(not academic) then the school should be obligated to continue that scholarship for an additional year.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent Article Jon… Our Defensive Line is not living up to their Potential at all. I don’t expect much from the Offensive Line until we stress recruiting better on the Offensive Line, but if they compete to get better, we’ll be better..

    Do you know if Guerrero comes thru with the field improvements? That grass is horrible and lumpy… Surprised there isn’t more injuries on it.

  • Semi-Pro

    Anon 12:56-

    The football scholarship is given so that they play for the football team. If they no longer play for the football team, no scholarship.

    Just like if a student receives a scholarship because he’s a great musician, or for physics, or geology…but performs poorly in those subjects once at UCLA…should he still be able to keep that scholarship???

    The one-year sitout rule, first of all, only applies if the student is planning to transfer to another D-1 school. It discourages students from transferring on a whim, or doing so for purely athletic reasons.

  • Anonymous

    No, if the scholarship is awarded based on athletic performance, then the athlete has to perform.

    That sense of entitlement is part of what’s sinking our nation.

  • BE REAL

    24 or so players were hurt, Mora talks about playing as hard as the pros, and some players complain about the new system of “be as mean as you are capable,”which probably accounts for many of the injuries

    Part of the problem is that virtually all the kids in Westwood know they are not going to be drafted in the NFL, so their only chance in life is to get an education.

    That said, would you put out 100% for ol’ ucla for the sake of the alumni, a typical spoiled L.A. sports group, or be content with a 90% performance?

    And have you ever attempted at balancing hard, hard physical labor (football is the worst) with academic achievement? Few are cut out to do it well.

  • BE REAL

    24 or so players were hurt, Mora talks about playing as hard as the pros, and some players complain about the new system of “be as mean as you are capable,”which probably accounts for many of the injuries

    Part of the problem is that virtually all the kids in Westwood know they are not going to be drafted in the NFL, so their only chance in life is to get an education.

    That said, would you put out 100% for ol’ ucla for the sake of the alumni, a typical spoiled L.A. sports group, or be content with a 90% performance?

    And have you ever attempted at balancing hard, hard physical labor (football is the worst) with academic achievement? Few are cut out to do it well.

  • Anonymous

    Be Real needs to get real.

    Keep making excuses for mediocrity.

  • Playedatthenextlevel

    I must agree with Be Real. These kids put in a lot of time on the field and in the weight room in addition to having to balance an academic load. They must maintain a certain GPA in order to be eligible to play. Classes/assignments have to be made up when
    they are playing away games. The general public is unaware of what goes on behind the scenes and how much these kids’ really have on their plates. Not making excuses, just stating the facts as I PERSONALLY know and experienced them.

  • http://http:://www.yahoo.com BruinRob

    Pay no attention to “localbruin” he’s a trOJan troll.

    Great article Jon, this team is indeed differently, what makes all this even more exciting is that the leaders on this team are mostly underclassmem led by Devin Lucien a red-shirt freshman, and Marcus Rios a true freshman, who are both a classic example of hard work and tremendous focus, their work ethic is being mirrored by the rest of the team…IMHO.

  • The Blur

    I give big credit to all student athletes for handling both athletic and academic loads.

    That being said, I think which major you have is a bigger differentiator in degree of college difficulty than whether or not you’re an athlete. Based on what I saw when I was a student, I think a biochem major still has it tougher than an athlete who’s, say, a history major. Most students have extracurricular activities also.

    Now, it’s the football players who major in Engineering who amaze me.

  • INawe

    To those making the sports and academics excuse: look at Stanford. Your argument is invalid. I want UCLA to play hard, win, and still be outstanding students. It is possible and those who cannot handle it can go to an easier school.

  • ucla-of-the-rockies

    Or just have Daddy pay for it all crosstown.

  • Coach Rick Neuheisal

    It seems to me that we ask these kids for a four year commitment. But for 7 of them, we’re now going to say “your scholarship is year to year” because we have new kids to take your place. Not to mention, we’re cutting these kids when exactly? Doesn’t seem likely that other schools are going to have available rides. Face it, we’re tossing these kids out like used equipment and I don’t think that’s the UCLA way. But I guess it is now, as many of you seem unfazed by this.

  • Anonymous

    Some will transfer and some will take a “medical retirement”, which would allow them to still be on scholarship but not count against the total football scholarships.

  • http://corinnem Ley

    What part of a year to year basis scholarship don’t you people understand. Maybe Mora is finally running a real program like top Football Schools do? If you people don’t want your feelings hurt the bus is leaving so please get on it!!! You probably want Prince to start to because he’s the oldest or something like that. Take your Take your Horse Feathers remarking %$&%% and leave on the Weenie Bus!!! Play the freshman or whomever is the BEST PLAYER!!! It’s about time. GO BRUINS

  • PV Bruin

    Playing musical chairs is never easy when you are talking about something that may affect these kids’ future in so many ways…Since this year was a transition year I guess many of the scholarships were offered during coach Rick’s era and I don’t foresee such a large numbers of scholarships being rescinded in the future … I just hope thing works out for the 7 kids who are going to lose their scholarships.

  • INawe

    Everyone needs to relax. If you follow the twitter sphere Angelo from ESPN has already updated that 7 number down to 3 scholarships. So voila all your worries and pessimism about leaving ucla students out on the cold street are just over reactions.

  • Boston Bruin

    BE REAL

    Realizing your a Trojan Tool, I hate to be the one who at once dismisses your allegation that UCLA players are there for the education, and that SUC has a better grad rate with 2 getting that all important Ballroom Dancing course down cold.

    But seriously…almost 30 graduate difference with Stanford???

    Here are the numbers for 2010:

    1. Stanford, 87
    2. Washington, 76
    3. Arizona State, 64
    4. Oregon, 63
    5. Washington State, 62
    5. Utah, 62
    7. USC, 61
    8. Oregon State, 60
    9. UCLA, 59
    9. Colorado, 59
    11. California, 54
    12. Arizona, 48

    INawe says it all…no excuses athletically or academically.

    I offer this with a heavy heart as a UCLA alum.

  • Anonymous

    It’s Christmas morning, the Bruingold ghost of the present has again given you what for, you’ve an opportunity to repent, and start anew. Maybe you haven’t seen the future, but somehow we feel you can grasp it. Will you let Tiny Tim die? Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only? Come on Ebenezer, we’re rooting for ya! And yeah, Jon, I know you are a sportswriter not a pro money lender.

  • Class of 66

    To add depth to Boston Bruin’s statistics, I think it might help to compare the percentage of athletes who graduate to the percentage of general population students who get their degrees.

    There are some schools, particularly the blue-chip, private ones where it is very difficult to get in and equally difficult to flunk out. At one time, Stanford was one of them. (As was Yale, which explains how a recent President became a graduate. I know, political snark, but I couldn’t resist.)

    UCLA is not known as a 4 year cake walk. None of the UC’s are.

    In addition, it would be important to know the academic standing of the players who leave early to turn pro. And, to factor in those who return to get their degrees — like ATV. There is a difference between a student who leaves early for academic reasons and one who leave early while in good academic standing.

    I, too, hate to see UCLA low on the list of academic achievement — but I wonder about the accuracy of the scale upon which we are being judged.

  • Anonymous

    Go back to suckling Murshed’s teat at BN, Steve/Ass of ’66. Oh wait, every link leads back here…how’s your bf Fox71 doing? No anti-UCLA student-athlete pejoratives today, you POS?