UCLA well-represented in rookie card set

If you have that much faith in UCLA’s recruiting class, you can put your money where your mouth – or keyboard, or fingers, whatever – is.

The recently released 2012 Leaf US Army All-American set is chock full of Bruins, much like the 2010 set. Then, it was Cassius Marsh and Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Brandon Willis cards.

Now, you can get in early on Devin Fuller, Ellis McCarthy, Jordan Payton and Ishmael Adams, and there is some pretty good stuff.

The checklist is exclusively autograph cards and there are also game-worn patch cards included in the set. One of the really awesome cards, though, has to be the dual Barry Sanders / Barry Sanders, Jr., card inserted in the set.

Here’s a Devin Fuller autograph card that sold on eBay: Cool

And an Ishmael Adams: Cooler

And a Jordan Payton: Coolest

And finally, an Ellis McCarthy that sold for just $2.25: Wow

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Sad, sad story

Former UCLA defensive tackle and 2009 Pac-10 defensive player of the year Brian Price is grieving after the loss of his older sister – the third sibling he’s lost since the age of 10, the article points out – and now plans to adopt her children. An incredibly sad story for the former Bruin great: Read it here

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Big day for UCLA on the WWL

Not only did the UCLA basketball recruiting class move up to No. 1 ahead of Kentucky in the 2012 class rankings – with Ben Howland and John Calipari sharing the spotlight on the front page of ESPN.com – but then there was a Steven Manfro sighting.

And a big one.

ESPN.com named Manfro the No. 1 spring “breakthrough” player and adorns the top spot on the college football page at the moment as well. Here’s the story: Manfro Going Big

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Heineman named Johnny Bench Award semifinalist

From UCLA:

WICHITA, Kan. – UCLA junior catcher Tyler Heineman has been selected as one of 12 semifinalists for the 2012 Johnny Bench Award presented by BaseballSavings.com, as announced Wednesday by the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission.

The Johnny Bench Award honors the nation’s best collegiate catcher at the conclusion of each season. This year’s award will be presented in Wichita, Kan., on June 28.

Heineman, who hails from Pacific Palisades, Calif., ranks second on UCLA’s team and eighth in the Pac-12 Conference with a .359 batting average. His .463 on-base percentage is second highest on the team, behind Jeff Gelalich (.473), and ranks third in the Pac-12.

Heineman has hit safely in 39 of 47 games and enters this weekend’s Pac-12 series at California carrying a modest six-game hitting streak. In addition, he has totaled one home run, 24 RBI and 35 runs.

Among UCLA’s most valuable assets this season, Heineman has thrown out 15 of 35 attempted base stealers (42.9 percent). The switch-hitting catcher played in just 37 games (14 starts) the previous two seasons before assuming UCLA’s starting catcher duties this spring.

The other 11 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award include Derrick Chung (Sacramento State), Zachary Fisher (New Mexico State), Tucker Frawley (Coastal Carolina), Mitchell Garver (New Mexico), Joe Hudson (Notre Dame), Jeremy Lucas (Indiana State), Josh Ludy (Baylor), Jeff Melillo (Rutgers), Kevin Plawecki (Purdue), Jeremy Schaffer (Tulane) and Mike Zunino (Florida).

UCLA opens a three-game Pac-12 series at California on Friday afternoon. Game time at Evans Diamond in Berkeley, Calif., is 2:30 p.m. The Bruins and Golden Bears continue their series Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m.

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Ogden named to CFB Hall of Fame

Former UCLA standout offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden was named to the College Football Hall of Fame, it was announced today. Ogden becomes the third Bruin to receive the honor in five years, joining Randy Cross and Troy Aikman as recent honorees.

Ogden had a standout career at UCLA, including the 1995 Outland Trophy, before a prolific NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens, where he had 11 Pro Bowl appearances.

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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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Neuheisel to be one of the new faces of the Pac-12 Network

Former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel was announced on Wednesday as one of the “initial faces” of the Pac-12 Network, along with former USC football player Ronnie Lott and former Stanford swimmer Summer Sanders.

Neuheisel, who was fired by the Bruins in late-November in the midst of a 6-8 season, did some television work with CBS following his departure. Now he’ll serve as a primary football analyst for the burgeoning conference network.

“This is an amazing opportunity. I have such a deep passion and respect for the Conference and for all of the schools,” Neuheisel said in a release. “I have been affiliated with the Pac-12 since I was six years old when my dad taught at Arizona State. I never missed a Sun Devils game growing up. Then I got the chance to play at UCLA and went to law school at USC. I began a coaching career at UCLA that took me to Colorado then to Washington and back to UCLA. The launch of the Pac-12 Networks is very exciting and I am thrilled for this opportunity to help deliver unprecedented exposure to the Conference of Champions.”

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