Absolutely incredible.

Thanks to the support of friends and family, teammates and opponents, the UCLA and ESPN community and even complete strangers, the Big Nick Fund – set up for former UCLA offensive lineman Nick Ekbatani after his recent car accident - has hit its target goal of $50,000.

In five days.

What an incredible story of a community coming together for one of the best dudes I know. Everyone understands that the recovery process will not be easy, but to be able to ease some of the financial burden on the family is just fantastic.

Knowing Nick’s passion for life, that inner fire that fuels him, he’s going to respond to this adversity. Proof: watch the video, taken less than a week after the accident.

Great job, everyone.

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Brief Nick Ekbatani update

Hey guys, was just passed along some encouraging news about former UCLA offensive lineman Nick Ekbatani, who was in a car accident last weekend that resulted in a severe leg injury, and ultimately, amputation up to the knee.

“Nick stood up today with the help of a walker and they put him in a wheelchair so he can get used to sitting up and everything. He’s doing really well.”

The Big Nick Fund is charging ahead still, with more than $37,000 raised in just a few days, due in no small part to the support of UCLA community. Kudos.

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The Big Nick Fund

nick lecharles.jpg

The Big Nick Fund is up and running and it’s already on a roll…

Many of you know former UCLA offensive lineman Nick Ekbatani was involved in a car accident last weekend when his motorcycle was hit by a taxi. Ekbatani was rushed to the emergency room with a skull fracture, extensive blood loss and a damaged leg. He is stable and conscious, resting among family and friends, but unfortunately, he has lost part of his leg as a result of the accident.

One of his friends, Kim, has set up a fund to raise money for his recovery, and it’s already 1/3 of the way toward the goal of $50,000. Please consider donating, and please continue to pray. Can’t wait to be karaoke singing with the dude in no time.

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The worst kinds of stories…

Are the ones that we have to write about people we care about.

My friend and former UCLA football player Nick Ekbatani was involved in a car accident on Friday night and is in the ICU at Harbor Medical Center. I just spoke with a nurse who said he was in stable condition, but this is a scary situation.

Since Nick has been working for ESPN Recruiting we’ve become close friends, and we’re talking about hosting a podcast together. His spirit is absolutely incredible. Can’t go into too many details, but please, please pray for him. Please.

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Lacy Westbrook hospitalized with reported aneurysm

The mother of UCLA offensive lineman signee Lacy Westbrook wrote on Facebook that her son suffered a brain aneurysm while jogging at Gahr High School on Tuesday but that he was responsive and able to move. He is being held at UC Irvine Medical Center, she wrote.

Westbrook, the No. 18-rated guard from Compton Dominguez, is set to grayshirt this season.

Attempts to reach the family were unsuccessful, but UCLA head coach Jim Mora has been in contact with the family, saying: “I have talked with the family and they have indicated that Lacy is in good spirits. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the young man and his family as they confront this difficult situation.”

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It’s not a two-man race

USC reels in three more all-everything football recruits on Wednesday, and just like that, the homecoming king just got a flashy new Ferrari, the prettiest girl in school just got the pony she’s always dreamed of.

The CEO just cashed in another $1 million bonus, the leading man just stumbled upon a $100 bill and gosh, someone just gave the lion some garlic with his filet mignon. The rich are getting richer, only in this case, the richest is getting digustingly, filthy, stinking rich. It’s as if Bill Gates found a money tree in his own backyard. The stars continue to align – and add up – for the big, bad boys across town, and now it suddenly seems that all the gains that the new UCLA staff has made in recruiting is for naught.

So what are the poor, little ol’ Bruins to do?


Ignore it.

Sure, that’s like asking a dog to ignore a bone, but it’s essential, if UCLA is to continue to establish a new identity for itself. Stop feeling so poor, stop feeling so little, stop feeling so old.

No longer can the Bruins afford to play the woe-is-me game, to engage in a battle of star rankings.

The recent concession of highly touted offensive lineman Nico Falah was a crucial step in the continuing evolution of UCLA’s identity under Jim Mora. It was a signal that while Falah is a big fish, he is not the only fish. It was a signal that the Bruins understand that there are other fish to fry. And other such fish metaphors.

UCLA has an impressive class lining up – particularly at offensive line and the linebacker – and you begin to realize that USC’s success and UCLA’s success are not mutually exclusive.

“The one thing I will say is I really do feel that of all the coaches UCLA has had over the last 20 years, Mora especially gets it,” Scout.com West recruiting manager Brandon Huffman said. “He gets it better than Neuheisel did, by far than Dorrell ever did, and except for a couple flashes, better than Toledo did. He realizes youve got to have those young coaches. Tireless recruiters. Neuheisel should’ve never been the most aggressive guy on staff. Mora is doing a fantastic job of delegating certain responsibilities to different coaches.”

What Mora has come to realize quite quickly – he hasn’t even coached a game at UCLA yet – is that UCLA’s undoing in the mid-2000s wasn’t USC’s doing. It was UCLA’s undoing. Before you can reverse that trend, you have to own it.

Put more simply: USC’s greatness does not equal UCLA’s ungreatness.

With NCAA sanctions limiting the Trojans’ scholarships, the Bruins – and the rest of the Pac-12 – will benefit from the trickle-down effect. It’s on Mora and Co. to benefit the most.

“Especially since Pete Carroll took over, it should have never been about USC,” Huffman said. “He took it up a notch. UCLA should strive for top-20, USC is GOING to get the top-5. UCLA needs to be realistic. They need to beat Cal, Stanford, Washington, Oregon. USC and UCLA play once a year.

“USC is not competition right now.”

Nor will the Trojans be, until UCLA embraces that fact. It might be a tough pill to swallow, but it is an important one, if the Bruins are to become homecoming kings themselves.

And maybe get that new Ferrari.

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UCLA players on national watch lists

As expected, those UCLA football players coming off big 2011s are getting some recognition.

Senior running back Johnathan Franklin has been named to the Maxwell Award watch list, given to to the nation’s top college football player.

Senior tight end Joseph Fauria was named to the Mackey Award watch list, which goes to the best tight end.

And this morning, senior punter Jeff Locke was named to the Ray Guy Award watch list for what feels like the 47th consecutive year, though he’ll be attempting to the top punter prize for the first time. As a freshman, he got the closest, being named one of 10 semifinalists.

As more of the preseason watch lists roll out, more Bruins will be named.

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Hollins and Hollins talk UCLA commitment

The tweet threw me off.

It came from Deon Hollins Sr. randomly, without provocation, on July 1. Right when Hollins’ son and namesake, one of the top linebackers in the country, was getting UCLA fans nervous.

Listed as a verbal commit since March, Hollins Jr. had been coming under fire recently for showing interest in other schools – most notably taking a visit to Washington – but his father said that he did so with Mora’s blessing.

“A lot of people say he was a soft commit, well yeah, but you’re talking about a 17-year-old kid who is a brilliant young man, 3.8 GPA in honors courses, a great kid, and he still had some places he hasn’t seen,” Hollins Sr. “Coach Mora told him, ‘I wouldn’t tell you not to enjoy this process. Go around, look around, but this is home.’”

Added Hollins Jr.: “I still hear what they have to say, but it would have to be perfect. Everything perfect to beat UCLA. Washington, you know how Tosh Lupoi is, he’s a real personable guy, but UCLA is more than that.”

Just look at the tweet.

Another program would have to be absolutely perfect for Hollins to even raise an eyebrow, and that’s because, the two say, UCLA is already there, with the combination of a fiery young coaching staff, a defense that suits Hollins’ strengths and a conference that should provide ample opportunity for growth.

“Initially we were all ready to sign with the Pac-12 anyway,” Hollins Sr. said. “I see Deon being a West coast, Von Miller-type, leading the conference in sacks. I can see that in that conference. I envision it. With the Pac-12 throwing the ball around, I saw it as an excellent opportunity for him to compete at a high level and showcase his skills, as well. When I got off the phone with Coach Mora – and I express all the time how great the hire was – I mean, just to talk to the dude. He said the exact same things. When I look at Deon, I think Pat Swilling, and man, this is Jim Mora saying the same thing! I was tripping over that thought process. So it was the Pac-12 and it was the 3-4. We were looking at Stanford, Cal, Oregon, teams that run that type of system, hybrid end/linebacker type of deal and when (Mora) told me they were running the 3-4, I damn near dropped the phone. A defensive coach, combined with my son’s ability? Deon was so excited. So excited. We mulled it over and Deon said, ‘Dad, I want to commit,’ I just said, ‘Well, gosh dangit let’s do it then!”

The phone call, Hollins said, wasn’t just a relief for the Hollins family.

In the younger Hollins, the Bruins will get a ballhawk with incredible burst, a quick first step and a deep understand of pass rush at an early age. They’ll also get a player coveted by some of the biggest programs in the country, as Hollins sports offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma, among others.

“I remember Deon calling coach Mora, and it’s quiet here, and Deon says, “Coach, I want to be a Bruin.’ Coach Mora says, ‘You want to be a Bruin? You want to be a Bruin!’ and the whole staff was in the background clapping. Coach Martin did a hell of a job. A lot of the old regime was still intact when they took over, and they were talking UCLA out of it, oh we can’t get this kid. Martin comes in and says, ‘How do we know if we can get a home run if we don’t swing the bat?’
“They swung the bat and reached out to us and I was thrilled.”

One chat with the younger Hollins, and you get the feeling that the Bruins could have just scored a walk-off grand slam.

This is not only one of the most targeted linebackers in the country, but a bright, intelligent, social-conscious young man who is eager to hoist UCLA on his back.

“I’m trying to be the next in line to change things around,” Hollins Jr. said. ” I don’t want people to just say, ‘Oh, he’s a good football player.’ I want to be the kind of player people want to look up to, and it makes me want to work harder to get that. That’s a big thing for me. I’ve always been raised with academics first – my parents were big proponents of if you don’t pass your classes, you don’t get to play football, and in my case it was always, if you don’t get A’s, you don’t get football. When you raise the level of expectations, you have no choice but to meet them. Your body, your mind, you learn to do it. I see myself going to UCLA and being one of those types of guys, and that’s such a big thing for me. I don’t want to just be known as a football player. I pride myself on that.”

Hollins will get the opportunity, and with his father’s blessing. Deon Hollins Sr. describes the UCLA coaching staff with reverence, the sound of absolute trust in his voice. Hollins has taken an active role in his son’s football career since the peewee days, when his son became known around the park for getting into the backfield before linemen got out of their stance. For him to describe the coaching staff so glowingly, that means something to him.

“The level of trust I have comes from their sheer experience,” Hollins Sr. said. “You talk about Lou Spanos, you talk 17 years. Coach Mora, 27 years. Coach Martin’s experience, Coach Klemm, McClure. You start adding those numbers up, Super Bowl rings, those things stand out. Of course, UCLA has great academics and a beautiful campus and the three Bs – Brentwood, Beverly Hills and the beaches – it’s a beautiful place. But the excitement comes in on my end because I watched these gentlemen’s career, and to know that my son will have a part of that, and that they’re going to instill a toughness, an NFL-minded toughness to this team – because let’s face it, UCLA has had the rep of being soft, that they can’t compete with the big dogs – but now? I believe. And they’re reaching abroad – Georgia, Texas, Arizona – and they’re saying we’re going to tap into and get the best players to fit what we do. That’s what exciting for me.

“When I talked to Coach Spanos he told me an interesting story, when I brought up the West Coast Von Miller deal,” Hollins Sr. continued. “‘I hear you say Von and I’m looking at Deon and I’m not taking anything away from Von, but I think Deon has the ability and talent to be better than Miller. The system that was implemented by Tim DeRuyter, they came to Pittsburgh and worked alongside LeBeau and myself to learn the defense that Von Miller was so good in.’ That gave me goose bumps all over again! We’re talking about 17 years alongside Dick LeBeau. Come on, man! There are going to be a whole lot of times when they bring the pressure. They’re going to bring the pressure and the old cliche, pressure is going to bust pipes. And if my son gets the opportunity to rush the passer, the fans better get ready for it. He’s special.”

But other programs have experience, too. UCLA’s new coaching staff may have more NFL years and Super Bowl rings than the previous group, but they don’t corner the market on crow’s feet.

No, Jim Mora and Co. are selling more than just experience.

“That is something that my dad and I were talking about, being the start of a dynasty,” Hollins Jr. said. “Why not come to an upstart program and be a guy who can turn things around? It’s all about vision. Sometimes when you’re a younger kid – and I fall victim to it myself – you have tunnel vision, you only think about today and the day after that. You don’t think about years from now. You don’t think about future after football. But when you put those two together – life after football and life after – I don’t see a better place for us than UCLA.”

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