Questions still abound in UCLA’s secondary, a unit that lost all four starters and returns few upperclassmen.
The group does have talent, however, and a starting lineup is nearly solidified: at safety, Anthony Jefferson and Randall Goforth, who have five combined career starts; at corner, Ishmael Adams, who played two games in 2012 before season-ending shoulder surgery.
The most unlikely of the quartet is sophomore Fabian Moreau.
The Florida native had played running back for most of his life. As a senior at Western High, near Ft. Lauderdale, he ran for 889 yards and 11 touchdowns. Tacking an additional seven touchdowns and 416 yards through the air, he was named All-County by both the South Florida Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald.
But once he arrived at UCLA last fall, the staff decided to switch him to cornerback. A talented but raw athlete, he had little knowledge of cover technique and struggled with backpedaling.
“He looked like a person who had never played defense in his life,” Goforth said.
So Moreau worked. After every Bruins practice, he began staying an extra five, ten minutes to try and refine his footwork and backpedaling. Coaches noticed a change late in the 2012 season, one that saw Moreau make five tackles in 11 appearances. Toward the end of spring camp, assistant Demetrice Martin said Moreau looked comfortable at the position, finally gaining some “corner swag.”
Over the summer, he enlisted both Adams and Goforth to help him progress even more. The trio would go out to Spaulding Field after lifting sessions, practicing together for roughly half an hour. Goforth called Moreau the hardest worker he’d ever met.
Head coach Jim Mora praised him for his athletic arrogance and ability to put bad plays behind him. Moreau’s background on offense, Mora added, may still be helping: “He can find the ball in the air quickly and he can make a play on it. That’s really what it comes down to, is winning at the moment of truth. He does that.”
The real test will come on Aug. 31, when UCLA opens its season at the Rose Bowl against Nevada. Legendary Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault retired in December, but his replacement Brian Polian is keeping the program’s trademark pistol offense intact. Last year, Cody Fajardo passed for 2,786 yards and rushed for over 1,121. Only two quarterbacks in the country bested him in both marks; one was Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.
Nevertheless, Mora believes Moreau will do well. The erstwhile running back thinks so too.
“I just put it in my mindset that I’m coming in to make an impression, so that I can be one of the best corners in the nation,” Moreau said. “I’m still working hard to be that.”