About five minutes before UCLA’s 20-17 win over Texas on Saturday, true freshman Jaleel Wadood found out he was getting his first start.
The Bruins were already missing safety Randall Goforth, who injured his shoulder a week ago, forcing sophomore Tahaan Goodman into the first-string lineup. Then, senior safety Anthony Jefferson tweaked his ankle during pregame warmups.
Wadood heard his name called.
He had played on big stages before, helping Bellflower St. John Bosco to a CIF state title last year as a two-way star — one named player of the year by both the Los Angeles Times and Long Beach Press-Telegram. But AT&T Stadium? This was an NFL venue — the NFL venue, some would say — with 60,479 people packed inside.
“I think I made the first two tackles of the game,” Wadood said. “Right after those, I was like, ‘This is football.’ I just went out there and played my game.”
Technically, he made UCLA’s third and fourth tackles of the game, following plays by star linebackers Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack. But for the 18-year-old, they sure felt like the first ones.
Wadood was everywhere during the Bruins’ win, showing off the playmaking instincts that made him a Rivals.com top-100 recruit in 2014. He made five more tackles by halftime and finished with nine, just two shy of Kendricks for the team lead.
Asked after the game how he would grade his own performance, he gave himself a B+.