Jim Mora is clearly uncomfortable.
He is given two choices: Does he think he has his quarterback and just needs to be convinced early in UCLA’s fall camp or is he still looking for who it is?
He squirms, he deflects, he pauses. He laughs nervously. He stews.
He is taking his team to the campus of Cal State San Bernardino for what is expected to be a grueling – but not too grueling – two weeks and the biggest question is not whether they will return, but whether they return with a quarterback.
“You made it very difficult on me with that question,” Mora said. “I would say this, the first is closer to the truth, that I have a feeling but still need to be convinced. I’m going to be completely candid. That’s the truth.”
Brett Hundley, the redshirt freshman, with the boundless athleticism and the energy of a toddler kangaroo? Not telling.
Richard Brehaut, the senior gunning for his first solo shot, claiming the best arm in the group? Giving nothing away.
Kevin Prince, the embattled veteran who’s won the job three times and praying for a fourth? Not a clue.
Mora said before spring camp that he wanted to find his quarterback in April. It didn’t happen. The three main competitors for the job all improved but none distanced himself from the pack. Mora said it would be a gut feeling, that he’d just know. He now says, “That might have been premature.” He then set a target date for the unveiling of his quarterback for the middle of August, but now he admits even that is fluid.
Mora is playing it close to the vest because he knows the importance of the answer – UCLA hasn’t had an all-conference quarterback since 2005. He discusses it with everyone close to him. His coaches, his friends, even his father, long-time NFL head coach Jim E. Mora. He gives away subtle hints, talking about trajectory, that if two guys are tied today, where might they be by Week 5?
“It’s building,” Mora said of the confidence of his choice. “It’s building. It’s building with our staff, people I trust, one of them being my dad.”
So UCLA is going to San Bernardino to find the heart of its offense and the soul of the rest of the team.
The Bruins were a fractured bunch in 2011, finishing 6-8, embarrassing losses piling up like discarded trash, prone to infighting and bickering, sideways glances and slumped shoulders. Mora stresses that this fall camp will be about healing old wounds, not creating new ones. He bristles at the “Junction Boys” comparison, says that this camp is not about the 100-degree heat, then adds, “although I don’t mind the heat.”
“That’s where it starts to really galvanize,” Mora said of fall camp. “It all really sucks together in that time. You’re under an immense amount of pressure. The season is about to start, the game is there, you can’t postpone it. It’s just important for us to be together. I’m not saying we have to do this every year, I’m just saying this year is important for this team to be a little isolated from the distractions.”
Added senior running back Johnathan Franklin: “It’s great for us to develop as a team and another way for us to gain accountability with each other, no distractions, I think it’s great for our team and I think it’s going to help us out down the road.”
Mora laid it out plainly at Pac-12 Media Day: No girlfriends, no friends, no family.
“It gives us a chance to depend on each other for everything,” Mora said. “If there’s going to be a conversation, that conversation is going to be with a teammate or a coach. If I’m going to have a conversation, it’s going to be with a player or a coach. If we’re doing something, we’re going to do it together. We’re going to work hard together, laugh together, have fun together, team-building together, we’re going to get to know each other.
“And what’s going to happen is that when there are times during the season when you really need that guy and he really needs you, you can count each other because you know each other.”