For UCLA players, rule change is a welcome meal ticket

For UCLA players, rule change is a welcome meal ticket
UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, seen here bringing down Arizona running back Terris Jones-Grigsby, is happy with the NCAA changes in the last year. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It has been a year since the plight of college athletes was in the headlines.

The changes that came from the upheaval last April, after the NCAA loosened the leash on what athletes could be given, have been "huge," UCLA Coach Jim Mora said. The increased meals and snacks alone were a boost to the players' mental and physical well-being.

"UCLA was doing everything it could before, now they're allowed to do extra," receiver Jordan Payton said. "Breakfast in the morning before practice has been great. To have a whole meal out there for you is amazing."

The issue came to a head after Northwestern football players moved to unionize. But it became a hot-button issue a year ago when Connecticut basketball player Shabazz Napier told reporters at the Final Four that there were times he went to bed "starving."


That brought action from the NCAA Legislative Council, which approved changes.

"I was glad Shabazz said something," UCLA linebacker Myles Jack said. "I remember my freshman year, we would play night games and wouldn't get back to the dorms until 2 a.m. Everything was shut down. There was no place to eat. Now they can provide us food after games."

Mora said that the need was apparent.

"Being able to give them a snack in the morning before practice or before their workouts, and a snack now before their dinner is great because they were starving," Mora said. "These kids' physical output is amazing. They are big old dudes. It's just been a real positive thing and they have benefited from it."

Where it leads now remains to be seen. Beginning Aug. 1, UCLA will begin providing scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance.

"There are a lot of issues," Jack said. "Maybe paying athletes will be a possibility. There are a lot different changes that can happen."

In the scrum

Linebacker Cameron Griffin has shown a see-a-ball-carrier, hit-a-ball-carrier attitude this spring. It's a product of seven years playing rugby.

"I'm willing to tackle," said Griffin, who was a freshman last fall. "Playing rugby, you have no pads and everything is in the open field. I can play out in space and make open-field tackles. Rugby taught me that."

Wednesday was just another example. On one play, he crashed from the right and smothered running back Nate Starks. It was one of a handful of eye-catching plays Griffin has made this spring.

"He is scrappy and relentless," Jack said. "He brings that rugby mentality. He knows how to tackle. He knows how to hit."

Where Griffin fits remains to be seen.

"I have only seen him practice a few times [because of an injury], but every day he seems better," Mora said. "He gives supreme athleticism. When I look at him, I can't decide yet if he's an inside or an outside linebacker."

At the very least, Mora said, "I have a feeling he is going to be a really, really good special-teams player for us. He can run and is powerful."

Quarterback watch

Freshman Josh Rosen, who was absent Monday while attending a funeral, returned to run the first-team offense. He completed 10 of 14 passes and threw two touchdowns.

"He's got the wide vision and he has the ability to go zoom vision," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "He's a sharp guy."

Quick hits

Receiver Alex Van Dyke and running back Craig Lee suffered minor injuries and spent the last part of practice riding stationary bikes. … Tackle Simon Goines was limited in practice because of an undisclosed injury. … Linebacker Aaron Wallace had his best practice of the spring, shutting down ballcarriers on a few plays.