UCLA appears to have identified a primary tailback. His name is well known but his lean build and quick burst don’t seem all that familiar.
That’s probably a good thing for Bolu Olorunfunmi and the Bruins. Olorunfunmi averaged 3.9 yards per carry last season, part of a plodding Bruins rushing attack that gained only 84.3 yards per game to rank No. 127 out of 128 major-college teams.
The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Olorunfumi weighs only five pounds less than last season but has transformed his body-fat ratio from 12% to about 9%, making him appear visibly slimmer. He’s also much swifter as the result of offseason running, stair climbing and weight training.
“It’s fun to be lighter and it’s kind of different to play at the weight I am than what I was before,” Olorunfunmi said earlier this week. “I’m more agile, I’m able to see things better in a way and I can move faster.”
Olorunfunmi has received the bulk of the carries with the first-team offense during training camp, partly as the result of injuries to other tailbacks and partly because he’s just been more impressive than everybody else.
“Bolu’s doing a great job,” Bruins running backs coach DeShaun Foster said. “He’s got the nod right now.”
UCLA tried a five-man tailback rotation last season, with Olorunfunmi, Soso Jamabo and Nate Starks getting the heaviest workload. Nobody stood out, the Bruins failing to produce a 100-yard rusher in a game and reaching that threshold as a team only once in their final seven games.
Foster said during spring practice that the team would likely tighten its running backs rotation this season. Joshua Kelley, a transfer from UC Davis who won’t be eligible until 2018, has arguably been the second-most impressive tailback in training camp while Jamabo and Starks have been slowed by injuries. The Bruins had their full complement of tailbacks at practice Friday, though Brandon Stephens did not participate in team drills.
Olorunfunmi, a junior, has held up just fine despite the extra carries, his durability enhanced by his new physique.
“You lose weight, it takes pressure off your knees and stuff like that,” Foster said, “so he doesn’t have anything nagging and he’s just having fun.”
Not always. UCLA’s defense appears laden with playmakers, giving Olorunfunmi a daily test that might be as difficult as any he faces in the coming months.
“To me, they’re one of the best defenses in the nation, if not No. 1,” Olorunfunmi said. “To go against them every day … it’s just great. It just makes us better.”
The only way the Bruins tailbacks can go after last season seems to be up. Olorunfunmi said positive reinforcement among coaches has been a daily ritual.
“It’s less the plays than the coaches just motivating us, telling us you can do it,” he said. “You just need to tell yourself you can.”
UCLA will hold Fan Appreciation Day starting at 3:15 p.m. Saturday on the top of Parking Lot 8, where fans are invited to watch the team practice on its new artificial turf fields. Admission is free, but on-campus parking is $12. Season-ticket holders have been invited to watch practice from the terrace of the Luskin Conference Center while enjoying complimentary food provided they reserve a spot by visiting https://oss.ticketmaster.com/aps/uclaathletics2/EN/buy/quickbuy/1244.
Guard Najee Toran and receiver Audie Omotosho returned to practice after being sidelined by injuries earlier this week. … Offensive lineman Poasi Moala and defensive back Colin Samuel did not practice.