The ebb and flow of Jordan Lasley’s UCLA career began before he caught his first college pass.
The receiver missed the first week of his first training camp for an unspecified violation of team rules, the start of a lengthy list of transgressions.
Lasley’s most recent suspension cost the junior three games but might have been worthwhile if it represented a turning point. He made a triumphant return last week against Arizona State.
“Not playing with my team, not being out there to help my teammates, it was devastating,” Lasley acknowledged after catching seven passes for a career-high 162 yards during the Bruins’ 44-37 victory over the Sun Devils.
Lasley said he spent the three weeks “kind of like rehabilitating” after being held out for a disciplinary matter that coach Jim Mora would not divulge. There were discussions with his parents, player development coordinator Roman Phifer and himself.
“I’m a very self-critical, self-observant type of person,” Lasley said, “and I knew what I needed to do to come back and help my team in an effective way.”
Scott Altenberg, Lasley’s coach at Gardena Serra High, said he knew Lasley was in trouble recently when he showed up at his alma mater’s homecoming instead of accompanying the Bruins to Seattle for their game against Washington.
Altenberg was familiar with Lasley’s troublesome ways, recalling a player who could be too mouthy in practice and drew penalties from officials for overexuberance.
“He was always kind of a three-steps-forward, two-steps-back kind of guy,” Altenberg said. “Tremendous athlete, a lot of personality, but every now and then would make a decision not so smart. He’s not a bad kid, he just made some choices and made it harder on himself.”
Lasley also showed his former coach his thoughtful side by showing up to help out at a youth camp on a weeknight on three occasions even though Altenberg had asked him to come only once.
Mora has remained fiercely protective of Lasley, saying he only wants the best for a player who has repeatedly stumbled.
“I have a strong affinity for Jordan,” Mora said. “I feel like I understand Jordan and I pull for Jordan and Jordan’s a good young man who has had some struggles, but just over the last three weeks, the attitude that he’s demonstrated, the accountability that he’s demonstrated, the care and concern, I’ve just seen a change in him.”
Mora said his decision about Lasley’s reinstatement came before UCLA’s game against Utah on Nov. 3, when receiver Darren Andrews was lost for the season with a serious knee injury. The Bruins were already without tight end Caleb Wilson, one of their other top receiving threats, who required season-ending surgery after being injured against Colorado on Sept. 30.
Lasley did not start against Arizona State last week but lived up to his Twitter handle, @LegendaryLasley, in the second quarter when he caught a 59-yard pass from quarterback Josh Rosen. He also caught a 22-yard touchdown pass on a crossing route for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. Rosen jogged toward Lasley after the play, patting him on the helmet in celebration.
“He’s explosive, a great personality in the locker room — motivating,” Rosen said. “Love him as a friend and it was good to have him.”
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Lasley gives the Bruins afterburner speed and the elusiveness to make plays after the catch, though he is also somewhat prone to drops. He has caught 39 passes for 705 yards and four touchdowns this season and is tied for the Pac-12 Conference lead with four 100-yard receiving games despite having played in only six; he also sat out the Hawaii game for unspecified reasons.
Some of Lasley’s indiscretions are known. There was the spring practice scuffle with a defensive back in 2015 that led to Lasley’s dismissal from practice. There was the team bus he missed the day before a game against Arizona last season, leading to his suspension against the Wildcats.
Lasley was also arrested twice in 2016, according to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office. The first arrest was for possession of alcohol as a minor; the second was for presenting a fake ID at a Hollywood club. Lasley satisfied all obligations in the former matter through a diversion program and no charges were filed in the latter incident.
Lasley said after the game against Arizona State that he continued to contemplate self-improvement during his most recent suspension.
“Trying to find myself a little bit, humbling myself a little bit, practicing a little bit,” Lasley said. “Coach Mora just gave me some time to reflect on myself and reflect on my actions and see how they affect the team and see how they affect even myself.”
Lasley’s return in time for UCLA’s rivalry game against No. 11 USC on Saturday at the Coliseum has energized Altenberg, a former Bruins walk-on.
“I’m fired up because I’m a UCLA guy and I know he gives us the best chance to move the ball,” Altenberg said. “I try to keep track of him as much as anyone because I know what he can do and with him it’s just about keep going and be smart.”
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch