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Bruin Senior Battles for Fullback Job : Primus Is Primed to Produce

Times Staff Writer

James Primus is just one man, but he stands before us as the personification of the much-acclaimed strength and depth of the UCLA running back corps.

Sure, there’s Gaston Green, the star tailback. He gets the magazine covers and the big buildup. And then there’s Eric Ball, who came off the bench when Green was hurt and scored four touchdowns in one Rose Bowl game. Ball is always being asked how he handles being such an outstanding back and still not a starter.

But how about James Primus?

He’s an outstanding back, too, but he’s always an afterthought, the name thrown out as proof of the Bruins’ depth at tailback.

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And fullback.

For years, the young man from Sweetwater High School in National City has served as a utility infielder or guard-forward sixth man. Although he was a tailback, he would fill in at fullback when needed. But he was never switched because the fullback ranks were overflowing with talent, too.

So, year in and year out, Primus lets others start the season, then comes in and mops up. He has mopped up 1,246 yards so far.

Just last season, he was the Bruins’ second-leading rusher, gaining 458 yards and scoring 8 touchdowns after starting one game at tailback and two at fullback, including the Bruins’ last two victories, over USC and BYU.

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For his senior season, he has been asked to make an official move from tailback, which is his natural position, to fullback, where he might be of more help. And he wasn’t even guaranteed a starting spot as an incentive.

How does Primus feel about that?

“I’ve decided to be flattered,” Primus said. “I was asked to make the move because it was what the team needed. I imagine some guys would whine and be upset and think of it as not being treated right, but I have to be flattered that the coaches felt I could do it and felt I could help the team.

“I think you always have to be able to evaluate your environment and make the best of it. Instead of sitting back and whining, I’d rather think of it as an opportunity and try to prepare myself to make the best of it.

“It could turn out to be very good for me.”

That’s the way assistant coach Ted Williams is billing it, too. Williams, who is making a position change himself, from inside linebacker coach to running back coach, says it’s good for Primus’ future.

“Considering the NFL’s 45-man roster, it has to be an advantage to be able to do more things, be more versatile,” Williams said. “He needs to be able to block, catch, fake it--do more than just run with the ball. . . . I think it’s a blessing for him. I think it will make him tougher.”

While this toughening process is taking place, Primus has spent some time in a red jersey--worn by injured players--getting over a mild concussion. Nothing serious, he says, but he’s got to learn to avoid taking such strong shots to the head.

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“The main thing I have to learn is how to deal with going against guys a lot bigger than I am,” Primus said. “I only weigh 195, so I really have to perfect my technique.”

As one of the stars of the Bruin weight room, Primus is a muscular, sturdy 5 foot 11 inches. Still, he has to admit that he is more the size of a tailback.

The idea of using him at fullback is to put his speed--4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash--in a complementary position to the strength of last year’s starting fullback, Mel Farr.

UCLA’s offense has had lots of diversity over the last few years, but Primus reports that the Bruins will be adding a few more dimensions this season under new offensive coordinator Steve Axman.

“There is going to be a little more variety and a lot of motion,” Primus said. “I think I’ll get the chance to use my speed.”

He hasn’t given up hope that he might win the starting spot from Farr before the season starts, even though he missed part of spring practice with a broken bone in his foot. But Primus has learned to adjust his expectations, and he’s “real fired up” for this last season at UCLA.

“You have to look at the whole situation,” Primus said. “Sure I would have liked to be a starter all along. We’re all human. We’re all sensitive to the limelight and want to get praise and attention for what we do, get rewarded.

“But I also think sometimes you have to consider what’s best for everyone. You just have to hold on tight, keep a grip on life. If you keep everything in perspective day to day, you don’t set yourself up for a fall.”

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Bruin Notes Two-a-day practice sessions have ended for the Bruins, who will go into their regular schedule of game-week preparation Monday for their opener against San Diego State at the Rose Bowl next Saturday. . . . Because Coach Terry Donahue is working with three new assistant coaches, he added two scrimmages at the Rose Bowl this month. Donahue said that he wanted the new assistants to become familiar with the stadium and also the communication system from the field to the press box.

There were no major injuries incurred during twice-daily practices, although there is a long list of minor injuries that should not keep anyone out of early games. Donahue said, “I’d say there are 20, 25 guys dinged up in some way. Right now, I’d say the training room is winning. But we should get everyone back.”. . .One of the unsettled positions is tight end, where freshman Corwin Anthony from South High School in Bakersfield and sophomore Charles Arbuckle from Willowridge High in Houston are giving senior Joe Pickert strong competition. Pickert started twice last season.

Donahue keeps saying that the naming of a starting quarterback should not be treated as a major announcement because both Troy Aikman and Brendan McCracken will play this season. “I can’t help the way other people react to things, but in my mind it is very undramatic,” he said. “I really don’t think this should be treated like the crowning of a king.”


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