UCLA nose guard Jim Wahler told the Daily Bruin, the campus newspaper, this week that he almost quit the team when Coach Terry Donahue suspended him after he was quoted in The Times as making critical comments about the coaching staff.
In fact, Wahler told sports editor Brian Murphy of the Daily Bruin that he packed up his belongings and was driving north toward his hometown of San Jose when he pulled off the freeway about halfway to Santa Barbara and turned around.
“I had forgotten that it was a special experience to play on a team and be involved in athletics,” Wahler said. “When you’re in competition, especially football, it brings guys closer together because it’s combat, in a way.
“It would have been selfish of me to go ahead and (quit). I would never do that to my team. I’d never do anything to hurt this team. This team is No. 1 in my heart. I would give my last ounce of strength for this team.”
Wahler told The Times last month that he resented being moved to nose tackle, the position he had played as a freshman before being moved to tackle.
Wahler said the suspension helped him to mature.
“It taught me that to be on a team, and to be a functional and successful part of the team, you have to give up your individuality,” he told the Daily Bruin. “And that’s a hard thing to do. I learned that late, but I learned it.”
Add Wahler: The 3-year starter also told The Times last month that, although the polls ranked UCLA ahead of USC at the time, the Bruins were still perceived by many in Los Angeles to be the second-best college football team in town.
“And that’s (not right),” Wahler said. “That’s got to end. And if that means taking USC out and blowing them out of the Rose Bowl, so be it. Let’s do it.”
Since then, Wahler said, he has received about 3 letters a week from USC fans.
Hate mail, he called it.
Wahler said he plans to burn the letters Friday night.
Tim Ryan, USC defensive tackle, said he played Pop Warner League football with Wahler in San Jose and that he isn’t concerned that Wahler has an intense dislike for USC.
“He’s just an intense guy who is a great player,” Ryan said.
If anybody is wondering just how good unbeaten USC is this season, UCLA Coach Terry Donahue set the record straight at a recent press conference.
“This USC team is as dominant in most areas as any of their great teams,” Donahue said. “They’re dominant in the offensive line, at quarterback and on defense.
“It’s as good a complete football team as I have seen Southern Cal have during my tenure here. It certainly matches up with a lot of those great teams they’ve had.”
Then, USC Coach Larry Smith countered at his Tuesday press conference. Asked if he’s surprised that USC is a 3-point favorite on UCLA’s home field, the Rose Bowl, Smith said:
“No, I’m not surprised, but I think we’re probably expected to lose.”
“By who?” someone asked.
“By everybody,” Smith replied. “I don’t think our fans expect us to lose, or our team, or coaches. But I think if you’d poll the general public, they’re basing everything on USC having never beaten UCLA in the Rose Bowl (3 defeats).”
USC quarterback Rodney Peete missed practice Tuesday for the second straight day because of the flu.
For the record: It was incorrectly reported Tuesday that Zenon Andrusyshyn, former UCLA kicker, missed a conversion attempt in the Bruins’ 14-12 loss to USC in 1969. UCLA failed on a pair of 2-point conversion tries.
Times staff writer Mal Florence contributed to this story.