Bret Johnson, UCLA's starting quarterback last year, has left the team and doesn't plan to return, according to sources close to the school.
The Bruins began practice Monday and Coach Terry Donahue said he expected to name a starting quarterback quickly.
According to a source, Johnson believed until Friday that he would be UCLA's starting quarterback again. But Tuesday, after offensive coordinator Homer Smith notified the quarterbacks that Jim Bonds would be the starter in the regular-season opener against Oklahoma Sept. 8 in the Rose Bowl, Johnson left the team.
Johnson, a sophomore, did not show up for an afternoon practice Tuesday. A Times reporter was on the field when practice began, but was told to leave when Donahue said that practices, for the present, were closed.
Another source close to Johnson said that the quarterback is considering transferring to Florida State, Penn State or Texas A&M;, among other schools.
Johnson would have to sit out a year under NCAA rules before he could play, leaving him with two years of eligibility. If he transfers to a Pacific 10 Conference school, he will have to sit out two seasons, which makes that move very unlikely.
"He feels it's best for him. He wants to go somewhere big," a player close to Johnson said.
"He said he has no idea where he's going. He just didn't show up for the second practice; he didn't tell anybody.
"We just hate to lose a great quarterback like Bret. We've got to put this behind us. Maybe something will happen and he'll decide to stay."
Donahue praised the work of all of his quarterbacks--Johnson, Bonds, who played in seven of 11 games last year in relief of Johnson; redshirt freshman Tommy Maddox and Bert Emanuel at the conclusion of spring practice.
Donahue was unavailable for comment Tuesday night while in team meetings on the Westwood campus.
Johnson could not be reached, but it is believed that UCLA officials were trying to get him to reconsider his decision.
His father, Bob Johnson, who coached his son at El Toro High School in Orange County, was reportedly on the UCLA campus late Tuesday night talking to UCLA officials.
Bob Johnson's wife, Debbie, said that her husband would release a statement about the situation when he returned home.
Bonds, a junior from Valencia, was involved in a quarterback battle with Johnson last fall.
However, Bonds had a bad practice in the final scrimmage before the season-opening game against Tennessee and Johnson, then a redshirt freshman, was named the starting quarterback.
The quarterbacks were reassessed last spring after Smith rejoined the team as offensive coordinator. Smith was a UCLA assistant coach in the early 1970s and again from 1980 through 1986.
The Bruins have been working out only in shorts since Monday. One source indicated that the coaching staff had decided earlier on a starting quarterback but had not made an announcement to team members.
Johnson started all 11 games in 1989 in a dismal 3-7-1 season, UCLA's first losing season since 1979.
He completed 57.5% of his passes for 1,791 yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing 13 interceptions.
However, in the last seven games of the season Johnson didn't lead the Bruins on a touchdown drive in the second half.
When spring practice ended, Donahue lauded all of his quarterbacks and said that Johnson had the best all-around practices of any of them.
Bonds completed 24 of 40 passes (60%) for 300 yards with one touchdown while throwing four interceptions last season.
Johnson, 6 feet and 186 pounds, was regarded by some as the best high school quarterback in the country as a senior. He led El Toro to a Southern Section championship in 1987 and an overall record of 12-2. The two losses came while he was injured.
USC quarterback Todd Marinovich, who played for Capistrano Valley High, was Johnson's main rival for individual honors while they were in high school.
Marinovich, like Johnson, was a starting quarterback for USC last year, and was named the nation's top freshman football player by United Press International and the Sporting News.
Times staff writers Tom Hamilton, Tom La Marre and Elliott Almond contributed to this story.