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Zeno Puts Himself in the Middle at UCLA

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When last season ended, UCLA guard Lance Zeno knew that he would be the only returning offensive lineman with any appreciable experience.

So he went to Coach Terry Donahue with a proposition.

“I told him if you need me to move to center in the best interest of the team, I’ll do it,” Zeno said. “I knew we had a young line, and the center here has always been a team leader. I thought it would help our team the most if I moved to center.”

Donahue agreed, so the 6-foot-4, 273-pound Zeno, a senior, is the acknowledged leader at a position where he has limited experience.

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“You don’t pull as much at center as you do at guard,” Zeno said, “but the hardest part is snapping the ball and then getting out to make a block.”

Zeno’s leadership was evident last season when he was the only junior named by his teammates to represent them as one of the four Bruin captains.

It was Zeno’s legacy to play for UCLA.

His father, Joe, played fullback and linebacker for UCLA from 1960 to ’62. His uncle, Larry, was UCLA’s quarterback from 1962 to ’64.

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Moreover, his sister, Lori, was an outstanding Bruin volleyball player and competes on the women’s pro circuit.

His twin brother, Eric, was a UCLA tight end for a while and is a professional volleyball player.

And, his grandfather, Joe Zeno Sr., played guard for Holy Cross and later for the Washington Redskins from 1942 to ’44, during the Sammy Baugh era.

The UCLA connection almost became the USC connection, though.

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“My dad was committed to USC, but when he didn’t hear from them, he went to UCLA--and the rest is history,” Lance Zeno said.

However, Zeno has maintained a USC tie through former Trojan center Brad Leggett, who was drafted by the Denver Broncos.

They played together at Fountain Valley High School, and Leggett has monitored Zeno’s progress as a UCLA center.

“This past spring, he watched me and gave me some tips,” Zeno said. “Now he’s a pro and he knows what the pros are looking for, and passes it on to me. That shows our friendship.”

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UCLA struggled in 1989 with a 3-7-1 record, and to make matters worse, Zeno recalls coming to practice near the end of the season feeling listless and fatigued.

“I remember coming out to practice during our agility drills and feeling so tired,” Zeno said. “I had no legs. I knew something was wrong, and it got worse and worse.”

One morning, Zeno awakened with a severe stomachache at his apartment on campus. He was barely able to get to the UCLA Medical Center, stopping to rest along the way.

It didn’t take doctors long to diagnose his condition--appendicitis, and an emergency appendectomy was performed.

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“I missed the Oregon game and I couldn’t play against USC, but no matter what, I wanted to be at the USC game,” Zeno said. “I was one of the captains, and it was important to the guys that I be there.

“After the game, I felt terrible and I didn’t know what it was. Perhaps, I thought it was because we tied USC (10-10).

“When I woke up the next morning, I had chills and I was shaking so much that the bed was moving.”

It was back to the emergency room, where it was determined Zeno had an infection. He said he was given antibiotics to clear up his blood. He was also told to take it easy and not exert himself.

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“I go crazy if I can’t train,” Zeno said, “and it was four months before I could. However, I was fine by spring ball.”

Last year, Zeno was a member of a relatively experienced offensive line. Yet, that line has since been identified by Donahue as not performing to expectations.

Zeno agreed, saying, “We didn’t play as well as we should have. Our whole offensive unit didn’t perform successfully. You can’t single out any one person.”

Zeno isn’t dwelling on last season, but he said the team can learn from it. “What happened has made our team closer and more anxious to practice,” he said.

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And Zeno figures to be in the center of it all, leading by example.

Bruin Notes

Coach Terry Donahue has closed practices until after the Sept. 8 opening game with Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl. . . . Three starting-type players--flanker Scott Miller, outside linebacker Rocen Keeton and tight end Corwin Anthony--are sidelined with injuries. As a result, Donahue is doing some adjusting, perhaps changing personnel and defenses.


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