Bruins' Foster Adding More Bite to His Bark

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a senior leader, dog lover and Heisman Trophy candidate, UCLA tailback DeShaun Foster has no use for leashes.

He wants the ball as often as possible.

Foster had 42 carries in last season's opening victory against Alabama and he might get as many Saturday when the Bruins open in Tuscaloosa.

"The ball is going to be in my hands a lot of times," he said. "Whatever it takes to get the victory, I'll be ready."

He welcomes national recognition.

Foster might be third among Pacific 10 Conference players on the Heisman watch behind players from Oregon and Oregon State (odd as that sounds), but give him time.

"It feels good to be in this position, to be considered already, but it's not my first concern," he said. "I just need to get a few games under my belt."

He likes his pit bull puppy, Noriega, to run free.

During the summer, the green-eyed female accompanied Foster into the football offices of the newly renovated, freshly painted Morgan Center and hopped in the laps of coaches until an appalled administrator kicked her out.

"I couldn't have a dog where I grew up," Foster said. "Now when I go running, I've got somebody to run with me. When I go home, I've got somebody to play with."

No doubt Noriega will play rougher as she gets older. Just as Foster plans to play tougher in his last UCLA season.

"We talked about him becoming a more physical runner and that's what I'm seeing," Coach Bob Toledo said.

Injuries and distractions have taken a toll on Foster, who rushed for 1,037 yards last season despite missing one game and most of another because of a broken hand. He also was cited for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in July, 2000, but did not acknowledge it until midseason.

Although Foster set a UCLA freshman record with 673 yards in 1998, a right ankle sprain dogged him his sophomore year and he rushed for only 375 yards.

Despite the injuries, he has racked up enough yardage to put him within a 1,110-yard season of moving to No. 2 on the all-time rushing list behind Gaston Green.

"DeShaun is stronger, quicker and more determined than I've ever seen him," quarterback Cory Paus said.

Paus plans to throw the ball to Foster as well as hand it to him. Foster had 16 receptions last season, a number that should increase.

"The more often DeShaun touches the ball, the better chance we have of winning," Paus said. One place UCLA is in no hurry to compete is in Heisman hype.

Oregon spent $250,000 on a 100-foot billboard of quarterback Joey Harrington in Manhattan and Oregon State has begun a modest campaign for running back Ken Simonton, but the Bruins don't plan to promote their tailback until he has strung together a few strong performances.

That's no problem to Foster. He learned a lesson from Noriega, who during a summer stroll relieved herself on the Pauley Pavilion concourse, forcing him to start carrying a pooper-scooper.

After two seasons of injuries and distractions, Foster is making sure he's prepared, knowing nature will take its course.

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