Dollar signs and the chance to play on Sundays beckoned.
Addressing unfinished business pulled harder.
The UCLA roster always intrigues NFL scouts. After last season the interest was mutual. Tailback DeShaun Foster, receivers Freddie Mitchell and Brian Poli-Dixon, safety Marques Anderson, linebacker Robert Thomas and defensive lineman Kenyon Coleman contemplated plunging into the draft.
All but Mitchell decided those waters could wait.
"The other guys and I came to the conclusion we are only in college once and we have goals and dreams we haven't achieved," Thomas said. "We said, 'Let's come back and have a great year. Let's make it happen.' "
A national championship is not some ethereal ideal to the 24 Bruin seniors. It's as tangible as Edgerrin James, who trampled the Bruins' unbeaten hopes in Miami's 49-45 victory late in 1998. At the time, UCLA was 10-0 and riding a 20-game winning streak.
Until that loss, the freshmen of three years ago figured winning was a Bruin birthright. But since then they've gone from callow to calloused.
A tumultuous 4-7 1999 season included the handicapped parking scandal, numerous injuries and UCLA's first loss to USC in nine years. A roller-coaster 6-6 2000 season began with three victories and ended with three losses.
"I'm glad we went through that," Poli-Dixon said. "They were growing experiences that helped us mature. If you are always winning, you take things for granted."
Half the Bruin starters are seniors. Several more are key reserves. They've been up, down and all around. All that's left is to push forward one more time.
"The enthusiasm on the field with so many of my senior teammates is fantastic," linebacker Ryan Nece said. "We have a purpose and an agenda. We set goals and are bound and determined to obtain them.
"Let's start at the top, a national championship, and trickle down from there."
Cory Paus' last two seasons ended prematurely because of injuries, but he is as talented as he is fragile. Paus, a junior, passed for 2,154 yards and 17 touchdowns in eight games and his efficiency rating of 145.8 would have led the Pacific 10 Conference had he played enough to qualify.
Paus, who has put on 10 pounds since last season, has displayed enough ability and leadership that Toledo will open up the offense the way he did with Cade McNown in 1997 and '98.
Senior Scott McEwan, who played well in last season's Sun Bowl, will be first off the bench. Junior Ryan McCann has proven an able backup, leading the Bruins to victories over Alabama and Michigan last season and over Washington in 1999.
The Bruins were 5-0 last year in games DeShaun Foster carried the ball 24 or more times. A strong start will thrust the speedy, elusive back into Heisman Trophy contention.
Manuel White is an intriguing complement to Foster, a large, bruising runner and capable receiver. Akil Harris rushed for 201 yards last season, including 100 against Arizona State.
Fullbacks Matt Stanley and Ed Ieremia-Stansbury each started last season and have been outstanding in camp. Backup Pat Norton also has played well. The job of the fullback is to open holes for Foster and help protect Paus.
Brian Poli-Dixon is proven. The 6-foot-5 senior has 115 career catches and could challenge several school records.
Redshirt freshman Craig Bragg and sophomores Ryan Smith and Tab Perry are potential. Bragg is a deep threat, Smith a possession receiver and Perry a tall target who will start along with Poli-Dixon.
Paus said he will look for tight ends Bryan Fletcher and Mike Seidman more often. Freshman Keith Carter might not redshirt if Seidman is slow to recover from knee surgery.
Center Troy Danoff and tackles Mike Saffer and Bryce Bohlander are returning starters. Danoff played every snap last season.
Guards Eyoseph Efseaff and Shane Lehmann replace three-year starters Oscar Cabrera and Brian Polak. Reserves Steve Vieira and Paul Mociler can play guard and tackle.
Depth could be a problem. Toledo wants his five prized freshmen to redshirt, but one or more could be pressed into duty if starters are injured.
Last year's weakness could become this year's strength. End Coleman and tackles Ken Kocher and Rodney Leisle will be difficult to run against. Ends Dave Ball, Rusty Williams and Stephen Sua provide depth across from Coleman. Backup tackles Anthony Fletcher, Steve Morgan and Saia Makakaufaki had substantial playing time last season.
Pressuring the quarterback is the biggest challenge for a unit that is missing only a true speed rusher.
Although Thomas in the middle and Nece on the weak side are two of the Bruins' most experienced players, there are question marks. Thomas and Nece have been held out of most contact drills because they are coming off injuries.
The strongside linebacker is Mat Ball, who was moved from end only a week ago. Marcus Reese can play all three positions but is best suited for the middle. Brandon Chillar, Tim Warfield, Dennis Link and Audie Attar provide depth.
Training camp injuries have slowed nearly everyone except veteran cornerback Ricky Manning and senior strong safety Jason Stephens.
Senior Anderson moved from strong to free safety but hasn't had much practice time because of a concussion. Freshman Matt Ware, expected to start at cornerback, also had a concussion. Ben Emanuel, Joe Hunter, Keith Short and freshman Matthew Clark are pushing for playing time.
Kicker Chris Griffith and punter Nate Fikse give the Bruins one of the nation's best kicking games. Griffith has made 75% of his field goals in two years and Fikse averaged 43.3 yards a punt last season.
Kick returner Perry and punt returner Manning were solid last year and will have help from Bragg.
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At A Glance
Coach: Bob Toledo, sixth season, 35-23
Last season: 6-6, tie for fifth in Pacific 10 Conference; lost to Wisconsin, 21-20, in Sun Bowl.
Key losses: WRs Freddie Mitchell (77 catches, 1,494 yards) and Drew Bennett, TE Gabe Crecion, OGs Oscar Cabrera and Brian Polak, LB Tony White, SS Jason Zdenek, CB Jason Bell, DT Kory Lombard.
Returning starters: TB DeShaun Foster, QB Cory Paus, OT Bryce Bohlander and Matt Saffer, C Troy Danoff, WR Brian Poli-Dixon, FBs Ed Iemeria-Stansbury and Matt Stanley, DEs Dave Ball and Rusty Williams, DTs Rodney Leisle and Anthony Fletcher, LBs Robert Thomas and Ryan Nece, FS Marques Anderson, CB Ricky Manning, senior SS Jason Stephens (started as a freshman), K Chris Griffith, P Nate Fikse.
Top newcomers: CB Matt Ware is the only true freshman expected to start. Senior DE Kenyon Coleman and DT Ken Kocher will start after being sidelined much of last season because of injury. WRs Ryan Smith, Tab Perry and Craig Bragg and OGs Shane Lehmann and Eyoseph Efseaff will step into key roles on offense. LB Mat Ball will do the same on defense. RB Manuel White will complement Foster. TEs Bryan Fletcher and Mike Seidman should easily fill the void left by Crecion.
Offense at a glance: The running of Foster and passing of Paus give UCLA a balanced attack. Poli-Dixon is a dangerous receiver and either Smith, Perry or Bragg should emerge as a secondary threat. The tight ends will be prominent targets. Among blockers (which include the fullbacks), only the guards are inexperienced. Scott McEwan and Ryan McCann are experienced backups at quarterback. UCLA has averaged 32.2 points in Toledo's five years and should have little trouble reaching that figure.
Defense at a glance: The focus under new coordinator Phil Snow is to improve the pass rush, increase third-down stops and allow fewer fourth-quarter points. Oh, and make some tackles. With nine players who started at least a game last season, the line should be the strength. The linebackers will be fine as long as Thomas and Nece are healthy. The secondary, anchored by Anderson and Manning, will improve as Ware becomes comfortable.
Intangibles: With 24 seniors, there is an abundance of leadership and experience. The offense believes in Paus. The defense is eager to silence the naysayers. "I like this team," Toledo said. "They get along well and they have definite goals for the season."
Key to the season: Keeping injuries to a minimum. Last season, Paus and Foster went down and the defensive line was depleted. In 1999, injuries riddled the offensive line. Toledo would like to redshirt most of his 17 freshmen, but some will play if depth becomes a problem.
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Final Regular Season
TEAM UCLA Opponent First downs 213 229 Rushes-Net yd 425-1,086 464-2,046 Yards passing 2,904 2,483 Passing 363-196-11 366-185-12 Int.-yd. ret. 12-181 11-268 Plays-Net yards 788-3,990 830-4,529 Punts-average 74-43.0 62-39.5 Punt ret.-yards 19-120 35-407 Kickoffs ret.-yd 43-847 29-615 Fumbles-lost 19-11 27-17 Penalties-yards 77-684 77-721
Rushing TCB NYG Avg. TD Foster 243 930 3.8 11 Harris 45 201 4.5 3 Lewis 52 221 3.8 1 Ieremia-Stnsbry 5 24 4.8 0 Perry 2 3 1.5 0 Bennett 7 2 0.3 0 Fletcher 1 2 2.0 0 Mitchell 3 0 0.0 0 McEwan 3 -18 -6.0 0 Fikse 1 -23 -23.0 0 team 11 -40 3.6 0 McCann 16 -47 -2.9 0 Paus 36 -148 -4.1 3 Totals 425 1,086 2.6 18 Opp. 464 2,046 4.4 19
Passing PA PC PI Yds TD Paus 226 126 9 2,007 16 McCann 120 60 2 688 4 McEwan 10 5 0 29 0 Mitchell 2 2 0 76 2 Bennett 2 1 0 54 1 Ieremia-Stn 1 1 0 18 0 Poli-Dixon 1 1 0 32 0 Fikse 1 0 0 0 0 Totals 363 196 11 2,904 23 Opp. 366 185 12 2,483 22
Receiving No. Yd. TD Mitchell 68 1,314 8 Poli-Dixon 46 700 5 Foster 16 142 1 Dubravac 14 169 1 Fletcher 9 126 2 Ieremia-Stnsbry 9 40 3 Crecion 8 122 1 Bennett 6 96 0 Perry 6 58 0 Harris 4 61 1 Seidman 4 47 1 Stanley 3 24 0 Owens 1 4 0 Lewis 2 1 0 Total 196 2,904 23 Opp. 185 2,483 22
OTHER LEADERS: PUNTING--Fikse, 72-3,109, 43.2. PUNT RETURNS--Manning, 18-120, 6.7. KICKOFF RETURNS--Perry, 27-556, 20.6. INTERCEPTIONS--Manning, 4-64. SCORING--Foster, 72. TD--Foster, 12. FG--Griffith, 9-12, 75%.