If UCLA senior Craig Bragg has his typical game against Washington State today at the Rose Bowl, he’ll become the Bruins’ all-time leader in receptions.
Bragg, who will be starting for the first time since dislocating his left shoulder against Washington in September, has averaged nearly five catches a game during his career and needs four more to match Kevin Jordan’s school record of 179.
But records do not mean much to Bragg right now. Getting UCLA to finish the season on a roll is more important to the fifth-year senior.
“We have something to prove,” Bragg said of the Bruins, who are 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference. “Every individual player on the team is committed to winning. We’re starting to see the fruits of our labor, but we’re not finished yet.”
A victory today would put the Bruins one step closer to a bowl bid. Representatives from the Holiday Bowl, which takes the Pac-10’s No. 2 team but could end up with No. 3 because of the high bowl championship series rankings of USC and California, will attend today’s game.
For UCLA, a trip to San Diego is not the Rose Bowl, but it would mark a successful year for a team that was picked to finish eighth.
“It seems like a long time since people have been excited about football here,” Bragg said. “You can feel that now.”
Bragg seemed destined to top UCLA’s all-time list after leading the team in catches as a freshman in 2001.
“He was one of the hardest-working athletes that I’ve ever been around,” said former quarterback Cory Paus, who threw Bragg his first college pass. “I loved nothing more than to throw a deep pass down the sideline to Craig. It didn’t take long before he became my go-to receiver.”
Not many expected Bragg to become a No. 1 target for the Bruins when he signed with UCLA out of Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose in 2000. A wingback in an option offense in high school, Bragg did not have great receiving numbers.
“When I was recruited here, the coaches told me that they wanted me to score touchdowns and make big plays,” said Bragg, recruited by former coach Bob Toledo’s staff. “I sort of grew into my role of being the No. 1 option as a receiver.”
After redshirting in 2000 and spending the season on the scout team, Bragg was considered a better runner than a receiver. In his first game against Alabama in 2001, Bragg didn’t catch a pass, but he carried the ball twice, and returned a punt and a kickoff.
It wasn’t until the end of his freshman season that Bragg emerged as the player UCLA turned to for first-down completions. He caught only 16 passes in his first nine games, then caught 13 in his last two.
Bragg has been UCLA’s main receiver since, leading the team in catches the next two seasons. The key to his success is a strong work ethic that has helped him add something to his game every year, thanks to extensive off-season workouts spent under personal coach Charlie Collins.
Collins, a former Cal State Northridge and Canadian Football League receiver, runs Phenom Factory, a summer camp for receivers that has helped produce such NFL players as Chad Johnson, Dennis Northcutt and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
“When he first came out, he was very green,” Collins said of Bragg. “I sicced the dogs on him and had him go up against some veteran cornerbacks, who were either in or headed to the NFL. He got a taste of the big-time and never backed down. When he got covered, he got mad, and that made him come back for more.”
Bragg also sought out former UCLA great Mike Sherrard, who played eight seasons in the NFL, for advice. “The thing about Craig is that he really picks things up easily,” Sherrard said. “You tell him something once, and he has it down the next day.”
Bragg’s father, Craig Sr., says his son has always prepared diligently.
“He’s simply a workaholic,” Bragg Sr. said. “It was baseball season and he was worried about his speed for football. So he would have a baseball game and then go over to the track and run sprints while still in uniform....
“But that’s how Craig is. That’s what makes him different than most kids. He can really stay focused on what he wants to accomplish. He wants to be a successful athlete, and he doesn’t let anything distract him from it.”
Bragg’s dedication to the sport is special, according to Coach Karl Dorrell.
Bragg was well on his way to his second consecutive 1,000-yard season with 12 catches for 217 yards in the first three games, but he was hurt on his final catch against Washington on Sept. 18 and sat out the next three games. He wore a brace at practice but still worked out as if he would be playing the next game. Dorrell had to battle to limit Bragg’s playing time the last two weeks, even though the receiver was less than 100%.
“He practices and plays at the same speed,” Dorrell said. “That’s why games aren’t any different for him.... I wish I had one more year with him, just because of his experience in being around these young receivers, they can really benefit from a guy like him. He’s had a great career here and will have an opportunity to extend that after this season.”
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Next in Line
Wide receiver Craig Bragg is four catches shy of matching Kevin Jordan’s UCLA record:
*--* PLAYER YEARS REC YARDS Kevin Jordan 1992-95 179 2,548 Craig Bragg 2001-present 175 2,655 Danny Farmer 1996-1999 159 3,020 J.J. Stokes 1991-1994 154 2,469 Sean LaChapelle 1989-1992 142 2,027 Brian Poli-Dixon 1997-2001 139 2,127 Mike Sherrard 1982-1985 128 1,965
vs. Washington State
12:30 p.m., no TV