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Koral Craves His Chance

Times Staff Writer

UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell has not named a starting quarterback, but senior Drew Olson appears to have a strong hold on the position with redshirt freshman Ben Olson as his backup.

That leaves senior David Koral and redshirt freshman Patrick Cowan as the odd men out heading into today’s scrimmage at Drake Stadium.

For Koral, who worked with the No. 1 offense throughout spring practice -- while Drew was recovering from knee surgery and when Ben was new to the team -- summer training camp has been a frustrating experience.

“I guess I have to be optimistic, but it’s kind of hard when you see the same thing happen every year,” said Koral, who played at Palisades High, spent a redshirt season at Vanderbilt, played two seasons at Santa Monica College and tried to walk on at Florida State before transferring to UCLA at the start of 2004.

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“I’m better in live situations because I can make plays without a play working. If you need to just go through reads, I can do that too, but if your line breaks down I can still make a play work.... In practices so far, scrambling and making plays is not allowed. We don’t get live opportunities.”

After sitting behind Drew Olson for all but five snaps during the regular season last year, Koral responded when he got his chance in the Las Vegas Bowl. Although UCLA lost to Wyoming, 24-21, Koral stepped in after Olson suffered a knee injury in the first half and completed seven of 12 passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns.

“I was real optimistic when camp started,” Koral said. “I thought I had a pretty good bowl game and I thought that I showed I could get the job done in spring. I just don’t know how I could get demoted to third team. I’m not ready to accept that.”

In most college passing systems, a quarterback’s main job is to distribute the football to a variety of receivers, following a series of defensive reads. It’s efficient and effective when every player is on the same page.

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That’s not Koral’s calling card. He’s a quarterback more artist than strategist.

In his last season as a starter at Santa Monica College, Koral completed 155 of 281 passes for 2,202 yards and 18 touchdowns with six interceptions in nine games.

“The thing about David is he’s a real competitive guy,” UCLA quarterback coach Jim Svoboda said. "... His strength is when he gets into game-type situations. His eyes really light up.”

Unfortunately for Koral, UCLA has not had many such situations for quarterbacks in camp. Even in today’s scrimmage, rules will protect Bruin quarterbacks from being hit.

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“To a certain extent [Koral] is at a little disadvantage because we have the red shirts on [UCLA quarterbacks] and in the back of their minds they know they are not going to take a direct hit or get bounced around,” Svoboda said. “It is different once they get in a game.”

While Drew and Ben Olson will work with a first-team unit that includes four returning starters on the line and standouts such as tight end Marcedes Lewis and running back Maurice Drew, Koral and Cowan will split time surrounded by other backups.

Dorrell says he’s looking forward to seeing how all the quarterbacks respond in the scrimmage before deciding the quarterback depth chart.

“This is not the final, so to speak, but it will be a factor,” Dorrell said. “We want to see how they play under duress with no quarterback coach or head coach standing behind him or anything like that. We want to see how they can operate a huddle, move and command an offense ... see how they interact with their teammates and, of course, productivity.”

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It’s on the productivity end Koral says he hopes to make an impression today, even if it doesn’t get him where he wants to be on the depth chart.

“I just want to get a chance to show what I can do,” he said. “It’s been a difficult experience, but I just want to play.

“I want to show the coaches that I’m ready when they give me a chance.”


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