Back from injury, Hester seeks a hasty return to play
A perplexed Aaron Hester stood on the side of the field Tuesday watching the defense prepare for Arizona.
A day earlier, Coach Rick Neuheisel said that Hester, a starting cornerback when the season began, was “full go” after missing six weeks with a fractured fibula. “He’s been given a clean bill of health. Now it’s a matter of how quickly he can get himself back into football shape,” Neuheisel said.
But Hester, a 6-foot-1, 203-pound redshirt freshman, spent most of practice watching. He participated in individual drills, but was not given a rep with the defense.
“I feel good and I’m ready to play,” Hester said. “I don’t know why I’m not getting reps, but that’s not my decision. That’s the coaches’ decision. I just have to respect it.”
After practice, cornerbacks coach Carnell Lake declined an interview request, saying he was running late for meetings. Hester said he would try to meet with coaches, but Lake was expected to meet with him Tuesday night.
Neuheisel said Monday he did not rule out Hester’s availability for the Arizona game.
The Bruins have used freshman Sheldon Price at cornerback the last three games.
The 6-2 Price is considered a high-end prospect but weighs only 163 pounds and is just five months removed from high school.
Price bounced harmlessly off Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl as he made a catch and went 20 yards for a touchdown on Oct. 10.
Neuheisel said Monday, “Sheldon is doing a lot of good things. Unfortunately he is sometimes a little overwhelmed because he hasn’t been able to develop physically in being strong enough to make tackles against the premier backs we’ve been facing.”
UCLA faces an Arizona team that runs a spread offense. But Hester, a fast and physical cornerback who Bruins coaches have believed would become a quality cover man, did not seem part of the game plan Monday.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said Hester would be worked back in slowly because “we installed a lot of stuff since he’s been out. He’ll gradually work in.” But the job that Hester won hands down in spring practice would be open for “competition, probably. We’re always going to play the best,” Bullough said.
Neuheisel said Tuesday, “I think he’s just working into the individual drills and all that kind of stuff. I’m not sure we can afford to be working him in. He’s not in football shape. We’ll see where he is.”
Where Hester was Tuesday was on the sideline.
“I feel I’m ready,” Hester said. “I’m fast. I can move on it and everything. I just need a chance to re-prove myself. I cannot prove myself if I don’t get any reps.”
Carter sits out
Linebacker Reggie Carter, who has a sprained left knee, participated only in some individual drills Tuesday.
“I do as much as I can,” Carter said. “I probably could do it all, but to be smart the coaches and training staff want me to do what I really need. That’s fine with me.”
Carter expects to play against Arizona.
Freshman safety Stan McKay sat out practice because of a sore knee. He is expected to return today. . . . Guards Nick Ekbatani and Stan Hasiak alternated with the first team, replacing injured starter Eddie Williams (fractured ankle).