UCLA center Kai Maiava fractures ankle, is out for season
UCLA offensive line coach Bob Palcic shook his head, with hands almost trembling, and said, “I am sick to my stomach,” after having seen center Kai Maiava go down with a fractured left ankle on the third play of the Bruins’ scrimmage Saturday night.
Maiava, who started 12 regular-season games last season, will undergo surgery once the swelling goes down and could have a screw put on the bone to help it heal. He will be lost for the season.
The injury overshadowed some bright spots for the offense, as players and coaches were concerned about losing the rock on which the offensive line is built.
“He’s a leader, and one of our best front guys,” Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “That’s a blow. That’s always the fear with a scrimmage, and it was the third play. It’s not like we went too long.”
Redshirt freshman Greg Capella played center with the first team after Maiava was injured. But Palcic said that left guard Ryan Taylor will move to the center, with Darius Savage likely filling the left guard spot.
“The reason I didn’t move Taylor to center tonight is because he hasn’t played the position in training camp,” Palcic said. “I told Rick that I have two weeks to get Ryan ready.”
But the domino effect will be felt. The Bruins, at the moment, are without the five players on the offensive line that started the 2009 season.
That will change when guard Eddie Williams returns from a concussion. Williams is expected to be back Monday, but only for non-contact drills, Neuheisel said.
The offensive line has lost Xavier Su’a-Filo, who is on a two-year Mormon mission; Jeff Baca, who is out because of a stress fracture in his right leg, and Mike Harris, who is suspended for the season opener.
“You get guys beat up and hurt, and you’ve just have to find guys who can play,” offensive coordinator Norm Chow said. “I think the difference between a real good program and the program that we want to become is depth, the depth of a team, because you’re going to get injuries.”
This, though, seemed to go beyond a numbers game. Maiava was a key leader, not only on the line, but on the offense.
Last season, when quarterback Kevin Prince was leveled by what the Bruins felt was a cheap shot by Washington’s Donald Butler, it was Maiava who walked halfway to the Huskies huddle hurling obscenities.
“It’s a tremendous loss,” tackle Micah Kia said. “Kai is a tremendous leader, tremendous offensive lineman, and the spirit he brings to the game is irreplaceable.”
Quarterback Richard Brehaut completed 11 of 16 passes for 186 yards and threw three touchdown passes and had one pass intercepted, a performance that passed the eyeball test.
“I felt comfortable out here,” Brehaut said. “That’s a tribute to all 11 guys out there doing their thing.”
Neuheisel was pleased, saying, “I didn’t see any terrible decisions,” but was less glowing. At one point during the scrimmage, he barked at Brehaut for not having the team in the right formation.
“It you call a formation, you have to make sure we’ve lined up in it right,” Neuheisel said. “Otherwise, you can execute perfectly, but the play comes back because off an illegal formation.”