There’s nothing prototypical about UCLA’s Sean Westgate
Sean Westgate is just a stand-in, a body double, everyone can see that.
When UCLA takes the field against Kansas State on Saturday, Glenn Love, and his football physique, will be at weak-side linebacker. And Westgate? His annoying-little-brother persona will be back on special teams.
Or so goes the working theory. Trouble is, like a pesky little brother, Westgate just won’t go away.
Three weeks into training camp and the 5-foot-11 (maybe), 217-pound (as listed) Westgate is still running with the first-team defense. Everyone is surprised, except his coaches and teammates.
“He doesn’t have physical attributes that you wish for, but he makes all plays,” Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “That’s why he’s staying right there and he will be very productive.”
Westgate, who swears to 220 pounds soaking wet, has faced the he’s-too-small assessment his whole career.
“Ever since I started getting looked at in high school, people have said, ‘Safety,’ ” Westgate said.
Yet, he remains a linebacker.
“I go back to the first time I saw him on tape,” Neuheisel said. “Somebody ripped his helmet off and he got back up, ran down the other side of the field and made a play. That’s a guy who loves football.”
Westgate has dangled life and limb playing on special teams the last two seasons. He scored the first touchdown of the Neuheisel era, scooping up a blocked punt and strolling into the end zone against Tennessee in 2008. He blocked two punts last season.
There was little reason to believe his role would expand beyond special teams and sub duty when Love was moved from safety. Love, 6-4 and 220, looked the part.
But what Westgate lacks in height, he makes up for in gumption.
“I’ve taken my fair share of shots, but the offensive linemen will tell you that I’m one of the hardest guys to block,” Westgate said. “If they come at me too hard, I get to use my quickness, but I’m strong enough to play my gaps too.”
Said tackle Micah Kia, who has had to try to block Westgate in practice: “The dude is fast. If you don’t move quickly, he’s by you.”
Westgate’s savvy comes into to play. He has had to work at football, having fewer of the physical attributes.
“Linemen got 100 pounds on me, so I have to make my read really quick,” Westgate said. “Our defensive line makes it easy for me. If they can take two guys, which they do nine times out of 10, that lets me run to the ball. If I’m allowed to run to the ball, and keep my body under control, then I can make plays.”
So why is Westgate still a starting linebacker?
“Because he’s one tough [guy],” special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr. said.
It seems clear that the Bruins will try to get the ball to wide receiver Josh Smith as much as possible. He is working as the main kick returner on punts and kickoffs.
Smith received Big 12 Conference honorable mention as a kick returner while at Colorado in 2008. He set a school record with 1,276 yards in kickoff returns, including a 93-yard touchdown run against Colorado State.