Brandon Willis plans to return to UCLA

Defensive tackle Brandon Willis is crisscrossing the country one more time, saying he intends to return to UCLA this fall.

Willis, who left North Carolina last month, was at the Bruins’ practice Monday, observing. He said he will complete administrative requirements this week so he can return to school.

He was to meet with UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel on Monday to discuss requesting a waiver from the NCAA that would allow him to play this season. Willis has four years of eligibility remaining.

“I’m planting roots now,” Willis said. “This is where I want to be. I want to play. If I have to wait another year, I’ll wait at UCLA.”


Willis has made the rounds during a college career where he has yet to play a down. If he can cover the field as well as he has covered the country, he will end up an All-American.

Willis was ranked as the seventh-best defensive tackle in the nation by as a senior at Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes High School. He committed to Tennessee, then signed with North Carolina and was to be part of the Tar Heels’ 2010 recruiting class.

But Willis transferred to UCLA last summer and sat out as a redshirt. He left UCLA before spring practice, wanting to return home to be near his grandmother, who he said was facing surgery.

“My grandmother is fine now; she has had her surgeries,” Willis said. “This move is for me. Not even my dad is coming out here.”


Willis said, “North Carolina would not allow me to transfer to another Atlantic Coast Conference school or any school in the South.” But Willis was already considering UCLA.

“I thought about playing at an I-AA school, where I could be eligible,” Willis said. “But I think I belong on this level.”

Baca back soon

Jeff Baca, who suffered a broken ankle in spring practice, was in a helmet and shoulder pads doing team drills Monday. He could be cleared this week and be ready to play against San Jose State on Sept 10.

“I’m chomping at the bit to be back out there with the guys,” Baca said. “It’s been way too long since.”

Baca was academically ineligible last season. His return will give offensive line coach Bob Palcic options for the first time in four seasons. Palcic said Baca will play quick tackle, with Sean Sheller moving to a guard spot.

“It’s out of my hands, but if the trainers clear him, I’d like to put Jeff in for a half against San Jose,” Palcic said.

Quick hits


Wide receiver Taylor Embree (strained calf muscle) went through a full practice Monday and had three receptions during the two-minute drill. Neuheisel said Embree will be available against Houston on Saturday. … Defensive tackle Seali’i Epenesa suffered a small fracture in his elbow during Friday’s scrimmage and will be out at least a week. … UCLA broke out the Slip ‘N Slide on Monday so quarterbacks could practice hitting the ground to avoid contact. “We’ve got to get down and get what we can get,” Neuheisel said. Quarterbacks Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut have both suffered concussions while scrambling the last two seasons.


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