UCLA seniors reflect on how to improve Bruins’ football future
What UCLA seniors want this week is a no-brainer.
“We’ve got to go out with a win,” senior defensive tackle Justin Edison said.
But there are cravings beyond beating Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on Saturday. Before UCLA’s seniors play their final game, they can identify changes that need to be made to push forward a program that hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since the 1998 season.
Upgrading facilities tops the list, but there are less tangible needs players say would also help new Coach Jim Mora shake off the doldrums that have taken hold in Westwood.
“We need to establish a winning culture around here,” senior receiver Taylor Embree said. “We need to create a culture that will allow us to compete with Oregon, Stanford and USC.”
As to what is required to reach those heights, Embree said, “I know what is needed, but I’m not opening up that one.”
Others were ready with that can-of-worms opener.
“You need to get rid of this 80-yard practice field,” senior receiver Josh Smith said. “There’s a start.”
Athletic Director Dan Guerrero painted with broad strokes when discussing ideas for improving Spaulding Field after Coach Rick Neuheisel was fired in the wake of a 50-0 loss to USC. He declined to comment last week on what plans were in motion.
Mora and Guerrero have discussed the facilities and a feasibility study is in progress.
Neuheisel said in September that he hoped the football program would get some help once the $135-million renovation of Pauley Pavilion was finished. The arena is scheduled to reopen this fall. Football players have monitored its progress from their practice field next door.
“There will be a new Pauley and I hope they’re trying to take a step up with other facilities,” Smith said. “We need some more support to attract recruits.”
Spaulding Field, the Bruins’ practice facility, was renovated as part of the Acosta Training Center expansion in 2006.
The facility’s two practice fields are 80 yards long. Two yellow PVC pipes attached to a chain-link fence serve as goal posts for kickers when the rest of the team works on the field. The synthetic turf is uneven in several spots, according to players, who believe it is responsible for a handful of serious injuries.
Quarterbacks Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan suffered season-ending injuries without being hit within two minutes during spring practice in 2008, Olson suffering a broken foot while handing off.
Athletic department officials have said there is nothing wrong with the turf. But when asked what improvements are needed in the program, senior receiver Nelson Rosario immediately said, “They need to replace that turf.”
Meanwhile, the Bruins’ natural grass field “is kind of like sand,” senior center Kai Maiava said.
There are other things that could spruce up the image when recruits visit.
Senior running back Derrick Coleman said: “Our weight room is already great. All you need is someplace to change, someplace to lift, someplace to practice.”
But, Coleman said, “Guys are materialistic. Little things would help.”
A players’ lounge, though a luxury, would “help players bond and keep guys from possibly getting into trouble,” Coleman said.
During the last four seasons, at least five players were suspended for testing positive for marijuana — a third positive test results in a one-game suspension. Freshmen Shaquille Richardson, Paul Richardson and Josh Shirley were arrested on suspicion of theft on campus and then transferred. E.J. Woods was charged with battery counts and left school. In addition, there were seven other suspensions for violations of team rules.
“The discipline outside football has to improve,” Coleman said. “I’m not saying it was bad, but it can definitely go up a notch.”
Coleman also mentioned players’ use of social media as one of those minor problems that are “bad for the program.”
He said, “You can’t just have a team meeting and talk about it. You see one person bad-mouthing the program, you really have to enforce it.”
Mora inherits a program that players acknowledge has meandered. The Bruins have an 81-79 record since the 1998 season and have not been ranked in 75 consecutive polls.
“We still have to change the culture,” senior linebacker Sean Westgate said. “Every week we practiced well, we won.”
The Bruins seniors have one week left.
Said senior linebacker Glenn Love: “This last game can prove a lot to players coming in and players who are here right now.”
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