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Preparation for bowl game brings memories for UCLA’s Darius Bell

Reporting from San Francisco — The last three days, UCLA quarterback Darius Bell has sifted through memories while practicing at City College of San Francisco, where he played in 2009.

Some have been good, like the 23 consecutive passes he completed in his last game in the stadium where the Bruins have been working out this week in preparation for Saturday’s game against Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Some are bad, as when Bell’s thoughts drift back to David Henderson, a friend and former teammate.

Henderson, a running back on the 2009 San Francisco team, was shot in the head on May 26, Bell’s birthday. He died two weeks later.

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“There is definitely a little sadness being back here,” said Bell, a junior reserve for UCLA. “This was his home and he loved it here. I had known him since high school. We were the only sophomores that went to Stanford camp. We bonded.”

Bell played at San Francisco Riordan High and Henderson at Lincoln, where he ran for 5,596 yards and scored 67 touchdowns.

The two teamed up at City College of San Francisco for one season. Bell had 1,982 yards passing, 751 yards rushing and accounted for 32 touchdowns — 21 passing and 11 running. Henderson ran for 1,108 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns.

“People don’t believe me, but he was the best player I have played with to this day,” Bell said. “He could do anything. He was a game changer. I’d take him over anyone you could mention.”

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While Bell enrolled at UCLA, Henderson struggled academically. He signed with West Georgia, but soon returned to San Francisco. He was playing with the Pacifica Islanders, a minor league team in the Bay Area, when he was killed.

“City College is a stepping stone to get where you needed to go in life,” Bell said. But Henderson “was hanging with the wrong people, old friends.”

It was a reminder to Bell that “not every place is safe. I was fortunate to have a good family and good people watching over me.”

Looking ahead

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Mike Johnson, UCLA’s offensive coordinator and interim head coach, has been contacted by Arizona State representatives but has yet to speak to anyone from the university about joining the Sun Devils’ staff.

Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone will be UCLA’s offensive coordinator under new Bruins Coach Jim Mora.

Johnson, who is about to complete his first season at UCLA, interviewed for the job of head coach at Akron two weeks ago, but Terry Bowden was hired.

Looking back

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Asked what went wrong for the Bruins this season, Johnson said he “can’t really pinpoint one particular thing.”

The Bruins have a 6-7 record, having lost three of their last four games, including a 50-0 drubbing by USC. Rick Neuheisel was fired as head coach three days after that game.

“It’s been an up-and-down, rocky road,” Johnson said. “That’s why we’re in the situation we’re in now, the inconsistency.”

He added, “The guys are working hard and I think we’re going to go out this Saturday and give it our best shot to end the season on a positive note.”

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As for the Bruins’ future, Johnson said, “The overall deal is UCLA has to change. That’s why they have a new coach.”

Abbott returns

Cornerback Andrew Abbott, who left Wednesday’s practice after injuring his right foot, returned Thursday and is expected to play against Illinois.

“He just needed some treatment,” Johnson said.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes


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