A season UCLA safety Tony Dye said has been “terribly depressing” may yet have a happy ending.
Dye, a senior, has been out seven weeks because of pain and numbness caused by a pinched nerve in his neck, but was allowed to go through contact drills Tuesday.
“Once I got through the individual tackling drills, I felt great,” Dye said. “I didn’t have any pain.”
It improved Dye’s chances of playing against Colorado on Saturday. He spent much of the practice working at strong safety with the first-team defense.
Dye will forfeit his chance to receive a fifth year by playing. A player can petition for a medical redshirt if he has not played because of injury after the third game of the season.
The tradeoff for Dye was easy, especially with the Bruins still in contention for the Pac-12 Conference South Division title.
“The Pac-12 championship is on the line? I want to be a part of it,” Dye said. “I feel an attachment to this team. I want to be with them.”
The opportunity to play seemed a longshot less than a month ago. Neck problems that began in training camp during August worsened, leaving Dye in too much pain to play effectively.
But the pain subsided two weeks ago. Dye practiced last week, but was not allowed to participate in contact drills.
“It was time to see the doctor about setting up a plan to get back on the field,” Dye said.
Dye could have played against Utah on Saturday, but “we didn’t want my first contact to be in a game,” Dye said. “We’ll take it day by day this week. If I’m feeling great, I’ll play. If not, we’ll go on to next week.”
The return of Dye gives the Bruins a solid tackler — he led the team with 96 tackles last season — and returns a team captain to the lineup.
“Win or lose, just knowing you could be out there and help, as competitive as I am, I can’t lose at anything or I’m going home crying,” Dye said. “Luckily, I have the opportunity to get back in pads. I didn’t think I was going to get back on the field again this year.”
Kip Smith is back?
Kicker Kip Smith is not expected to need surgery for his hip flexor, Coach Rick Neuheisel said.
“I was told today that he will probably resume kicking in the next couple weeks,” Neuheisel said.
UCLA has picked up a commitment from Ka’imi Fairbairn, a kicker from Honolulu Punahou High.
If Arizona State, UCLA and Utah end up in a three-way tie for first place in the Pac-12 South, then Arizona State would go to the conference title game because of a better record within the division.
Arizona State and UCLA are 4-3 in conference play and Utah is 3-4 with two games remaining.
In ties between two teams, UCLA has the tiebreaker over Arizona State, Utah has the tiebreaker over UCLA and Arizona State has the tiebreaker over Utah.