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UCLA linebacker Patrick Larimore is retiring

UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt said the news “dropped like a bombshell.”

Players were stunned, some near tears, when linebacker Patrick Larimore told them Sunday night that he was retiring because of repeated concussions.

Larimore, a team captain and most valuable player of the UCLA defense in 2011, suffered a concussion during spring practice and another two days into training camp, before the Bruins were even in full pads.

After he was reexamined Sunday evening, he decided to give up the game he loves.

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Coach Jim Mora said he understood.

“Football is wonderful, and it’s provided me with my life’s work, but at the end of the day these kids have to go on and live the rest of their lives,” Mora said. “It takes guts, especially at that age, to make the decision, ‘I can’t do it anymore, and if I do my long-term health could be sacrificed.’ ”

Larimore led the team with 81 tackles in 2011. He returned an interception for a touchdown and also recovered a fumble in the Pac-12 Conference championship game against Oregon. He required surgery on his thumb after that game, which kept him out of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Larimore’s value to the Bruins went beyond his play on the field. That was evident to first-year linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich on Sunday night.

“When they found out, it was less like a teammate and more like a father figure leaving them,” he said of the Bruins.

Mora noted that the news affected practice Monday morning. He said that Larimore needed “a little time away to grieve football” but that he might return to the team in some kind of unofficial coaching capacity.

Larimore’s absence leaves UCLA with a huge hole in its defense. Larimore was a two-year starter and a fierce competitor.

“You can’t replace him,” Zumwalt said.

Damien Holmes was shifted from outside linebacker to the inside last week as Mora prepared for a worst-case scenario.

“I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t in the back of my mind,” Mora said. “What is going on in the world of concussions, and the things we’re finding out on a daily basis, you obviously have to be prepared for this when a guy suffers multiple concussions.”

Eric Kendricks, who moved from outside to inside linebacker in the spring, is expected to start next to Holmes. Kendricks, though, has not practiced in three days because of a sore hamstring, a precautionary move, Mora said.

Kendricks said that in Larimore the Bruins had “lost a great linebacker, but most of all we lost our vocal leader.”

The Bruins got a lift with Zumwalt returning to practice Monday morning. He had been out four days because of heatstroke.

Zumwalt took some reps at inside linebacker, but Mora said, “We think Jordan is an impact player on the outside. That’s a backup plan, not a primary plan.”

Ryan Hofmeister and Todd Golper will get increased practice at inside linebacker. Freshman Aaron Porter’s “learning curve will be accelerated,” Mora said.

Jerry Johnson stands out

Jerry Johnson snagged a pass over the middle and zig-zagged through the defense for a touchdown Monday. In case anyone present missed it, he did it again a few minutes later.

Those are the type of journeys Johnson prefers to take, not the long and painful one that brought him to this point.

This is Johnson’s last chance after four seasons, one as a redshirt. He has five receptions and two injuries in his career. He fractured his left ankle in 2010 and had a left ankle sprain in 2011.

“I’m not thinking about cramming four years into one season,” Johnson said. “I’m thinking about having another opportunity. Whatever happen in the past doesn’t matter. I’m focused on the present.”

In the present, Johnson is part of a large wide receiver group that ranges in experience and ability. But Johnson has managed to stand out.

Quick hits

Wide receiver Devin Lucien was taken off the field with a possible concussion. Mora said Lucien was “a little woozy” and that he was taken to the training room as a precautionary measure. … Freshman defensive end Ellis McCarthy, who underwent arthroscopic surgery before training camp, was in full pads for the first time Monday. He spent the day working out on the side.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes


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