They were damaged goods a year ago, with a new coaching staff coming in.
Defensive backs Anthony Jefferson and Brandon Sermons had little opportunity to make an initial impression. Jefferson was still recovering from a back surgery that forced him to sit out the 2011 season. Sermons had seen limited duty after suffering a broken leg that wiped his 2010 season.
Both are making an impression this spring.
“They are putting themselves in position to show who they were coming out of high school,” said secondary coach Demetrice Martin. “Both of them were pretty highly recruited guys. Now they are flashing a whole lot more, flashing in a positive way. Before we got here they flashed in a negative way.”
That the Bruins are thin in the secondary has provided opportunities to do so.
Jefferson, who will be a junior in the fall, has displayed the speed and smothering abilities that made him a top cornerback prospect at Los Angeles Cathedral High School. He blanketed Shaquelle Evans, the Bruins’ top receiver, in the end zone Saturday, finishing off the play by intercepting the pass.
“He’s a tough guy,” Martin said. “He’ll go stick his face in there. That’s a thing that, if you can play corner at this level and run with the faster receivers, is a great benefit.”
Sermons, who will be a senior, was also a highly recruited cornerback at Pomona Diamond Ranch High School. He was shifted to safety last summer and has displayed a passion for hitting this spring.
“He has some coverage ability; that’s why he has shown so much at safety,” Martin said. “He has put on some more weight, added more bulk. He may have lost a step or two, but he played corner in high school, so he understands coverage leverage.”
Sermons said that he finally got comfortable this spring after suffering a severe break in his leg during a noncontact drill in spring practice three years ago.
“I got my confidence back; it took a while,” he said. “The mental part, trying to get over what happened, that was hard. The physical part wasn’t a factor. It was being able to think, ‘OK I can break off this leg strongly,’ and be positive with what I was doing.”
Jefferson too had lingering doubts. He missed most of the 2010 season after breaking his foot. The back issues followed. Finally, this past winter, he began to feel right.
“I felt I have gotten really strong since the winter program,” Jefferson said. “I think that carried over to now. I’m trying to keep momentum going.”
He, and Sermons, had better. The Bruins will have a strong group of freshman defensive backs in the fall.
“Every day is an audition,” Sermons said.
Count on Mora
UCLA Coach Jim Mora and his wife, Shannon, launched the Southern California edition of their Count On Me Family Foundation after practice Saturday, with a number of kids going through drills with players and coaches.
“We work with kids that are at risk and in need,” Jim Mora said.
The foundation began in Atlanta, when Mora was the Falcons’ head coach. They expanded to Seattle, when he became the Seahawks coach.
“Hopefully we’re not moving again for a long time,” Mora said.
Said Shannon Mora: “We like to partner with nonprofit organizations who do it well. We want to make a positive impact on children, empower them, rise and realize dreams.”
The foundation’s main fundraiser is an annual golf tournament and auction, which will be held May 20 at the Riviera Country Club. The tournament is sold out, but sponsorships are available, including sponsoring a hole for $1,000.
More information can be found at countonmefoundation.org.
UCLA’s practice was limited to situational work Saturday.
“We did every situation that we could think of,” Mora said. “May Day field goal, overtime, short-yardage, goal line, Hail Marys, we tried to hit the whole gambit that can happen to us in a season.”
Mora has rescripted the UCLA spring game, which will be held April 27 at the Rose Bowl, because of “our dwindling numbers,” he said.
Instead of a full 100-play scrimmage, Mora said that the team will do workouts followed by a 60-play scrimmage.
“It will be a little shorter with a little more fan interaction,” said Mora, who added that there will be contests for fans and a fireworks show at the finish.