The nearly six-week absence of UCLA linebacker Mique Juarez appears to be causing a rift among the team that went public Monday.
Defensive end Takkarist McKinley questioned Juarez regarding his whereabouts on Twitter, prompting a pointed retort from the Bruins' most highly acclaimed freshman.
Juarez, widely considered the top player in the nation at his position coming out of North Torrance High, has not practiced since the fourth day of training camp last month while dealing with an undisclosed personal matter.
UCLA Coach Jim Mora has called it an excused absence, but McKinley didn't appear to be so forgiving as the Bruins started to prepare for a showdown with No. 7 Stanford on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
"I don't care if you a 5 [star]," McKinley wrote in a tweet that was deleted early in the afternoon. "If you not at UCLA grinding everyday with yo bros going to practices, lifts, meetings etc. How [abbreviated expletive] are u a brother."
The tweet ended with an emoji featuring arched eyebrows and a thumb and forefinger held over the mouth in an inquisitive pose. Bruins freshman linebacker Lokeni Toailoa, a less-heralded member of Juarez's class, replied "straight up" to McKinley's tweet.
Juarez quickly shot back, tweeting, "Okay okay Takk was that supposed to hurt my feelings? Quit acting like a female & go on about your business. Not everyone gives a damn."
UCLA did not make McKinley available to the media Monday despite a request. A school spokesman said he had an academic meeting. Juarez has not spoken with reporters since spring practice.
Mora, shown McKinley's tweet, said he did not know what his top pass rusher was talking about.
"I wouldn't have any idea," Mora said. "You can ask Takk, but I wouldn't have a clue."
McKinley recorded five tackles, including his first sack of the season, last Saturday during the Bruins' 17-14 victory over Brigham Young after returning from a groin injury that had sidelined him the previous week. He limped off the field against the Cougars but appeared to be fine afterward, Mora said.
"He seemed to be OK [Sunday] night," Mora said. "He was his good, old goofy self. He's an awesome kid and I love him and I love the way that he plays. He's an impactful player, so hopefully he'll be ready to go. We'll see as the week goes on."
McKinley is one of the more outspoken Bruins, declaring before the season that he would be the best pass rusher in the country. He also called out UCLA's defense after sitting out the game against Nevada Las Vegas earlier this month, tweeting, "A win is a win.. But we have to play better, no damn excuses! No way in hell unlv should've put 21 on us."
McKinley tweaked Juarez on social media after Juarez praised the Bruins for their victory over BYU, responding "Who is this guy" to Juarez's tweet.
Juarez was active on Twitter on Monday, triggering concern on UCLA message boards by following USC recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach Johnny Nansen and Washington defensive coordinator Peter Kwiatkowski. He also retweeted a message from a Washington fan who asked whether he had been following the Huskies' "Death Row" defense this season.
"We still got room for you," the fan tweeted along with the hashtags #nostressinWA and #builtforlife.
If Juarez were to transfer to another Pac-12 Conference school, he would have to sit out one year and lose one season of eligibility. UCLA should have a better idea if Juarez intends to remain a Bruin by Thursday, when fall quarter classes start. Todd Croce, Juarez's coach at North Torrance, said Juarez intended to begin the quarter at UCLA.
Juarez hasn't been the only Bruin missing under mysterious circumstances in recent weeks. Tailback Nate Starks did not play in the first two games despite not being injured and tailback Soso Jamabo, safety Randall Goforth and fullback Ainuu Taua sat out the game against BYU without explanation, giving it the feel of team-imposed discipline.
"I think what's important that is I keep our information as close to the vest as I can whether it's for our opponents' knowledge or it's just to protect the health and well-being of our players," Mora said Monday. "I really don't talk about that stuff very often."
Mora indicated the missing players could return against Stanford in the Bruins' Pac-12 Conference opener.
"If they have a good week, then we'll hopefully have them available for Saturday," Mora said. "It would be nice to have a full contingent ready to go."
That would lead to one fewer distraction and allow UCLA to shift its focus back to preferable worries, like finding a way to beat the Cardinal for the first time since 2008.