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Injuries didn’t stop UCLA’s Fabian Moreau against BYU last season

UCLA defensive back Fabian Moreau cools off during summer camp in San Bernardino.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA fans might have thought they were seeing things when Fabian Moreau ran back onto the Rose Bowl field.

The cornerback had sustained a broken left foot and two torn ligaments late in the first quarter of the Bruins’ game against Brigham Young last September. The foot was throbbing, with Moreau later describing the pain level as “a 10 out of 10.”

A return against the Cougars seemed unlikely, except for one factor: He didn’t know the extent of his injuries without undergoing tests.

So when UCLA needed one final stop while holding a 24-23 lead, Moreau lobbied his coaches to play the last defensive series and become the guttiest Bruin.

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“I told them that I could be out there,” Moreau recalled this week as UCLA prepares for a rematch with BYU on Saturday in Provo, Utah. “I didn’t know what my injury was, but I knew I wanted to be out there on the field with my teammates and give them my all.”

Did he ever. Moreau had a bead on a Tanner Mangum pass near midfield, but the ball was batted down. Moreau placed his hands on his helmet in frustration, as if to indicate the ball belonged to him.

The Bruins would get it soon enough. Linebacker Myles Jack intercepted a fourth-down pass with just under a minute left and UCLA held on for the victory made possible in part by an unlikely contributor.

“He was out there limping around,” Bruins Coach Jim Mora said of Moreau. “It was gutsy.”

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Afterward, Moreau said, he couldn’t walk. Tests the next day confirmed the extent of the injury. Moreau would need surgery. His season was over.

Moreau continued watching film with his teammates and taking notes as if he was going to play each week, but it was hard to remain fully engaged.

“I felt like I wasn’t a part of the team,” he said.

That made his play Saturday against Nevada Las Vegas in his first game back at the Rose Bowl all the more meaningful. Moreau held Rebels receiver Devonte Boyd without a catch in the second half after Boyd had singed the Bruins for five catches and 84 yards in the first half.

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“All Fabian. All Fabian. All Fabian,” UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said.

Coaches asked Moreau to track Boyd wherever he went in the second half after previously matching up only when he was on Boyd’s side of the field. In the fourth quarter, with the Rebels trying to rally from a two-touchdown deficit, Moreau snuck in a hand to knock away a third-down pass intended for Boyd on a slant route.

“You just want to compete against the best every play,” Moreau said of being matched up against a player widely considered an NFL prospect. “That’s how I look at it. It’s a new challenge and I accepted it.”

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Mora has called the 6-foot, 202-pound Moreau “an NFL corner, without a doubt,” but his value to the Bruins transcends his big plays. The senior captain is easily approachable yet carries the gravitas of a coach in team meetings.

“He can almost run the meeting himself,” UCLA defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin said. “He’s pulling the young guys aside and stern enough to correct the old guys too.”

Moreau is also famously upbeat, befitting someone who hails from Sunrise, Fla. He said strong religious convictions helped him believe that everything happens for a reason, even season-ending injuries.

He was granted a medical redshirt as a result of the broken foot, allowing him to return for what he hopes is one final injury-free college season.

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Moreau has also become something of a cult hero for his toughness. Any time a teammate considers coming out of a game after getting dinged up, he can remember Moreau’s resolve early last season at the Rose Bowl.

“I knew something was wrong,” he said, “but just to be able to finish the game felt great.”

Quick hits

Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes (knee) and defensive end Takkarist McKinley (groin) both practiced Wednesday and Mora described them as “good.” … Mora said defensive tackle Boss Tagaloa should be able to play against BYU despite tweaking an ankle in practice Tuesday and wearing a walking boot. … Tailback Nate Starks and safety Jaleel Wadood could also play against the Cougars, Mora said, “if they’re ready to go.” Wadood sat out last week with what Mora described as “bumps and bruises” and Starks has been held out of Bruins’ first two games for undisclosed reasons.

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Mora said he would give new UCLA offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu an “A-plus” for his play calling because of his confidence and ability to explain to players the rationale behind every play. … Linebacker Mique Juarez, who has been excused from practice the last month for personal reasons, tweeted “I’ll be back,” but there is no definitive plan for his return. “I hope he does,” Mora said, “but I don’t have any firm data to tell you.”

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch


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