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UCLA freshmen hope to get playing time this season

UCLA freshmen hope to get playing time this season
UCLA Coach Jim Mora gestures during a practice on campus Apr. 20. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA has earned a reputation. It's among the reasons that running back Bolu Olorunfunmi and receiver Stephen Johnson III came to Westwood. Both are freshmen hoping to earn playing time this season.

The Bruins have had 32 freshmen play at least one game since Coach Jim Mora was hired before the 2012 season. Olorunfunmi and Johnson hope to add their names to the list. They have played well during training camp and are under consideration.

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"I knew Coach Mora and his history of always playing freshmen," Olorunfunmi said. "I knew I would have an opportunity to have a chance to play here."

Olorunfunmi's pinball style of running, where he takes on defenders with a lowered shoulder, could give the Bruins a stronger inside game. He gained 5,235 yards and scored 59 touchdowns during his career at Clovis (Calif.) North High.

"I knew coming here that's what I had to do," Olorunfunmi said. "My upside wasn't speed or agility. I would have to lower the shoulder. That's what I've been doing since Day 1."

Johnson has been running well too — and fast. He was a quarterback at San Leandro (Calif.) High and was listed as a defensive back when he signed with UCLA last winter. But the Bruins needed more receivers who could stretch a defense.

Asked what he brings that could help the team, Johnson said, "speed, a great personality, tremendous athlete, catching the ball and getting loose."

Johnson said that he saw a chance to do all that immediately at UCLA.

"I looked at the roster, checking to see who redshirt, and I noticed that a lot of freshmen get the opportunity to play," Johnson said.

Myles to go

Myles Jack is looking to add to his resume.

The junior has been a standout linebacker and occasional running back the last two seasons. During training camp, he was returning kickoffs.

"I want to do it, but it all comes down to the coaches," Jack said. "Whenever they have the trust in me and the confidence in me, I will continue to build on that."

The idea of being a 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker with running back speed barreling upfield on a return is a pleasing thought to Jack.

"I think it's very likely to happen," Jack said. "I'm being optimistic. It's very likely. I'd say, don't blink."

Jack also expects to see more time as a running back. He burst on the scene on offense against Arizona as a freshman, gaining 120 yards in six carries.

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"The whole running back deal is really unorthodox," Jack said. "I never know when I'm going in. I never know what the play is going to be. I'm just always prepared in the back of my mind. It's whatever [offensive coordinator Noel] Mazzone decides with the game plan."

Adieu Berdoo

The Bruins were happy to be back in Westwood for Monday's practice after spending two weeks at Cal State San Bernardino.

"Honestly, I hate going out there," Jack said. But, be added, "It's good for us. Sometimes life is about doing things you don't want to do. San Bernardino is one of those things. It prepares us for games. When things go wrong, we can revert to San Bernardino. We've been in a crazy environment. We're prepared."

Quick hits

Center Jake Brendel (calf) and tackle Conor McDermott (knee), both starters, continue to work back from minor injuries. … Defensive end Takkarist McKinley (concussion) was held out of contact drills Monday … The Bruins have a new flag flying at Spaulding Field, the yellow "Don't Tread On Me" banner that has its origin in the Revolutionary War. The flag and motto are also used in a marketing campaign by Nike for the United States' soccer team. UCLA has a contract with Adidas.

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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