Timing can be everything.
Jerry Neuheisel came to UCLA in 2012, the same year that Brett Hundley embarked on a record-setting, three-year run as UCLA’s starting quarterback. Neuheisel was his backup, and he was good enough to bail the Bruins out during a tough game in Texas a year ago.
Now Hundley has left for the NFL, but Neuheisel is again the backup. Freshman Josh Rosen has won the starting job, and Neuheisel has added Job-like patience to his resume.
“I mean, I don’t think you can really measure it,” Neuheisel said of his disappointment. “It’s been my dream my whole life, playing quarterback at UCLA. So to be told you’re not going to be, at least for the first game, is a little heartbreaking.
“But as a player, you’re not always going to agree with the decision the coaches are going to make, but it’s your job to execute them. At the end of the day, whether it is me starting or Josh starting, all I want is for our team to be victorious.”
Those comments could have been read off a script, but anyone who knows Neuheisel recognized he was sincere. Another example: his response when asked about his future approach to competing against an incumbent starter. “Game on again, just as soon as the season ends. I’m not going down without a fight.”
Neuheisel’s credibility in the locker room is such that Coach Jim Mora made sure to heap praise on him even as he was announcing Rosen as the starter. The first few minutes of Mora’s address were about Neuheisel.
“I don’t know if you can find a better representative of what a student-athlete is supposed to be than Jerry Neuheisel,” Mora said. “It is important to him to represent this school in a positive way. He has worked very, very hard and done everything we asked him to do. I know he’s disappointed.”
It’s not what Neuheisel would like to hear, but the Bruins probably couldn’t do any better for a backup quarterback.
Neuheisel, a junior, knows the offense as well as offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, and he has earned the trust of his teammates and coaches.
He came off the bench against Texas last season after Hundley was injured and threw two touchdown passes, including the game-winner with three minutes left for a 20-17 victory. He had it a little rougher against Stanford, after being thrown in with the Cardinal already in complete control of the game.
“You’ve got to maintain there’s a little bit of hope that you’re going to get a chance,” Neuheisel said. “And as a quarterback, whether it’s the first game or you’re playing [USC], all you want is a chance.”
Rosen credited Neuheisel with helping him win the job.
“He has the team’s best interest in mind, not just his own,” Rosen said.
Neuheisel said that part of his job now is to continue to challenge Rosen.
“I have to make sure that I’m ready to go and also push him to make sure he keeps earning the job,” Neuheisel said. “You can’t fall back on being named the starter this week. You’ve got to continue to progress.”
UCLA broke ground on football and basketball facilities this week, an effort to keep up with the Joneses — or, in this case, Oregon, USC and other schools. High-end locker rooms and training facilities have become a recruiting tool. Oregon’s football program even has a team chef.
The Wasserman Football Center may not have those culinary chops, but it is expected to allow the Bruins to compete.
The center was approved at $56 million, but the project’s budget may be increased to reflect additional fundraising, possibly adding another $8 million to $10 million to it. UCLA has $55 million in donations and pledges so far.
The basketball facility was approved at $35 million with the fundraising goal of $25 million.
The football center is expected to be finished before the 2017 season.
Times staff writer Zach Helfand contributed to this report.