The sting of sun on skin could be felt within seconds of the San Bernardino heat claiming its first casualty.
UCLA offensive guard Michael Alves, his hair soaked in sweat, walked off the practice field after about 75 minutes of drills Monday morning, eventually making his way under a medical tent where one trainer held an ice bag to the back of his neck and another took his blood pressure. Wet towels were draped over Alves’ head and shoulders as he clutched a water bottle.
The second half of the Bruins’ training camp had officially begun.
The team practiced roughly 75 miles from campus and a world away from the comforts it had enjoyed the previous week in Westwood, where the accommodations were plush and temperatures held in the 70s and 80s.
UCLA Coach Jim Mora split camp between the two destinations this season to avoid the drudgery of two weeks in the heat. The shorter stay in San Bernardino felt like a win-win after the first of nine practices over six days in the desert.
“It’s cooler than it usually is right now,” Bruins cornerback Nate Meadors, a San Bernardino native, said with a smile after practice, “so I’m loving it.”
When Meadors finished speaking with reporters the temperature was 95 degrees and it distressingly hot even in the shade. It would reach 104 in the afternoon as players moved indoors to eat lunch, recuperate and watch film of their first practice before reconvening for a second session at 5:45.
If that becomes the focus, then it takes the focus off what needs to be the focus, which is the football.
The weather was not among Mora’s preferred story lines. There were other worries for a team installing a new offense and experiencing massive turnover in its kicking game.
“If that becomes the focus, then it takes the focus off what needs to be the focus, which is the football,” Mora said. “So when we had our meeting yesterday, we said, ‘OK, guess what? It’s going to be hot.’ And that’s all we talked about it.”
The sweltering conditions were a steady source of chatter among the few dozen UCLA fans sitting in folding chairs or standing in an area shaded by trees. From there they could see both practice fields where the Bruins worked out in a quiet corner of the Cal State Bernardino campus.
Portable light banks cast a few lonely slivers of shade onto the field as receivers Theo Howard and Kenneth Walker III preceded their teammates onto the field. It was 8:04 a.m. The temperature was already 81.
Team managers had begun filling water coolers at 6:15 a.m. while judiciously plucking from a truck carrying 832 20-pound bags of ice. (A second truckload carrying at least 16,000 pounds of ice was expected later in the week.) An ambulance was parked near one end zone, a precaution no one hoped to need.
The temperature had ticked upward by one degree but was offset by a slight breeze as defensive linemen stood opposite overturned trash cans topped with helmets for a walk-through, signifying the official start of drills at 8:30 a.m. Offensive and defensive players moved to opposite sides of the field wearing shorts with jerseys stretched over light shoulder pads.
A few minutes later the defense jogged onto a lower field for positional drills, preceded by a series of circular arm stretches. The temperature cracked 90 as cornerback Keyon Riley snagged a pass with one hand.
On the upper field, coaches thwacked receivers in their midsections with oversized pads. Van Halen’s “Panama” blared from loudspeakers as quarterback Josh Rosen made a series of what seemed like effortless throws, receiver Alex Van Dyke hauling one in to applause from fans and teammates.
The heat was starting to become a factor. Backup quarterback Dymond Lee squeezed a stream of water from a bottle into his mouth as team managers hovered nearby with liquid reinforcements.
Rosen stepped up in the pocket and badly underthrew Walker, showing his displeasure with a loud expletive. He made up for it a few plays later, finding tight end Nate Iese over the middle. Rosen clapped his hands in approval.
Alves was still being tended to by medical personnel after being sidelined because of the heat and a minor knee injury from a previous practice. Mora expected the lineman to return by the Monday evening practice or Tuesday’s mid-afternoon session at the latest.
The temperature was 93 when an air horn signaled the end of the morning practice. Players plopped onto the field, legs extended as they stretched their arms to hold the tops of their feet. Then they walked with purpose toward a cluster of ice tubs, their reward for 137 minutes of toil.
“We look forward to it at this time,” center Scott Quessenberry said, his undershirt still soaked from the dip. “It feels really, really good.”
The baths could feel especially soothing Tuesday. The Bruins are scheduled to start their workout in the mid-afternoon, when temperatures are forecast to hit triple digits.