UCLA honors seniors before game against USC
It is the place where Mike Fafaul set two school records, Randall Goforth returned an interception for a touchdown to preserve a victory and Takkarist McKinley made quarterback after quarterback quiver in his cleats.
The Rose Bowl will always hold special meaning for the UCLA seniors who played their final game in the stadium Saturday against USC.
The Bruins honored 24 seniors and fourth-year players before the game as part of their Senior Day festivities. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes was among those recognized even though he has one season of eligibility remaining. Vanderdoes is considered a strong NFL prospect and could make himself available for the draft after the season.
“It’s crazy knowing this is the last home game of the season,” Vanderdoes said earlier this week. “It’s surreal, especially against a rival team like SC. … It’ll hit me once I hit the field right before the game.”
Vanderdoes said he didn’t know whether he would be emotional in what could have been his final home game.
“Time will tell, time will tell,” Vanderdoes said. “The main focus is obviously on the game and all that, so once I hit the Rose Bowl, I’ll see.”
The other players honored were Fafaul, Goforth, McKinley, receiver Ishmael Adams, linebacker Cameron Judge, cornerback Marcus Rios, receiver Kenneth Walker III, cornerback Fabian Moreau, tight end Nate Iese, linebacker Jayon Brown, safety Tahaan Goodman, defensive back Charles Dawson, punter Adam Searl, defensive back Dylan Luther, linebacker Isaako Savaiinaea, fullback Willie Green, defensive end Deon Hollins, left tackle Conor McDermott, defensive lineman Preston Awedisean, offensive lineman Cristian Garcia, defensive lineman Thomas Schwab, defensive tackle Eli Ankou and tight end Jake Jones.
The players won’t be the only ones getting sentimental. UCLA Coach Jim Mora said earlier this week it would be hard for him to gird himself to say goodbye.
“I’ve been with those guys for five years, met them six years ago, and I’ve been watching them develop on the field and off the field and I’ll miss them dearly,” Mora said earlier this week. “You get really, really close to these guys. They’re your kids, they’re your family, so it gets emotional.”
This could be the most touching farewell for Mora considering that, for the first time, he has been with every senior — even the ones who spent five years at the school— since their arrival.
“Senior Day, every year for me, has gotten more emotional, more in-depth as I’ve gotten to know these guys more and this will be the toughest one yet,” said Mora, who is on the verge of completing his fifth season. “I don’t even like talking about it right now.”
The upside to the departures is that it allows for returns. Mora said former UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt and tackle Simon Goines recently popped into his office.
Making the grade
The score of UCLA’s game against California next Saturday might not be the only relevant number that determines whether the Bruins play in a bowl game.
If UCLA finishes 5-7 and there are not enough teams with .500 or better records to fill every bowl slot, the Bruins’ Academic Progress Rate could come into play.
Three bowls took teams with losing records last season based on their success in the classroom. UCLA’s APR for the 2014-15 reporting year was 972, tied with Rutgers and South Carolina for 39th in the country among Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
That figure is slightly below the 2013-14 APR scores of Nebraska (985), Minnesota (975) and San Jose (975), who parlayed those numbers into bowl appearances last season.
The attendance of 71,137 was the lowest for the rivalry game since 71,105 went to the 2010 game at the Rose Bowl.
Times staff reporter Zach Helfand contributed to this report
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch
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