Josh Rosen looks ready for his new job at UCLA
Josh Rosen says it has been his dream to take the field as a college quarterback “ever since I started playing football.”
As he became one of the nation’s top high school quarterback recruits, he narrowed his focus to UCLA, saying more than a year ago, “I’m going to try to take the spot after [Brett] Hundley leaves. That’s the plan.”
Hundley, the Bruins’ quarterback the last three seasons, left for the NFL. Rosen, now a UCLA freshman, was named his replacement Wednesday.
The dream was reality. The plan had been carried out.
On Thursday, Rosen was allowed to speak to the media for only the third time since he enrolled in January, and he gave a straight-to-the-point talk as he stood at the Bruins’ on-campus practice field.
Tamping down the “Chosen Rosen” fever spreading across the UCLA fan base was the order of the day.
“I tell you, I’m really not going to be doing that much,” Rosen said. “I’m just going to be distributing the ball to our phenomenal players. We have a lot of guys who are going to [the NFL] next year. I really just want to get it in their hands.”
He praised junior Jerry Neuheisel, his main competition: “He’s the main reason I won the job. He’s selfless,” Rosen said.
And he dialed back his own well-known swagger: “Coming out of high school, you have to think you are ready,” Rosen said. “If you don’t, you don’t deserve the job.” He added, “There is difference between confidence and arrogance, and I like to think I can dance that line pretty well.”
He did Thursday.
On the south side of Pauley Pavilion, UCLA was breaking ground on new football and basketball facilities. At Spaulding Field, Rosen was cautiously breaking his own ground.
There is a high ceiling on Rosen’s abilities, and he is surrounded by nine returning starters on offense. But Rosen, and everyone in the football program, was taking sure steps a week before he is scheduled to play his first college game, against Virginia in the Rose Bowl.
UCLA coaches are confident that Rosen can perform in front of 70,000. They seem a little more worried whether he can handle a handful of reporters asking questions after a practice.
On Thursday, he showed he is quite capable in the media spotlight.
He showed confidence: “I felt capable of leading this team since Day One,” said Rosen, who passed for 8,473 yards and 90 touchdowns at St. John Bosco High. “That’s how you have to feel. That is what a competitor does.”
He showed sensibility: “You just have to keep your head down when you get out on the field,” he said, “and do what you’ve been coached to do.”
He showed humor: "[Coaches] were telling me I would have the job from Day One, that’s called good recruiting.” he said.
Now he has to show what he can do on the field during a regular-season game.
UCLA safety Jaleel Wadood, who played with Rosen at St. John Bosco, thinks he knows what is coming.
“He’s a natural-born leader,” Wadood said. “He knows how to win.”
To support his statement, Wadood pointed to Rosen’s second high school game, as a sophomore in 2012. With less than a minute left, Rosen scrambled and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass for a 34-33 victory over Sandy Jordan, the top-ranked team in Utah.
“We called timeout before that play and Josh told us, ‘I got this,’ ” Wadood said. “He just doesn’t get rattled.”
That’s what the Bruins are banking on. First-year freshman quarterbacks are typically destined for growing pains. Rosen, UCLA hopes, will have fewer than most.
“When things go well, or when things don’t go well, he’s a very determined guy,” Coach Jim Mora said. “He has emotional stability. That’s one thing that is impressive about him, besides his physical talent, is his emotional makeup.”
Plus, Neuheisel will be nearby as an advisor.
Neuheisel, who backed up Hundley, said he was disappointed not to win the job. His role now, he said, was to help — particularly in recognizing defensive coverages.
“If you’ve been at this level a long time, you start to learn how people try to disguise coverages, how they try to fool you,” Neuheisel said. “As a freshman, you haven’t seen as many as I have, so I’ll try to help him out as much as I can and make sure we’re getting first downs and touchdowns.”
Rosen has “all the mechanics you need, throws a great ball,” Neuheisel said. “Right now, he seems a league ahead of what is seen in most freshmen.”
That was the dream. That was the plan.
As to how it will play out, Rosen said, “I’d like to answer that in two weeks.”
Times staff writer Zach Helfand contributed to this report.
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