Chip Kelly went wild with his latest slogan.
The UCLA football coach told his players he wanted them to be jungle tigers, not zoo tigers, the implication being that he wanted to fully unleash them with an aggressive mindset.
“You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone,” running back Bolu Olorunfunmi said Wednesday while explaining the attributes of a jungle tiger, “do things you never do.”
In recent years, Bruins running backs had more closely resembled Tigger, the tame fictional tiger. They didn’t frighten anyone while ranking last in the Pac-12 Conference in rushing and among the worst teams nationally.
Their new coach’s old college teams had a much better pedigree. Oregon featured the top rushing offense in the Pac-10 and Pac-12 during each of Kelly’s four years at the school, averaging a staggering 6.0 yards per carry and 315.2 yards per game during his final season in 2012.
“Oh, I’m definitely aware,” Olorunfunmi said when asked about the success Kelly had with his spread-to-run formation with the Ducks. “I remember watching the Mamba [De’Anthony Thomas], watching [Marcus] Mariota, the whole read-option, I remember watching everything.”
The Bruins return their top three tailbacks from last season, when they averaged only 3.7 yards per carry and 113.4 yards rushing per game. It’s the last hurrah for seniors Olorunfunmi, who averaged a team-high 47.1 yards rushing per game, and Soso Jamabo (44.6 yards per game). Junior Brandon Stephens (15.2 yards per game) is also back.
Freshman Kazmeir Allen is the reigning California high school sprint champion, having whizzed through the 100-meter dash in 10.44 seconds this summer.
“He’s just fast — lightning fast,” Olorunfunmi said. “He’s a good speed dude.”
Olorunfunmi said he was also impressed with the relentlessness of Joshua Kelley, a junior who had to sit out last season after transferring from UC Davis.
“I’ve never seen the dude tap out,” Olorunfunmi said of a player recently awarded a scholarship. “Even when he’s tired, he goes.”
Persistence has been a theme among the Bruins under Kelly. Players are put through a seemingly endless number of repetitions to build muscle memory and eliminate the need to think about technique.
Will the new-look Bruins resemble Kelly’s Ducks?
“I can’t say exactly what we’re going to do,” Olorunfunmi said, “but it’s going to look good, I can tell you that.”
Famous athletes are about as routine as sunny days on UCLA’s campus, but the Bruins suddenly found themselves in the midst of another sort of luminary Wednesday.
Actor Mark Wahlberg addressed the team after practice, telling them to enjoy this moment in their lives. Could the buff 47-year-old star from “Boogie Nights” and “The Departed” still make the team?
“We could probably get him a kicker spot or something,” cornerback Nate Meadors said while smiling. “Special teams or something. I wouldn’t mind that.”
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch