Adarius Pickett has sewn up his role as UCLA’s leading tackler

Bruins defenders Adarius Pickett (6) and Krys Barnes bring down Fresno State wide receiver Justin Allen in the second quarter Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, at the Rose Bowl.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Adarius Pickett removed his white headband with “PICK SIX” stitched in black letters across the front so he could read the inscription sewn into the back.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” the UCLA safety said Monday, repeating the words while standing in front of a group of reporters.

The headband is just one of a small drawer’s worth that Pickett can choose from, all sewn by his mother, Angie. He has other versions for practices and games awash in blue, black and gray, among other colors.


Each bears Pickett’s nickname across the front along with an inspirational saying inside the back lining. Pickett reads the inscription before he puts on his headband every Saturday as part of his pregame routine. He takes the field feeling his own special boost.

“I got my little special powers,” Pickett said, “when I put the headband on.”

Those powers have intensified during a senior season in which Pickett leads the Bruins with 61 tackles and ranks second in the Pac-12 Conference with 12.2 tackles per game, trailing only Washington linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven’s 12.3.

Pickett said his dramatic uptick in tackles — he’s on pace to shatter the career-high 85 he logged last season — is partially the result of a new defensive scheme that allows the secondary to be more involved in stopping the run. Three of the team’s top four tacklers are defensive backs, with linebacker Krys Barnes the exception.

“We’ve been able to fly around and run to the ball,” Pickett said of the secondary.

Pickett bowled over Washington tailback Myles Gaskin on a third-and-two play in the second quarter Saturday at the Rose Bowl, holding him to one yard. Unfortunately for the Bruins (0-5 overall, 0-2 Pac-12), the Huskies converted the resulting fourth down on the way to a 31-24 victory.

Pickett finished the game with a career-high 16 tackles and his first interception of the season, continuing a strong start in which he’s reached double digits in tackles in four of five games.

“He brings a lot of energy, a lot of juice,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s a really, really smart football player. He helps get the whole group aligned over there, not only the secondary but the linebackers, so I’m really happy with how he’s played so far and he keeps getting better, which is a positive thing.”

Pickett has six interceptions in his college career but hasn’t lived up to his nickname by returning one for a touchdown. He already knows what he would do afterward in that scenario: start running so that he could display his headband without drawing a penalty for removing his helmet on the field.

“I would be pretty fast to get to the sideline,” Pickett said.

Pickett’s parents attend most of his games, but their presence at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley on Saturday when UCLA faces Cal (3-2, 0-2) will be special because the family is from nearby Richmond. An aunt who was recently diagnosed with cancer will also be in attendance. Pickett wore a headband in practice Monday that included a pink ribbon, one his mother had made to help raise awareness for breast cancer.

“I just know it takes a lot of time and precision,” Pickett said of his mother’s handiwork. “She’s excellent at that.”

A real keeper?

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson displayed excellent footwork and timing on both of his runs against the Huskies.

He paused momentarily near the first-down marker on his first run, making a couple of defenders miss tackles before cutting back for the first down. He also faked out a few defenders on his second run.

Would Kelly like to showcase his quarterback’s running ability more?

“I think if you have a quarterback that can affect games with his feet then you do that,” Kelly said, “but we’ve never been a team and I’ve never been a guy that’s said, ‘Hey, let’s run the quarterback.’

“We’re not going to run quarterback power and things like that where people have designed quarterback runs because I’ve always believed the best ability is dependability and is he going to be in there the next snap, so to have him be a running back isn’t what we’re trying to do.”


Linebacker Jaelan Phillips and receiver Kyle Philips, who did not suit up for the Washington game, were not on the field Monday during the portion of practice the media was allowed to attend. Kelly said only that Phillips was out and that Philips’ status for this week remained uncertain. … Tackle Justin Murphy, who sat out the game against the Huskies because of an unspecified injury, wore a yellow non-contact jersey during practice and worked with the strength and conditioning staff. … UCLA’s game against Arizona on Oct. 20 at the Rose Bowl will start at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN2.

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch