Linebacker Jayce Smalley’s script at UCLA: from walk-on to rotation player
Jayce Smalley got his Rudy moment. Next up is the expectation to regularly make big plays.
He already has gone from scout-team walk-on to part of UCLA’s outside linebacker rotation, logging a tackle for loss last weekend against Arizona State when he wrapped up tailback Eno Benjamin two yards behind the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter.
“It was just a blast to actually be out there and contribute,” Smalley said.
The play made him the Bruins’ version of Rudy Ruettiger, the undersized Notre Dame defensive end who recorded a sack on the final play of a game against Georgia Tech in 1975, prompting his teammates to carry him off the field.
Smalley’s teammates were too busy defending the goal line to revel in the highlight play by the redshirt freshman, but just the mention of his name Wednesday brought a smile to the face of linebacker Tyree Thompson.
“I was really happy for him,” Thompson said, “because he works his butt off.”
The 6-foot, 226-pound Smalley has made three tackles over the last two weeks, including two against Oregon. His playing time is a function of hard work in practice and the considerable thinning of an outside linebacker corps that includes only Keisean Lucier-South, Odua Isibor and Elijah Wade among the available scholarship players after a wave of injuries.
“Jayce has been a real good addition to that group,” coach Chip Kelly said of a player who has also appeared on special teams.
Smalley was discovered by graduate assistant Dalton Hilliard at a camp in Hawaii, where Smalley grew up before spending his final season of high school at Servite in Anaheim. Smalley was mulling scholarship offers from smaller schools when Hilliard called to inform him he could walk on with the Bruins.
“Who wouldn’t want to go to UCLA”? Smalley said. “So I took it and I’m out here now.”
Smalley got to see his highlight an extra time when his mom sent him a video replay after watching it on television in Hawaii. Her son already had moved on, working to prepare for a repeat performance.
“She’s like, ‘Congrats, you played well,’ and that’s about it,” Smalley said of his mom. “Told her I was kinda busy.”
Kelly said sophomore defensive lineman Moses Robinson-Carr was suspended for the second time this season because of an unspecified violation of team rules. Robinson-Carr also was suspended for the season opener against Cincinnati.
Robinson-Carr has not played since the Bruins’ game against Utah on Oct. 26. He has appeared in six games this season, with no tackles.
Kelly said linebacker Marcus Moore remained suspended indefinitely because of an unspecified violation of team rules. Moore has been serving his punishment since mid-October.
Six players were suspended earlier in the season for unspecified violations of athletic department policies.
“There’s a learning process to it and we educate them on what’s the right way to carry the standards of this football team and this university,” Kelly said, “and hopefully they understand that.”
Linebacker Bo Calvert, who has not played since the game against Arizona on Oct. 20 because of an unspecified injury, was back at practice Tuesday, stretching in front of the weight room in a T-shirt but did not participate in any drills. … Receiver Michael Ezeike, who was wearing a yellow noncontact jersey Monday, has been a full participant in practice the last two days.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch
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