Boss Tagaloa ran with UCLA’s skill position players over the summer, nearly matching their pace despite weighing almost twice as much as his counterparts.
He challenged quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson in a throwing competition, taking the lead before his teammate rallied to win and avoid embarrassment.
He even ran some routes while being defended by 360-pound defensive lineman Atonio Mafi, possibly setting a record for combined weight of a receiver and his defender.
It seems as if there’s nothing the senior center can’t do, or at least nothing he won’t try.
“I wish I could be a quarterback,” Tagaloa, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 318 pounds, said after practice Wednesday without a hint of sarcasm.
Pushing himself is admirable but not necessary. All Tagaloa needs to do in his final college season is more of the same.
His move to center last season from defensive end changed the trajectory of UCLA’s offense. The Bruins sputtered when Tagaloa missed the first three games to serve a suspension for an undisclosed violation of athletic department policies but were humming by season’s end, collecting at least 400 yards of offense in five of their final six games.
Continuity along the offensive line heading into 2019 gives UCLA hope for more of the same.
Tagaloa is part of a line that will return four of five starters, including guards Michael Alves and Christaphany Murray and right tackle Jake Burton.
The departure of left tackle Andre James for the NFL created the only opening. That spot has been filled in the early portion of training camp by redshirt freshman Alec Anderson, who, because of college football’s new redshirt rule, did not lose a year of eligibility despite playing in three games last season.
Anderson will have to hold off a challenge from heralded true freshman Sean Rhyan, who has impressed teammates with his demeanor after his arrival on campus this summer.
“Me being a sophomore and looking at the freshmen come in,” Murray said, “you can definitely tell who’s coming here to play around. ... But you can tell he’s come here with a motive and a sense of trying to get better and to get coached.”
Perhaps the surest sign that the six newcomers are holding their own, said Tagaloa, is that offensive line coach Justin Frye has been yelling less than usual. Tagaloa also praised second-stringers Sam Marrazzo and Jon Gaines II for helping him improve his ability to read coverages and make calls.
“They’re really bright guys, they help me out a lot,” said Tagaloa, who was recently added to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which goes to the top center in college football.
A year ago, UCLA’s offensive line was struggling just to hike the ball. Now it could be considered the strength of what might be one of the Pac-12 Conference’s breakthrough offenses.
“This season, I want to say we’re ready,” Murray said. “We have a certain chip on our shoulder just because of the trials that we went through, and now we’ve seen what we need to fix and we’re ready to do that.”
Nobody seems as prepared to dominate as the man in the middle of it all.
“He’s fast, he’s explosive, he’s strong,” running back Joshua Kelley recently said of Tagaloa. “I think he’s one of the best centers in the nation, and he should get more recognition.”
Kelley made his first extended appearance on the practice field since suffering a right knee injury last week. He rode a stationary bike before going through a series of lunges and knee lifts with receivers Theo Howard and Michael Ezeike, who also wore yellow jerseys to signal they were recovering from injuries.
Kelley wore a brace over his knee that appeared far less bulky than the one he wore last week in the days following his injury.