The Police’s “Roxanne” was blasting from the speakers behind the end zone on Wednesday morning as UCLA players prepared to stretch on the practice field. Joshua Kelley clapped his hands and jogged several yards into position, commencing a series of arm lifts and waist bends.
Then it was on to more demanding activities for the running back. He juked a graduate assistant at the line of scrimmage, sprinted about 20 yards and caught a pass from quarterback Chase Griffin. He took a handoff from quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and charged ahead.
His most significant act of the day had occurred earlier in the morning. He had put on a blue jersey.
Twenty days and 15 practices after he was sidelined by a knee injury, Kelley was back.
The return of UCLA’s top offensive player eight days before the Bruins’ season opener against Cincinnati on Aug. 29 provided a jolt to an unusually spirited practice session. It probably helped that their ranks had swelled. Cornerback Darnay Holmes, receiver Dymond Lee and guard Sam Marrazzo were also full participants after being slowed by injuries earlier in training camp.
That left only left tackle Alec Anderson and receivers Theo Howard and Ashton Authement wearing yellow jerseys to signal they were recovering from injuries. Anderson appeared the furthest away from a return after recently undergoing surgery on his right leg; he spent the portion of practice open to the media riding a stationary bicycle and working on the sideline with a trainer.
Coach Chip Kelly hailed the health of his team, crediting football performance coordinator Frank Wintrich for his preventive and recovery efforts.
“I’ve never had this many … kids healthy all through camp,” Kelly said before the Bruins’ second-to-last training camp session. “We’ve got a lot of guys that got a lot of quality work in and sometimes you got guys that miss part of camp or all of camp and they’re trying to play catch-up, but we don’t have many guys like that.”
Kelly said linebacker Tyree Thompson, who recently underwent surgery on his foot, would be the only player unavailable for the opener, though Anderson’s status appeared uncertain based on his limited practice participation. Kelly said he would release a depth chart in the next few days.
Walk-on receiver Ethan Fernea received a new number over the weekend. He also made some new friends.
They were the parents of former UCLA walk-on receiver Nick Pasquale, who died in September 2013 when he was struck by a car while walking near his home in San Clemente.
Kelly introduced Mel and Laurie Pasquale to Fernea on Sunday as part of a ceremony in which Fernea learned he would become the first Bruin to be awarded Nick Pasquale’s No. 36 since his death. Kelly said graduate assistant Jerry Neuheisel described Pasquale as the best teammate he ever played with.
“I think he kind of embodied a lot of the characteristics that make an ultimate team player — hard work, discipline, just being a great teammate,” Fernea said.
Kelly said Pasquale would be honored every season with a different player wearing his number.
“It’s a huge honor,” Fernea said, “because as a walk-on, sometimes the most you can do is bring a positive attitude and work your butt off every day, so I’ve been trying to do that since I got here.”
Fernea, a senior from Dripping Springs, Texas, has mostly played on special teams. He made his first career catch last season, against Arizona, and added a 15-yard catch against Oregon. He has made the athletic director’s honor roll six times.
Kicker J.J. Molson made a 58-yard field goal in practice, sparking excitement among teammates who cheered him on as he backed up five yards for another attempt. Alas, the 63-yarder fell just short.