Sean Rhyan is the epitome of the Chip Kelly recruit at UCLA. The true freshman offensive tackle is all football and schoolwork, celebrating his signing with the Bruins by heading to the weight room for another lift.
As he approaches his first college game, it appears likely the kid stays in the picture.
Rhyan could start in the Bruins’ season opener against Cincinnati on Aug. 29 since left tackle Alec Anderson recently underwent surgery on his right leg. Anderson, a redshirt freshman, continued to be limited in practice Thursday during the team’s final training camp session. He rode a stationary bike and stretched with a trainer on the sideline while his teammates practiced, indicating that he might not be ready to play in the opener, even though Kelly has not ruled him out.
Rhyan has assumed Anderson’s spot with the starting linemen during the limited practice window available to the media. If the Bruins go with the less experienced player against the Bearcats, they would gain about 23 pounds of bulk.
Right tackle Jake Burton, when asked about his 6-foot-4, 323-pound teammate, said, “Oh, you know, big kid, awesome.”
Said guard Jon Gaines: “He’s huge.”
The player who may be the next big thing at a school that has produced Outland Trophy winners Jonathan Ogden and Kris Farris is not as one-dimensional as his businesslike approach might suggest. Growing up in Ladera Ranch, he starred in rugby while switch-hitting in baseball and throwing the shotput in track.
True to his Orange County roots, he also loved to surf. Rhyan once said the variety of pursuits made him a better football player, with the shotput strengthening his legs, the surfing improving his balance and the rugby helping with tackling and running.
Like other freshmen who arrived on campus this summer, Rhyan has not been made available to speak with reporters. Whoever mans left tackle against Cincinnati will join an experienced group that includes Burton, center Boss Tagaloa and guards Michael Alves and Christaphany Murray, all returning starters.
If it’s Rhyan, his teammates anticipate he’ll be ready for the challenge.
“He’s learning everything really well, picking everything up really fast,” quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said. “I’m really excited for him.”
Kelly said on the day that Rhyan signed his letter of intent in December that he would have to earn a starting spot rather than be designated as the replacement for Andre James, who is now in the NFL.
Eight months later, that appears to be the case.
“Sean’s done a really nice job,” Kelly said. “He’s big, he’s physical, he moves really well for a kid that size. … He’s been impressive.”
Perfect weather, a brand-name coach and top facilities weren’t the only things that drew Jason Harris to UCLA. The graduate transfer outside linebacker from Illinois State also sensed an aura of accountability.
“There’s a culture,” Harris said. “I saw a focus in the guys that I didn’t see from other schools that I went to and schools that I have played at in the past, so that’s something attractive to me.”
Harris described UCLA as a player-run team, saying coaches don’t need to enforce being on time to meetings or cleaning the locker room. If someone disobeys the rules, Harris said, players will impose their own punishment workout.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jayce Smalley said the players policing themselves had led to tangible dividends.
“It created a way closer team,” Smalley said. “Like, we’re all jelling together, everyone’s playing fast, everyone enjoys being around one another, and I think that’s one of the most important things. Everyone loves each other.”
The Bruins reinforced those bonds during a team bowling excursion a week ago. Smalley bowled a 120 without the assistance of the side rails.
“There were a lot of gutter balls, though,” Smalley said. “Some people can’t bowl.”