Josh Woods’ main goal for his final collegiate game is simple: Make sure Joshua Kelley leaves the Rose Bowl smiling.
While the gregarious running back has seemingly been grinning constantly since he stepped onto the UCLA campus three years ago as a walk-on transfer from UC Davis, Woods admits he’s seen Kelley hesitate at points this season. The tribulations of yet another losing season seem to be strong enough to almost dim one of the brightest personalities in Westwood. That is why Saturday’s season finale against California is so important to Woods.
“I just want to make sure he’s maximum Josh Kelley-ness,” Woods, the redshirt senior outside linebacker said smiling.
Kelley, who is 16 yards away from becoming UCLA’s first back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher since Paul Perkins in 2014 and 2015, is one of at least 13 Bruins seniors who will be honored Saturday at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins (4-7, 4-4 Pac-12 Conference) hope to send out the seniors with a victory, a prize that’s been rare during the past two years while they helped lead a rebuild under coach Chip Kelly.
“The best thing we can do is go out and try to win a football game this week to honor those guys the right way because they’ve been outstanding for the two years they’ve been here,” Kelly said. “They’ve been the kind of guys you can count on every single day.”
The fourth-year players leave with the dubious distinction as one of the only senior classes to graduate without a winning season in UCLA’s history. The last time the 100-year-old program had four consecutive losing seasons, it was 1924 and the school was the Southern Branch Grizzlies.
The on-field struggles will stay with senior linebacker Krys Barnes, whose status for Saturday’s finale is unclear due to a knee injury he reaggravated last Saturday against USC.
“UCLA had the winning record when I came here and that’s kind of why I came,” Barnes said. “It kind of sucks. You feel like, ‘Dang, I was the reason. I came here and we started losing all these games.’ But I’ll take it as a learning lesson. There are still positives from all the losses.”
Woods and Keisean Lucier-South, two redshirt seniors, are the only players on the roster who experienced a winning season when the Bruins went 8-5 in 2015. Woods played in just one game that season because of a hamstring injury.
Woods’ fifth and final season at UCLA was the first he played in all 12 games. The Upland High alumnus missed ast season with a gruesome knee injury, which he suffered on the heels of a shoulder injury that cost him the second half of his junior season. He played in 11 games as a sophomore, starting only six.
“I’m just grateful I’m going to make it through the season, so far, as healthy,” Woods said. “Playing through all the good and bad times here has just made me into a better man.”
The seniors became mentors for many of the young players who jumped into starting roles this season. Woods said teaching them was “one of the biggest joys” for him.
“This game is bigger than just the football at the end of the day,” redshirt junior tight end Devin Asiasi said of the seniors leaving. “We make friends, we make relationships and bonds that last forever. So it’s going to be a tough one, but at the same time, on to bigger and better things for them.”
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson practiced for the first time this week. His status is still questionable for Saturday. . . . Barnes and Lokeni Toailoa participated in drills Wednesday for the first time this week. . . . Sophomore defensive back Kenny Churchwell worked with trainers on the sideline after he suffered an undisclosed injury during Saturday’s 52-35 loss to USC.