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UCLA Bruins return to training camp changed by coronavirus, and ready for football

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson runs with the ball against Cincinnati.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson believes the Bruins have plenty of time to prepare for the season’s start in November.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

Seven months later, after all the postponements and rejiggering of schedules and fears about the fate of the 2020 season, they were back.

The UCLA Bruins opened training camp Friday morning, reconvening on the same practice field where they had last met as a team in early March before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the end of spring football after four sessions.

It was an event worthy of celebrating given the way things could have unfolded. A season that appeared doomed as recently as three weeks ago is back on, at least for the moment, the health restrictions lifted and players no longer limited to working out in small groups.

“Today was definitely the day we got the most fired up,” quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said on a videoconference. “Fall camp’s here, we’ve been waiting for this for a while now, so we know when fall camp’s here that means the season’s right around the corner.”

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A Corona charter school and athletic training facility seemingly defied Riverside County regulations by hosting a summer camp that drew hundreds of people.

If all goes well, the latest training camp in school history will run through Halloween before the Bruins open the season against Colorado on Nov. 7 in Boulder.

Thompson-Robinson said a month of formal preparation should be sufficient considering the work that players already have completed.

“We don’t think it’s going to be a challenge at all,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We’ve been working as a collective group for maybe a month now, whether it’s on our own, going to a random park or whether we’re here working with our strength coaches or whatever. So I think we bonded really well as a team and I think we’re going to be ready.”

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Looming as a more perilous adversary than the Buffaloes is the virus that has twice led to a postponement of the season. Thompson-Robinson acknowledged that players didn’t take the virus as seriously as they could have before coach Chip Kelly contracted it in March. UCLA announced Friday that none of the 433 tests it had administered in its athletics population over the previous week had yielded a positive result.

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VIDEO | 16:41
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson talks about returning to practice

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson speaks to reporters about practicing for the first time since returning from the COVID-19 shutdown and what he has done to stay prepared for the season.

Their change in attitude about a virus that has killed more than 212,000 people in the United States has led to only a handful of players testing positive since returning to campus in late June.

“We’re taking it very serious here and that’s why, you know, we haven’t had any positives for a while,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I can’t even remember the last positive test we had.”

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The lifting of health restrictions that severely limited the number of players who could practice together allowed the Bruins to conduct what Thompson-Robinson described as a camp session that closely resembled ones from years past.

The main difference between this camp and UCLA’s previous two under Kelly could be the players themselves. Thompson-Robinson said he had rededicated himself to the game during his extended break, attending what he called quarterback school. He flew to Dallas every other week to work with a quarterback coach, staged boxing workouts with an older brother who is a mixed martial-arts fighter in Las Vegas and threw the ball as much as possible with teammates in Los Angeles, all in an effort to help the Bruins reverse their fortunes after going 7-17 in his first two college seasons.

The Bruins begin camp on Friday, hoping to bounce back from two poor seasons under Chip Kelly. Here’s a look at five players who could have a big impact.

“I really want this, I really want to improve and I really want to improve on the last two seasons because they weren’t up to my standards,” Thompson-Robinson said, “so I think really working hard and getting to focus on myself for a little while was something I really needed.”

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What could Thompson-Robinson do to improve? He mentioned holding onto the ball, after committing 19 turnovers last season, in addition to crisper execution.

“You can’t stop anybody,” Thompson-Robinson said, “if they execute every play.”

The quarterback revealed that his team might sport a slightly different look even as it expects to wear Under Armour this season after a fallout with the apparel giant that led to a massive lawsuit.

“They’ve kind of given us the freedom a little bit to kind of wear our own socks and wear our own cleats here and there,” Thompson-Robinson said of the school’s athletic administrators. “But at the end of the day, we still gotta wear UCLA stuff, represent this program and this brand.”

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Taking the field in any ensemble a month from now would represent a major triumph for the Bruins. It would mean that, once again, they were back.


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