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Managing UCLA’s future rosters involves more waiting than planning

UCLA coach Chip Kelly watches during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Colorado.
New eligibility rules and a potential transfer rule could create roster hurdles for UCLA coach Chip Kelly and other college coaches.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Seniors could be staying, freshmen could be leaving, high school prospects could be wondering how they fit in amid all the turnover.

College football roster management will be one giant headache over the next few years amid an eligibility extension that could bloat rosters and a proposed transfer rule that could allow players to depart in waves.

“You could say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a ton of depth now,’” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said, “and then if that [transfer] rule passes in January, you don’t have the depth that you thought you had.”

Kelly said there’s so much uncertainty that he hasn’t begun to ponder how he’ll manage his roster beyond this season.

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Colson Yankoff entered UCLA’s camp as a backup to the Pac-12 Conference’s most experienced quarterback. Now, he’s jockeying for playing time as a receiver.

UCLA’s seven seniors and four graduate transfers could opt to return in 2021 after the NCAA granted one-year eligibility extensions in response to the disruptions to the college sports calendar caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That doesn’t guarantee anyone will come back. The players with expiring eligibility could opt for the NFL. They could say they were done with football. Or they could enter the transfer portal, capitalizing on the NCAA’s expected approval of a one-time transfer waiver that would grant them immediate eligibility elsewhere for a final college season.

Players with expiring eligibility will be allowed to return next season and not count against a school’s maximum of 85 scholarships, but the NCAA has not said it would boost scholarship limits after the 2021-22 academic year, when underclassmen who also have been given extra eligibility might say they want to return.

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There’s also the matter of who’s going to pay for all those extra scholarships. Kelly said his understanding was that UCLA would foot the bill, but the school has not unveiled a formal plan.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we have an exact number of who’s coming back and how to manage all that stuff,” Kelly said.

Instead of toning down the offense during the shortened season, UCLA is adding plays that quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said makes the Bruins “more dynamic.”

The Bruins have 13 high school players committed as part of what could be a 25-player 2021 class but might have to winnow future classes if underclassmen on their current roster say they want to come back for an extra year and are counted against scholarship limits.

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In the meantime, they’ll assess the ways they will be allowed to proceed.

“There’s a lot of other rules that we’re waiting for the NCAA to come down with to give us kind of a road map to doing this,” Kelly said. “We all want answers as soon as possible.”

A shaggy bunch

UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich shows off his shaggy look during a Zoom conference call.
(UCLA)

UCLA’s tight ends were treated to a surprise virtual visit from former teammates Devin Asiasi and Caleb Wilson over the offseason, but what the departed Bruins saw on Zoom might have been even more startling.

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Most of the current Bruins were sporting long hair and mustaches as part of a bonding ritual.

“This has been like however long quarantine’s been,” redshirt sophomore Greg Dulcich said, “so I’m not very good at growing it.”

As hairy situations go, redshirt sophomore David Priebe won universal praise for growing the longest mustache and sophomore Mike Martinez, well, not so much.

“I would say mine’s probably the weakest in the group,” Martinez said, his wisp of lip hair barely visible. “Everybody grows it at their own pace. They just make fun of mine because I always say mine’s growing in, but then week by week it looks the same.”

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The Bruins’ and Trojans’ women’s basketball teams know they play in one of the nation’s toughest conferences. They hope that prepares them for the postseason.

If Martinez appears more assertive on the field than he did as a freshman, it’s not a mirage. He said route concepts and blocking schemes are starting to come easier after he delved deeper into the playbook during the extra months off.

Dulcich may make a bigger leap than just going from walk-on to scholarship player; receiver Kyle Philips said he could be one of the best tight ends in the nation based on his ability to get separation and make catches. He’s also bulked up, going from 220 pounds to around 240.

Now all Dulcich needs to do is work on his mustache.

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“This is all I can grow at this point,” he said. “Maybe someday I’ll get it nice and thick.”


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