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Shea Pitts hopes UCLA can break through for sustained success

UCLA's Shea Pitts, right, celebrates with teammate Wilton Speight following a win over Cal in November 2018.
UCLA’s Shea Pitts, right, celebrates with teammate Wilton Speight following a win over California in November 2018. Pitts hopes the Bruins can get some bowl bling this season.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

Every time he sees his father’s UCLA bowl game champion rings, it reminds Shea Pitts what he hasn’t accomplished as a Bruin.

No Pac-12 Conference titles. No winning seasons. No jewelry.

Ron Pitts’ haul from the 1980s, when the Bruins won seven consecutive bowls, seems absurd by comparison.

“I’m just like, dang, you have three rings — a Fiesta Bowl and two Rose Bowls?” Shea, a redshirt junior nickelback, said Wednesday of the father who was a defensive back at UCLA and in the NFL. “I can’t not bring home at least a bowl game, so I’m putting that pressure on myself. He’s too nice of a guy to say anything, but I feel it for him, like, I’ve got to start winning some games.”

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UCLA has gone 13-24 since Pitts’ arrival in 2017, including 7-17 in two seasons under coach Chip Kelly. It’s a trajectory that Pitts doesn’t want to sustain given the greatness that proceeded him. He’s reminded of that every time he sees an image of Troy Aikman in the weight room or Jackie Robinson, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode in the lobby of the Wasserman Football Center.

As the centerpiece of a department facing a growing deficit, UCLA football has gorged itself on food spending that has no rival nationwide.

“We really want to bring that back,” Pitts said of UCLA’s winning tradition. “A lot of people have told us how much we’ve lost in the past and we’re just sick of hearing that. We’re tired of losing. Since I’ve got here, we have not won a lot of games and these new guys coming in, they’ve seen that and it’s like, ‘We’re changing it right now.’ ”

Transformation requires energy and effort, and Pitts said he’s seen both from the Bruins. He’s seen it in teammates showing up 20 minutes before the start of training camp sessions to work on individual technique. He’s seen it in cerebral cornerback Obi Eboh predicting play calls before the snap. He’s seen it in fellow nickelback Qwuantrezz Knight getting him excited just to practice.

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“I’ll be honest, I’ve never had this much fun playing football in my life,” Pitts said, his buoyant smile and easy laughter bolstering the assertion. “I’ve never seen a team this hungry and have this much energy, ready to go every day,” Pitts said, “so I’m really confident in what we’ve got as a team going on.”

Pitts continues to vacillate between defensive back and linebacker but said he doesn’t care where he’s positioned as long as he can “fly around, make plays and help my team win.” He appeared in all 12 games as a reserve last season, making a sack against Arizona and forcing a fumble against USC.

Whatever confusion there is about Brian Norwood’s position, his goal is to help one of the nation’s worst passing defense units at UCLA.

He wants a lot more out of his college career than a handful of individual highlights, of course. A bowl game championship would allow him to have something in common with his father’s experience as a Bruin besides both wearing No. 47.

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“I can’t just go here in my whole entire UCLA career and not end up winning some games,” Pitts said, “so that’s all I’m worried about this year.”

Happy homecoming?

In any other year, it would have been easy for Alexa and Mark Medrano to see their son play.

UCLA linebacker Kain Medrano grew up in Pueblo, Colo., a little more than two hours from Boulder, where the Bruins will open the season against Colorado on Nov. 7 at Folsom Field.

But a family reunion might be on hold. A Colorado spokesman said the school is awaiting Boulder County Public Health approval on a plan for player family members to attend the game.

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“It’s gonna mean everything,” Kain said of the family support. “If they’re allowed, my parents would love to be there.”

The return of ‘Pick Six’

Former UCLA safety Adarius Pickett has returned to the team as a volunteer defensive analyst, allowing him to mentor onetime teammates. Pickett played his final season with the Bruins in 2018.

“He’s out here running routes with me after practice and giving me like really good live looks,” Pitts said, “so it’s been really nice having him around and I’ve learned a lot from him.”


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