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Game week brings cautious excitement and crossed fingers for UCLA

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson passes during the second half against California.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson passes against California last season. The Bruins open the season Saturday against Colorado.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

A game week unlike any other has arrived.

After the false starts of a repeatedly delayed season, the false positive test of one player for COVID-19 and the false pretenses of the apparel company that tried to prematurely dump them, the UCLA Bruins have persevered, putting themselves on the verge of playing their opener against Colorado.

No one’s exhaling until the final zeroes go up on the clock at Folsom Field. Given the pandemic, plenty could go wrong between now and a kickoff scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

Like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

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“Things can change with COVID day to day, so just taking it day by day,” quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said of his approach after practice Sunday. “Right now, I’m just focused on tomorrow and getting back to tomorrow’s practice.”

State and county health officials cited rising community spread of COVID-19 as the key factor in their decision not to allow family at UCLA and USC home games.

The Bruins escaped one potential crisis over the weekend when a player who initially tested positive for the novel coronavirus was found to have been negative through more sophisticated follow-up testing. The all-clear given, the player was allowed to rejoin the team and worries about potential teamwide spread ended, at least for the moment.

Linebacker Bo Calvert said the temptation for players to go trick-or-treating Saturday, potentially putting them at risk of contracting the virus, was alleviated by Halloween falling on a weekend amid a mostly empty campus. The team made it through a three-week training camp without logging one confirmed positive test, revealing the commitment needed to get to the opener against the Buffaloes.

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“I don’t have to worry about any positives over here,” Thompson-Robinson said of the Bruins.

UCLA started its formal game / week preparations Sunday because it must take off Tuesday as part of a new NCAA rule that forbids team activities on election days. Thompson-Robinson said the team did not feel constrained after completing a training camp that was held concurrently with classes, limiting players to 20 hours of football per week.

It was essentially the same practice format the Bruins had used in previous years, when they held training camp in August.

“We were going against the ones every day,” Thompson-Robinson said of the offense, “and so I’d say we got to scrimmage a good handful of times and really getting to go good on good a bunch of times and really getting to have the reps out here and have a game-prep atmosphere and get that feeling and stuff going.”

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Calvert said the NCAA allowing players to interact with position coaches and commence drills on the practice field before the start of training camp allowed the team to complete more football activities than normal. Players grew closer as a result of all the adversity they faced, Calvert said, after not knowing whether they would be allowed back inside the team’s football facility to use the weight room or even take a shower.

“All those little things,” Calvert said, “you start appreciating more and more.”

Players’ reliance on one another transcends the practice field, with any chance of playing this season contingent on their acting responsibly to curtail the spread of the virus.

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If all goes well, the painful weekends of being confined to an apartment while watching teams from other conferences play will end soon enough.

“Realizing that it’s go time and we’re gonna play a real game here in six days,” Calvert said, “is super exciting.”

Etc.


In an encouraging sign for a player whose 19 turnovers last season were among the most in the nation, Thompson-Robinson said he did not lose a fumble or have a pass intercepted in training camp. … Ralphie, Colorado’s live buffalo mascot, won’t roam the field before the game Saturday as part of Pac-12 Conference restrictions during the pandemic. A Colorado athletic department official said the school was searching for a new buffalo after Ralphie V, who turned 14 in October, retired to a ranch alongside a companion buffalo after 12 seasons of service.


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