Starring for UCLA was pie in the stomach, not sky, for Greg Dulcich
Try as she might, Greg Dulcich’s mom can’t seem to keep her freezer sufficiently stocked whenever her son is around these days.
Greg used to consume one of his favorite beef pot pies with the flaky crust per sitting, but that was before he went from walk-on wide receiver to one of college football’s top tight ends.
His calorie count soared this past spring when he returned to his Glendale home after the COVID-19 pandemic largely shut down UCLA’s campus. That meant Anna Dulcich had to make extra trips to Moffett’s Family Restaurant & Chicken Pie Shoppe in Arcadia.
“When he was home,” Anna said, “I had bought two dozen, and I think they were gone in less than a month.”
Greg polished off two pies at a time as part of a new diet intended to help thicken his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame. He also scarfed down breakfast burritos, grilled steaks and a birthday dinner of chili cheese dogs followed by chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.
UCLA’s home opener against Utah has been rescheduled from Friday to Saturday as the Utes deal with the coronavirus among their players.
Getting to his ideal weight wasn’t as easy as chewing and swallowing.
Stranded at home, Greg had to scavenge for workout equipment. He and his father, George, pulled together some barbells and assembled a makeshift weight bench from plywood and other scraps. Greg went running in the morning, completed the workout routine prescribed by his strength coaches in the afternoon and even added his own custom exercises.
The payoff was more than 17 extra pounds of muscle. Greg trumpeted his arrival as an NFL prospect Saturday by catching four passes for 126 yards and a touchdown during the Bruins’ season-opening 48-42 loss to Colorado.
It was a performance that put a player who had not received any scholarship offers from major college programs out of St. Francis High in La Cañada Flintridge atop the Pac-12 Conference’s receiving yardage leaderboard, ahead of USC’s Drake London and Amon-ra St. Brown.
“A couple people told me, which was nice to hear,” Dulcich, a redshirt sophomore, said. “But we’re in the business of winning games, so that’s what I’m focused on.”
Dulcich’s get-it-done mentality is part of the reason he doesn’t consider himself a Cinderella story. He always believed he could do this, even if nobody else could.
He had more than 1,000 receiving yards as a high school senior, catching one touchdown pass in a CIF Southern Section championship game. Having the grades, football success and winning work ethic couldn’t sway college coaches who were skittish about what they considered an undersized player.
“We’d get calls at times, and it would always be, ‘Well, we’ll stay in touch with you, Greg. You’re doing a good job,’ ” George Dulcich said, recalling what coaches told his son, “but it didn’t seem like anyone was really pulling the trigger.”
That’s when Greg learned that it always helps to have a Bruin in your corner. Jim Bonds, Dulcich’s late high school coach, was a former UCLA quarterback who believed his star receiver could contribute at his alma mater. Bonds corresponded with UCLA coaches who had been tracking Dulcich. The Bruins offered a spot as a preferred walk-on.
Even then, Dulcich was torn. He appreciated the offer but considered himself a scholarship-worthy player. His older brother, also named George, told him to go prove it.
“George just basically said, ‘You’ve got UCLA calling you, and they’re telling you they want you to walk on and they like what they see on your form and everything else,’ ” Dulcich’s father recalled of the exchange between his sons. “ ‘What are you waiting for? If you think you’re good enough to be there, then go there and show them.’ ”
They were words that solidified Greg’s decision to become a Bruin. He played sparingly as a freshman in 2018, making one catch. The next season involved a bigger role and increased production, including a 20-yard touchdown catch against San Diego State.
The exodus of tight ends Devin Asiasi, Jordan Wilson and Matt Lynch after last season created an opportunity for a high-wattage spotlight. Dulcich would move to tight end, but he wouldn’t do it as a walk-on.
On his birthday in March, Dulcich took a call from coach Chip Kelly and learned he was being put on scholarship. Dulcich hung up the phone in his home, and bedlam ensued with his siblings and parents.
“He was jumping up and down — we all were,” Anna Dulcich remembered, “jumping up and down and hugging and very excited about it.”
Anna was especially proud given how hard her son had worked to overcome his high metabolism. There had been mornings when he would wake up, step on the scale and announce with dread that he had lost five pounds overnight.
“I’m like, ‘Ugh,’ ” Anna recalled. “I wish I could lose five pounds by sleeping.”
Greg had won over his coaches with a relentless approach that prompted Kelly to emphasize that his being put on scholarship was not a birthday present.
“His work ethic is off the charts,” Kelly said, “so anything we put on Greg’s plate, he eats up both literally and figuratively.”
UCLA might not need an A-level game to beat Colorado on Saturday, but the opener could go a long way in determining how good the Bruins will be in 2020.
His parents were there to celebrate once more Saturday night at a nearly empty Folsom Field, watching their son flash the speed that makes him such a difficult matchup at his new size. Greg caught a pass from quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson at Colorado’s 35-yard line late in the second quarter, outmaneuvered a defensive back and sprinted into the end zone.
“I just had one man to beat,” Greg said of his career-best 52-yard touchdown. “One of my old coaches used to just tell me when you’re out there you’re just playing tag, so I kind of tried to go out there and play tag.”
As he contemplated his emotions amid the bizarre scene, a wide swath of empty seats around him and his wife, George Dulcich didn’t hold anything back. He stood up and cheered wildly.
Anna and George hugged their son after the game, everyone wearing masks to protect each other from the novel coronavirus. The parents returned home the next day, but Anna Dulcich would soon have to go shopping again. There was a son who needed more of his favorite delicacy.
Anna dropped off more beef pies Monday in Westwood, allowing Greg to savor every bite from his go-to eatery.
“They actually have chicken pot pies too,” Greg said, “but I think their beef pot pie is the way to go.”
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