Jake Bobo establishing his own legacy as UCLA’s highlight-hogging playmaker

No. 18 UCLA probably wouldn’t be unbeaten without new playmaker Jake Bobo, a transfer from Duke.
No. 18 UCLA probably wouldn’t be unbeaten without new playmaker Jake Bobo, a transfer from Duke.
(Kyusung Gong / For The Times)

Jake Bobo is a lot of things — an emerging force on UCLA’s offense, a cross-country voyager, indifferent to In-N-Out.

One thing he is not: the son of former college quarterback Mike Bobo.

Well, he is, actually. His father’s name is Mike Bobo. Dad briefly played quarterback in college.

There was enough overlap to confuse a television reporter who recently came to Bruins practice believing Jake was the son of Mike Bobo, onetime Georgia quarterback and longtime college coach who also has a son named Jake.


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“Obviously, his dad was an SEC quarterback, he’s been a longtime coordinator …” the reporter said before UCLA coach Chip Kelly cut him off with a chuckle and a smile he rarely flashes for local reporters.

“No,” Kelly said, “that’s not his dad.”

The blunder didn’t offend anyone in the Bobo household, including the Mike Bobo who played quarterback for about three weeks at Dartmouth before switching to wide receiver.

“I think it’s really funny,” said Casey Bobo, Jake’s mother. “Not that Mike Bobo but a Mike Bobo, yeah.”

Just so there’s no confusion, let’s set the record straight about this Jake Bobo. He’s the sort of tall, highlight-hogging wide receiver UCLA hasn’t had since J.J. Stokes and Danny Farmer snagged touchdown passes in the 1990s while leading their teams to yearly victories over USC and two appearances in the Rose Bowl.

UCLA wide receiver Jake Bobo runs with the ball after making a catch during a win over Washington.
UCLA wide receiver Jake Bobo runs with the ball after making a catch during a win over Washington at the Rose Bowl on Sept. 30.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The No. 18 Bruins (5-0 overall, 2-0 Pac-12) probably wouldn’t be unbeaten this far into a season for the first time since 2014 without their new playmaker.

His team needing a spark against South Alabama, Bobo hauled in a 34-yard completion on a crossing route to convert a third down and commence a comeback. Two weeks later, he added a season-high six catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns in a shootout against Washington, often reaching into the air to grab passes where only he could get them.


At 6 feet 5 and 215 pounds, Bobo was in the transfer portal for only a few hours last December when UCLA made contact, coveting his size and production as one of the top receivers in the Atlantic Coast Conference during four seasons at Duke. The departure of Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe and a desire for greater success left Bobo in search of a new home.

His father, familiar with the benefits of new adventures as a native Texan-turned-Ivy Leaguer, was fine with his son picking UCLA over Boston College, his other finalist. His mother? She wanted him to stay near their Wellesley, Mass., home and play for the Eagles.

Duke's Jake Bobo makes a diving catch ahead of North Carolina Central's Daryl Smith.
Duke wide receiver Jake Bobo (19) makes a diving catch ahead of North Carolina Central’s Daryl Smith (21) during a game in September 2018.
(Ben McKeown / Associated Press)

Casey Bobo’s preference was so blatant that the family told her to stay at the hotel on Jake’s recruiting visit if she couldn’t at least give UCLA a chance. Her opinion changed pretty much the moment she met Kelly.

A veteran lacrosse and field hockey coach, Casey bonded with Kelly over their shared New England roots and his analytical approach. Kelly even recalled a play from a game in the early 1990s when he was an assistant coach at Columbia and his Lions lost to an Ivy League rival — Mike Bobo’s Dartmouth.

“He connected with all of us,” Casey said, “and I said to him, ‘I really wanted to come here and not like you, but you make that impossible.’”


Jake was also drawn to the Bruins based on their returning offensive firepower of fifth-year quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and senior running back Zach Charbonnet, among others.

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The clincher in Bobo’s decision might have come when the family walked into the Rose Bowl on the final morning of its visit, imagining the possibilities while staring at that perfectly manicured grass and the sun poking over the San Gabriel Mountains.

“That’s a tough scene to beat,” Bobo said. “I mean, you go up there and see that, it kind of makes things a little easier.”

Bobo decided to become the latest in a distinguished list of Blue Devils-turned-Bruins. Tommy Prothro played for legendary Duke coach Wallace Wade, appearing in the 1942 Rose Bowl staged in Durham, N.C., because of fears of a West Coast attack during World War II, before coaching UCLA to the 1965 Rose Bowl. Standout running back Brittain Brown transferred from Duke to UCLA before the 2020 season and defensive lineman Gary Smith III made the same move alongside Bobo before this season.

Jake Bobo cheers while holding his helmet and walking in the end zone as a man takes a photo of him.
Jake Bobo celebrates after UCLA’s victory over No. 15 Washington at the Rose Bowl on Sept. 30.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Another former Blue Devil arrived in January when UCLA hired Jeff Faris as tight ends coach. Faris had recruited Bobo to Duke and was worried his pal might blow his cover when Faris, standing alongside UCLA football chief of staff Bryce McDonald, spotted Bobo in the weight room while interviewing for the job with the Bruins.

“I was like, ‘Bryce, if you want to keep this a secret,’” Faris recalled, “ ‘that kid was in the house on Thanksgiving — he can’t see me.’ ”

Everything worked out. Faris got the job and the bandana-wearing Bobo quickly blossomed into the go-to receiver the Bruins needed, operating out of the slot in addition to out wide. The team’s leader in receiving yardage (363) and touchdowns (three), Bobo has averaged five catches over his last three games.

Size is only part of his success. Bobo uses quick cuts and strong hands while running routes so precise they seem suggested by Waze.

“There are guys that are tall, but they don’t play big and utilize their catch radius,” Faris said. “I think Jake Bobo, he’s got the tremendous length, but more important than that, he’s a physical player, he’s tough, he can make difficult catches and he can turn 50-50 balls down the field into 90-10s.”

Jake Bobo smiles after UCLA's win over Washington at the Rose Bowl on Sept. 30.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

One tradition remains the same between Bobo’s new and old teams. A win over their rival brings a Victory Bell to campus, something Bobo experienced as a freshman after Duke downed North Carolina. Since arriving in Westwood, he’s rung the Victory Bell that resides in UCLA’s athletics hall of fame.

“It is very similar,” Bobo said. “It’s kind of weird too, the winner spray paints it and stuff.”

Bobo’s only misstep other than calling In-N-Out “overrated,” rankling fans of the wildly popular burger chain, came in the season opener. He dropped a punt and forgot to change jerseys because of a miscommunication with coaches over having two players on the field wearing No. 9.


“That was kind of on me,” Bobo said.

The slipup involving his dad’s name prompted a smile. It was nothing new, TV announcers having made similar gaffes when he played for the Blue Devils.

“I’d catch a ball,” Bobo said, “and the announcers would say, ‘Jake Bobo, son of former Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, on the catch,’ or something like that, so that’s always been funny.”

It’s become a tradition unlike any other, fun with Mike and Jake.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins fed off disrespect, beat No. 15 Washington and delivered Chip Kelly’s biggest win.

Oct. 1, 2022