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It’s taken six years, but Mo Osling III has finally become a stalwart for UCLA

UCLA defensive back Mo Osling III holds his arms out by his sides while in a football uniform.
Defensive back Mo Osling III, shown in a game against Bowling Green on Sept. 3 at the Rose Bowl, leads UCLA in tackles with 52.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)
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Morrell Osling Jr. hadn’t bought a game program in years. He stopped sometime during his son’s first season at UCLA, but during a punishing heat wave before the first game of Mo Osling III’s sixth and final year in college, a proud parent just wanted to celebrate and document another step in his child’s life.

So Osling approached the man selling the glossy magazines and bought one. He immediately recognized the cover boy.

“Wow,” he thought to himself as he looked at his son next to linebacker Bo Calvert on the front of the program. “There’s a reason why we went through everything.”

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Trenton Bourquet passed for 435 yards and three touchdowns last week in his first start for Arizona State, which will host the Bruins on Saturday night.

Nov. 3, 2022

The Osling family’s patience is finally paying off after six years, two head coaches and three different defensive positions. Mo Osling III is in his first year as a full-time starter, leading No. 12 UCLA with 52 tackles and on track to graduate with a master’s degree after already completing his bachelor’s degree.

With additional eligibility from the pandemic, Osling is one of four players remaining on UCLA’s roster from Jim Mora’s last recruiting class. Three players from the original group are playing in the NFL. Nine scholarship players transferred or left the program for other reasons, many early in the transition from Mora to Chip Kelly.

Osling had plenty of chances to join the exodus. First it was after the initial season under Kelly when his playing time decreased from all 13 games as a freshman to 10. He sat down with his father again after playing just four games as a junior.

Let’s stick it out, they decided.

“I’m just not big on running from my problems,” said Osling, who started a combined three games in 2020 and 2021. “I like to face them head on.”

Osling is now showing his attacking mentality as UCLA’s starting free safety. He set career highs in tackles in consecutive games against Utah (10 tackles) and Oregon. His 15 stops against the Ducks were the most for a UCLA defender since Adarius Pickett had 16 against Washington in 2018.

The last line of defense, Osling prides himself on his sure-handed tackling and ability to communicate with his teammates. Although he’s become a star on defense, he is never far from his roots as a quarterback.

UCLA used a balanced effort to shut down Stanford and bounce back from the Bruins’ recent loss to Oregon, keeping their Pac-12 title hopes alive.

Oct. 30, 2022

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The former three-star prospect got his first scholarship offers out of Antelope Valley High as an option quarterback. Always the most athletic kid on his youth football teams, Osling started playing quarterback at age 7, when his father coached him.

Osling could throw the ball a mile, run it and process defenses quickly, then-Antelope Valley offensive coordinator Jermaine Lewis said. Despite starting at quarterback, “Little Mo” didn’t shy away from playing defense for Antelope Valley.

“We’re built a little different out here,” said Lewis, a former UCLA running back. “We’re not blessed with numbers, so it’s a lot of iron man football.”

Osling gained more than 3,400 career all-purpose yards in three varsity seasons as Antelope Valley went 24-12 in his three varsity seasons. Osling started at quarterback for two years, but he and the staff knew it wasn’t his “money-making position,” Lewis said.

Once Power Five colleges started inquiring about the lanky 6-foot-2 prospect as a defensive player, Osling switched to wide receiver on offense and started at defensive back as a senior. With more defensive game tape, offers started rolling in.

All of Osling’s Pac-12 offers — Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA — came as a defensive back. He committed to the Buffaloes early but flipped once the Bruins came into the picture. His father, a lifelong UCLA fan whose “one disappointment” was that his son grew up a USC fan, was thrilled.

Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid is tackled by UCLA defensive back Mo Osling III.
Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid is tackled by UCLA defensive back Mo Osling III during the first half Oct. 8 at the Rose Bowl.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Osling was a sleeper in a stacked group of defensive backs that included U.S. Army All-American Darnay Holmes, four-star prospects Elijah Gates and Jay Shaw and former Mater Dei star Quentin Lake. Even after Kelly took over, the secondary remained one of UCLA’s most talented position groups with holdovers like Pickett and Nate Meadors.

The backlog forced Osling to wait his turn.

“I feel like I could have been a starter a long time ago,” said Osling, who has played cornerback, nickel and safety for the Bruins. “But God, he works at his time. It’s God’s speed.”

The Osling family, including Mo’s mother, Eurimica, whom the defensive back honors with a portrait tattoo on his right forearm and credits for teaching him his positive attitude, is soaking up the long-awaited moment.

Morrell, a former semipro player who coached his son through high school, can barely sleep the night before a game. He searches the internet for another photo to post on Instagram and regularly sends inspirational quotes to his son. When he realized Mo was on the program for the Bowling Green game, he held it up and told everyone at the tailgate, “This is my son!”

After pre-game tailgating, Morrell finds his seat in the Rose Bowl early so he can watch his son warm up and hear Osling’s name announced as a starter. Videotaping the announcement on the big screen never gets old.

USC and UCLA made their debuts at No. 9 and 12 in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the 2022 college football season Tuesday.

Nov. 1, 2022

“It’s his last year, we’re winning, he’s playing well,” Morrell said, “It’s like, what more could you ask for?”

Lewis, another Antelope Valley alumnus who played with UCLA running backs coach DeShaun Foster in Westwood, beams with pride knowing Osling is continuing the same path from Lancaster to UCLA. Osling was one of the first to help build the recent pipeline from Antelope Valley to Division I colleges, including former UCLA tight end Moses Robinson-Carr and receiver Devon Williams, who went to USC and transferred to Oregon.

As he thought about transferring, Osling always thought he could have a greater influence if he stayed at UCLA. He wanted to bring winning back the way he did at Antelope Valley. Continuing the legacy of defensive backs before him, Osling wants to impart wisdom on such underclassmen as cornerbacks Devin Kirkwood and Jaylin Davies.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly lamented late Pac-12 kickoff times drastically limit how many people watch stars Zach Charbonnet and Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

Oct. 31, 2022

“Mo’s great,” Kelly said. “Really everything you want in a student-athlete.”

As Osling’s days as a college athlete wind down, Morrell tries to stay focused on what’s still left for his son to achieve at UCLA. From one of the most anticipated rivalry games in years to playing in a major bowl game, there’s still work left for the Bruins.

But after this is done, the longtime Dallas Cowboys fan is prepared to bury his blue, white and silver for any professional team that will pick up his son. Whether it’s for Osling’s favored Philadelphia Eagles or at a Canadian football game, Morrell will be in line to buy another game program.

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