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Back to being a backup, Jerry Neuheisel waits for next chance

Back to being a backup, Jerry Neuheisel waits for next chance
UCLA quarterback Jerry Neuheisel is lifted into the air by teammates after leading the Bruins to victory over Texas last month. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Jerry Neuheisel used to wear a UCLA football sweat shirt to make sure people knew he was a quarterback and not a water polo player.

After the redshirt sophomore entered a game against Texas and led the Bruins to a 20-17 victory on the road, the sweat shirt has been retired. People continue to come up to him in restaurants and around campus to congratulate him, even though the game was in early September. Casual fans, not just die-hards, now know his name.

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The other side to the story, though, is that Neuheisel hasn't entered a game since. Starter Brett Hundley has been healthy, so Neuheisel hasn't seen the field.

Life, in more ways than one, is a lot different for the backup quarterback these days.

"I'll be honest, it's not as much fun being the backup quarterback again," he said after practice on Wednesday. "It's definitely more fun being on the field. But life is still good. It's kind of returned to normal. The 15 seconds of afterglow are gone, but I'm enjoying it while I can and can't wait until my next chance."

When that next chance comes is up in the air. Almost every other position on the field has a backup that gets at least a couple of snaps. With the quarterback, there's one guy. If Hundley is healthy, and the Bruins continue to play in close game, Neuheisel will continue to sit on the sideline.

He knows that's where he should be for now, but after getting playing time, he knows how to lead a team. There aren't any lingering doubts, which makes it all the more difficult to not be in the game.

"I just can't wait for the next chance," Neuheisel said. "It's not like I'm angry about not playing now, it's not like I feel like now all of a sudden I should be the starter. Brett's been the starter for two years and he's won a lot more games than I have. It's not like I feel like I deserve a starting role right away or anything like that, it just makes me anxious for my next shot. I'm ready to go in again."

It's also unclear what happens next. Hundley is almost certainly leaving for the NFL after this season, and the Texas game was the first real playing time of Neuheisel's career. There are other younger quarterbacks, like redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard and incoming freshman Josh Rosen, who are ready to grab the starting role too.

But not needing that sweat shirt anymore is a step in the right direction for Neuheisel.

"I don't think it would have any bearing on next year's competition or anything like that, but it definitely makes me feel like there's a sense I can do it, not just within me, but within the entire team," Neuheisel said. "I love that the guys believed in me when I got into the game, and now I have some actual, factual evidence to give them a reason to believe in me. I think right now, we're getting ready for Oregon, and if my name were to get called, I'd be ready to go, and if not, I'd be cool with that too. I'm just trying to help the team however I can."

For more Bruins observations, follow Everett Cook on Twitter @everettcook

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