Aug. 20, 1999
LOS ANGELES - They call themselves The Birds because they fly all over the field.
They speak of being all for one and one for all like The Three Musketeers, which might sound corny if it didn't seem so genuine.
They're the UCLA wide receivers, a talented trio full of optimism despite not having an experienced quarterback to throw them the ball this season.
Give them a little push, and Danny Farmer, Brian Poli-Dixon and Freddie Mitchell will tell you all about their talents.
As a group, of course.
"It's kind of like, who are you going to cover? Try to stop one of us," said Poli-Dixon, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound junior who caught 44 passes for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. "We've got the best corps of wide receivers in the nation."
He might get an argument from Florida State, Georgia Tech or Stanford, among other schools.
"I wouldn't call us cocky, we respect who we play against," said Farmer, a 6-4, 210-pound senior who had 58 catches for a school-record 1,274 yards and nine TDs last year. "We respect what each other can do. If you don't think you can go out and do it, you've already lost."
Farmer and Poli-Dixon are listed as first-stringers - perhaps the tallest pair of starting wideouts in the country, and perhaps the best.
Mitchell is a backup on the depth chart, and played in only three games for the Bruins as a freshman last year because of a broken leg. But he said he's in better shape than ever now, and he has the look of a future star.
"Just give us our 100 yards, the three TDs," said Mitchell, a 5-11, 176-pounder. "If you're going to try and stop us, it could be trouble."
Mitchell had a spectacular day in his UCLA debut against Texas last year, but broke his right leg while returning a kickoff 47 yards against Houston the following week. However, he made it back for 11 plays in the Rose Bowl game on New Year's Day.
"He hasn't really debuted yet," Poli-Dixon said. "People still have no idea how good he is."
Farmer used to be known as "Rooster," and Poli-Dixon was "Big Bird."
"We're The Birds, The Flock, that takes us out of any individuality," Farmer said. "We're a unit."
A unit that's earned quite a reputation.
"You'll see all those guys playing on Sundays, without a doubt," said Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson, who should know, considering he coached the Seattle Seahawks the last four years.
Farmer, whose father, George, played at UCLA and in the NFL for seven years, grew up in the Los Angeles area. He came to UCLA as a walk-on to play football and volleyball.
Poli-Dixon, from Tucson, Ariz., planned to go to Washington before visiting UCLA and immediately falling in love with the school and area.
Mitchell, from Lakeland, Fla., is the son of a pastor who said his injury taught him to stay humble and made him a better person.
"They're fun-loving guys, they're fun to coach because they practice so hard," UCLA coach Bob Toledo said. "Danny's a great role model, very popular with the fans and players. He's what you look for. When Poli got here, he didn't really have a great work ethic. Now, he's one of the hardest workers on the team. Freddie keeps everyone loose. He's one of those gym-rats on a football field."
With the Bruins' multiple formations, the three receivers will be used extensively at the same time, and a fourth wideout, Brad Melsby, will also get some significant playing time.
Farmer made it clear Melsby is one of The Birds, as are the other wideouts on the roster.
"They're part of us, too, they're part of our family," Farmer said.
Cade McNown, UCLA's starting quarterback the last four years, is now a rookie with the Chicago Bears, leaving the team with minimal experience at the position.
Drew Bennett, a junior who threw five passes last year as McNown's backup, entered practice as UCLA's first-string quarterback, with freshman Cory Paus listed No. 2.
"We've worked with them for so long, I think that will help them," Farmer said.
Poli-Dixon added: "I think they'd have a lot more pressure on them if they had nobody to throw to."
Roommates Mitchell and Poli-Dixon spent some time in Florida with Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss earlier this summer, and worked out with Moss and teammate Cris Carter.
It was a memorable experience.
"You would never have thought NFL dudes work that hard," Mitchell said.
If the Bruins were to model their team after anyone in the NFL, it would be the Vikings, he said.
With that, Farmer reached out his hand, and Mitchell slapped it.
"Danny's the veteran, we're the rookies," Mitchell said. "We're going to be at his place working out next summer."
By JOHN NADEL
AP Sports Writer