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Gameday Central
 

Football Ready for Spring Drills
Courtesy: UCLA Athletics  
Release:  06/21/1999

March 4, 1998

OFFENSE

One of the most exciting and highest-scoring offenses (No. 3 nationally during the regular season and a school-record 477 points in 12 games) in the nation returns most of the key performers from that unit. The Bruins averaged 429.7 yards per outing with a scheme that features a balance between the running and passing games.

QUARTERBACK

The Bruins have the nation's No. 1 player at this position - senior CADE McNOWN (6-1, 214) - returning for his fourth season as a starter. One of the front-runners for the 1998 Heisman Trophy, he enjoyed a spectacular junior campaign while leading UCLA to a 10-2 record, a victory in the Cotton Bowl and a No. 5 ranking on both wire service polls. McNown was one of three finalists for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and earned third-team All-America honors from Associated Press.

In just three seasons, he has already broken most of UCLA's career and season passing and total offense records. He enters his senior year with 7,238 passing yards and 487 completions, both No. 1 on UCLA's career list. His 43 touchdown passes rank second only to Tom Ramsey's 50 and his 7,633 yards of total offense rank No. 1 on that list.

In 1997, McNown completed 189 of 312 passes for a school-record 3,116 yards to become the first player in school history to break the 3,000-yard barrier. He tied Troy Aikman's school record with 24 touchdown passes and threw just six interceptions. He raised his completion percentage from 52.4 as a sophomore to 60.6 as a junior. He led the nation with his efficiency rating of 168.6, setting a Pac-10 record and ranking 12th on the all-time NCAA list.

Last season, McNown passed for at least 200 yards in every game and enters his senior year with a string of 15 consecutive 200+ yard games. He threw for at least one touchdown in 10 of his 12 games and set a school record with five touchdown passes against Texas - all in the first half. His 400 passing yards against Tennessee rank No. 2 on the single-game list.

The fiery competitor was at his best in the Cotton Bowl, rallying the Bruins from a 16-point deficit to a 29-23 victory and earning Offensive Most Valuable Player honors. It was the second-largest comeback in the history of the Cotton Bowl, surpassed only by Joe Montana and Notre Dame. On the day, he completed 16 of 29 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns. He also scored on a 20-yard run which included a 360-degree spin to elude would-be tacklers.

Sophomore DREW BENNETT (6-5, 195) enters Spring drills as the primary backup to McNown. A fine all-around athlete who earned a roster spot as a walk-on in 1996, he did a fine job as McNown's backup a year ago. Bennett appeared in six games and completed three of six passes for 52 yards, including an 11 -yard touchdown. Redshirt freshman SCOTT McEWAN (6-3, 200), who passed for over 2,100 yards and 14 touchdowns while earning prep All-America honors at Thousand Oaks (CA) High in 1996, will also battle for playing time during the April practice sessions.

"If there is a better Heisman Trophy candidate than Cade McNown, I'd like to meet him," said Toledo. "I can't imagine anyone being more valuable to his team than Cade is to us. He has the complete package - he possesses a strong arm, quick feet and outstanding leadership qualities. He knows the offense like a coach and has developed a comfort level with our system. But, above all else, he is driven to succeed. He is an extremely competitive person who is always looking for a way to improve, whether it be by working out with his teammates or watching video by the hour.

"Drew made outstanding progress last year and we would certainly not be afraid to put him in the game in a crucial situation. Scott is a young talent who will get a chance to catch our staff's attention during Spring Practice."

RUNNING BACK

In each of Bob Toledo's four seasons at UCLA - two as offensive coordinator and two as head coach - the Bruin offense has produced a 1,000-yard rusher at tailback. Karim Abdul-Jabbar accomplished that feat in 1994 and 1995 and Skip Hicks broke the barrier in 1996 and 1997.

The Bruins enter Spring drills prepared to take a long look at two key reserves from last season. Sophomore JERMAINE LEWIS (5-7, 177) did a fine job as Hicks' backup a year ago. He ranked second on the team with 282 yards, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. He was at his best in the Bruins' win at Oregon. With Hicks sidelined, Lewis ran for 75 yards on 10 carries. He also rushed for 45 yards against Washington, 41 and one touchdown versus Houston and 38 and one score against Oregon State.

Junior KEITH BROWN (6-0, 214) will compete with Lewis for the starting position. Last season, he rushed for 272 yards on 67 attempts (4.1 average) to rank third on the squad behind Hicks and Lewis. With Hicks sidelined for most of the Oregon game, he ran for a career-high 88 yards on 14 carries. He also rushed for 79 yards and one touchdown at Texas.

At fullback, senior CRAIG WALENDY (6-1, 229) has established himself as one of the top players in the West at his position. A good all-around athlete, he is a tremendous blocker and catches the ball well out of the backfield, averaging 11.3 yards on his eight receptions. He started seven games a year ago, his second as a starter.

Junior DURELL PRICE (6-0, 226) will compete with Walendy for playing time. Price made the move from tailback during the 1997 season and possesses good speed for his new position. He rushed for 36 yards on 12 carries a year ago but figures to get more attempts as he gains experience. Junior MARK VERTI (6-1, 228), who made the team as a non-scholarship player and has contributed on special teams, will also get the chance to perform during Spring Practice.

"Our goal is to have a balanced offense and for that to be the case, we need production from the tailback position," Toledo said. "Jermaine and Keith are both capable of developing into productive performers and we will give both of them many repetitions during Spring Practice. They have different running styles. Jermaine is a little quicker and more elusive because of his size, but he is also surprisingly strong. Keith has outstanding speed and can also run well inside because of his size and strength.

"Craig was one of the unsung heroes of our success a year ago and we expect great things from him in 1998. He is a tremendous blocker who really enjoys clearing the way for our tailbacks or protecting Cade. We also feel that Durell has the ability to develop into a different type of fullback, one with more emphasis on running the football."

TIGHT END

The tight end position is one of the deepest on the Bruin squad. Senior MIKE GRIEB (6-4, 248) is a tremendous all-around performer and should contend for post-season honors. A good blocker who runs well and can catch the ball in traffic, has made 39 receptions in the last two years. In 1997, he ranked fourth on the team with 20 catches for 249 yards and his five scoring receptions ranked second only to Jim McElroy in this category. He scored two touchdowns against both Texas and USC and his second score against the Trojans, good for 38 yards, featured five broken tackles and gave UCLA the lead for good.

Many of UCLA's plays feature a double tight end formations and senior RYAN NEUFELD (6-4, 238) and junior GABE CRECION (6-5, 238) will compete for that spot. In 1997, Neufeld caught four passes for 60 yards and one touchdown and scored the winning touchdown in the Cotton Bowl on a five-yard tight end reverse. Crecion, who will split this Spring between football and baseball (he is a pitcher on the Bruin staff), made six catches for 79 yards a year ago.

Two other players will also have the chance to catch the eye of the coaching staff during Spring drills. Redshirt freshman BRYAN FLETCHER (6-5, 222) is a fast all-around athlete who earned prep All-America honors in 1996. Junior RANDY HAKES (6-3, 244) transferred to UCLA in January after earning first-team JUCO All-America honors at Mesa Community College.

"We have an outstanding group of players at this position," said Toledo. "This is definitely one of the strengths of our team. Mike is one of the most consistent players on the team. He can block, run and catch the ball. Neufeld has good speed and is a good blocker and Crecion has excellent hands. Fletcher is a talented youngster who, with experience, will be an outstanding tight end for us. Hakes was a junior college All-American who we expect to contribute this season."

WIDE RECEIVER

Despite the loss of Jim McElroy, UCLA has a number of quality receivers who figure to play key roles in the team's success in 1998.

First and foremost is junior split end DANNY FARMER (6-4, 210). A gifted athlete who also plays a key role on the UCLA volleyball team (he will not participate in Spring Practice), Farmer is the most experienced of the returnees. He has deceptive speed, catches the ball well in traffic and has a knack for the big play. He started all 12 games in 1997 and ranked second on the squad with 41 receptions for 649 yards and three touchdowns. Five of his catches were good for at least 35 yards. In his two seasons, Farmer has made 72 receptions for 1,173 yards and seven touchdowns.

Competing for playing time at the split end position will be junior BRAD MELSBY (6-1, 193). As a true freshman in 1995, he came on strong at the end of the season, finishing the year with 12 receptions for 173 yards and two touchdowns, both in the Aloha Bowl. An accurate route runner who makes the tough catch across the middle, he missed most of last season due to illness, returning to practice for the final few weeks of the regular season.

Sophomore BRIAN POLI-DIXON (6-5, 205) enters Spring Practice as the leading candidate at flanker. A year ago as a true freshman, he made 10 receptions for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Poli-Dixon, who reminds people of former All-American J.J. Stokes because of his size and receiving skills, figures to play a key role in UCLA's success over the next few years.

Two redshirt freshmen - CODY JOYCE (6-1, 192) and FREDDIE MITCHELL II (5-11, 190) will also be competing for playing time at this position. Joyce, who caught 65 passes as a prep All-American in 1996, possesses good size and speed. Mitchell, who also earned All-America acclaim while making 30 catches for seven touchdowns, possesses blazing speed.

Senior AKIL DAVIS (5-10, 181), who has been bothered by injuries throughout his career, will also compete for playing time. He is another player with outside speed. Non-scholarships players DENNIS FOX (6-4, 216), RYAN WILKINS (5-11, 192) and BYRON CARNES (5-10, 174) will add depth to the wide receiver position.

"Danny is an outstanding receiver and we expect him to have a big year," Toledo said. "He is a great athlete who has made tremendous strides over the past few years. The Spring will be an opportunity for Brad to re-establish himself.

"Brian is a talented youngster who has great promise. The experience he gained last season as a true freshman was invaluable to his development and we expect great things from him. Cody and Freddie possess raw talent and both did some good things on the scout team. They will both, along with Brian, get plenty of reps during the Spring and have the opportunity to show our staff what they can do. Akil will also get the chance to earn a spot in the rotation during the Spring."

OFFENSIVE LINE

Three returning starters form the nucleus of what will again be an outstanding unit. Junior KRIS FARRIS (6-9, 310) and seniors ANDY MEYERS (6-5, 313) and SHAWN STUART (6-3, 300) will all be in their third years as starters and all have the potential to earn post-season recognition. Several talented youngsters will compete for the other two starting spots as well as the reserve roles. Seniors Meyers and Stuart will not participate all the time as the coaching staff uses Spring Practice to evaluate the young players with the goal of putting the five best linemen on the field at the same time.

Farris has started 23 consecutive games at left tackle during his career. He has made great strides during his two years in Westwood and is a definite candidate for All-America honors. He possesses great size, strength and quickness to go with outstanding overall athletic ability. He is a punishing run blocker who has improved markedly in his ability to pass protect.

Meyers is an aggressive performer who has started 22 of the last 23 games, including all 12 last year. He has great strength and quick feet, pass protects very well and is a devastating run-blocker when he pulls from his guard position. In his two years as a starter, he has established himself as one of the top guards in the West. In addition to being an honors candidate on the field, he is also an Academic All-District selection.

Stuart is simply the best center in the Pac-10 Conference. A starter in 23 consecutive games, he is responsible for making the various line calls and figures to be the leader of this unit. He has good quickness and strength and is equally adept at pass protection and run blocking. Like Meyers, he is also an outstanding student, having earned second-team Academic All-America honors as a junior.

Redshirt freshman DAVID WILFORD (6-5, 280) will get the first chance to earn the starting job at right tackle. Fellow redshirt freshman ED ANDERSON (6-5, 287) will open Spring drills behind Farris on the left side but both will receive plenty of reps as the coaches attempt to give them as much experience as possible. Sophomore walk-on DOUG CUMMINGS (6-5, 294) figures to add depth at tackle.

Sophomore OSCAR CABRERA (6-4, 308) is the front runner for the starting left guard position. He saw limited action a year ago as a second-year freshman, demonstrating his overall athletic talent and his ability to handle the job. He will be pushed for playing time by junior MATT PHELAN (6-4, 280), who saw action as a reserve a year ago and has played all three line positions in his first three years in the program. Second-year walk-on DUSAN MILITECH (6-6, 249) will add depth during Spring Practice.

Sophomore BRIAN POLAK (6-4, 317) will also have the chance to push for a starting spot. He is a talented youngster who earned playing time as a true freshman in 1997. A former prep All-American, he will open Spring drills behind Meyers at right guard but could compete for a starting berth on the left side or at right tackle.

Another promising youngster who will get a long look is freshman TROY DANOFF (6-4, 297). Another former prep All-American, he enters the Spring penciled in behind Stuart at center will take the bulk of the reps during the four weeks of practice. He is another fine all-around athlete who only needs experience to develop into a fine collegiate lineman. Sophomore TONY IPPOLITO (6-4, 266), who earned some plying time at guard a year ago before injuring his knee, will not participate in practice while continuing to rehabilitate his knee.

"Once again in 1998, I feel the offensive line will be one of our team strengths," said Toledo. "In Kris, Andy and Shawn, we have three experienced and talented leaders. Kris made great strides a year ago to become an outstanding player and he has tremendous potential. Andy and Shawn came to UCLA at the same time and have been side-by-side on the line throughout their careers. Both are among the best players at their positions on the West Coast, are very hard workers and intelligent young men.

"Oscar Cabrera gained some valuable experience a year ago and should do a good job for us at left guard but he will have to fight off Matt Phelan, who has played a number of positions for us. David Wilford and Ed Anderson will both get a long look at tackle and we feel that Brian Polak and Troy Danoff will both contribute this season.

"Our goal during the Spring will be to identify our five best linemen and figure out how to put them all on the field at the same time. We also want to give our younger players as much opportunity as possible for development, so our seniors (Meyers and Stuart) will not be asked to participate in every drill, creating more reps for the other players."

DEFENSE

A year ago, UCLA's aggressive defenders forced 40 turnovers and the Bruins ranked second nationally in turnover margin. The Bruins return five players who started five games a year ago, plus a host of youngsters, who will be looking to continue the turnover tradition. UCLA will have a slightly different look in 1998 with a 3-4 alignment, but will again blitz from anywhere on the field.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Junior PETE HOLLAND (6-3, 270), who enters Spring drills listed No. 1 at nose guard, is the veteran of the group. He started seven games, including five of the last six, in 1997 and finished the year with 16 tackles. He is a tenacious competitor who improved throughout the season.

True sophomore KENYON COLEMAN (6-5, 265) will get the first look at one of the defensive end positions. He is a talented athlete with tremendous upside potential and the coaches will get him as many reps as possible during Spring Practice. He appeared in all 12 games off the bench a year ago and finished with 15 tackles and three fumble recoveries.

Third-year sophomore MICAH WEBB (6-5, 267) enters Spring Practice as the front runner at the other defensive end spot. Last year, he appeared in nine of 12 games and was credited with three tackles. He made good strides in his first year on the field and the coaching are looking for continued development during the four weeks of practice.

JOSH WEBB (6-6, 280), a third-year sophomore, will push Coleman for the starting berth at defensive end. This young player gained valuable experience a year ago as a redshirt freshman, making nine tackles in eight games. Third-year sophomore TRAVOR TURNER (6-4, 247), whose strength is rushing the quarterback, will compete with M. Webb at the other defensive end position. Senior VAE TATA (6-3, 256) will be attempting a comeback after two and one-half years on the sidelines. He missed the latter portion of the 1995 season and all of 1996 due to a knee injury and all of last season due to injuries suffered during a car accident. He figures to add depth at defensive end.

Redshirt freshman STEPHEN SUA (6-1, 246) will compete with Holland for playing time at nose guard. He did a fine job on the scout team a year ago and figures to give the Bruins a good one-two combination in the middle of the line. Two walk-ons, third-year sophomore KORY LOMBARD (6-1, 280) and redshirt freshman SCOTT HECKMAN (6-3, 247), will try to work their way into the rotation.

"Our defensive line really came on for us last year and I think this unit has the potential to do the same thing," said Toledo. "It's a young unit with no seniors and just one junior who figures to play on a regular basis, but I feel we are bigger and more athletic than in the past. I would expect we will again have solid performances from our linemen. "

LINEBACKER

In 1998, the Bruins will utilize two inside and two outside linebackers. The outside players will be asked to offer run support, blitz the quarterback and cover backs. This will be a young group with just two seniors among the candidates for playing time.

Senior BRENDON AYANBADEJO (6-2, 234) is the most experienced performer and enters Spring Practice as the No. 1 right outside linebacker. Last season, his first as a starter, he led the team with 15 tackles for losses. A fine all-around athlete with an aggressive attitude, he finished the year with 41 tackles, second only to Larry Atkins and Marques Anderson. He figures to contend for post-season honors as the leader of the linebackers.

On the left side, junior MICHAEL WILEY (6-2, 234) and redshirt freshman SANTI HALL (6-2, 243) will compete for the starting job throughout Spring Practice. A reserve linebacker and special teams performer a year ago, Wiley made 13 tackles, including four for losses, and scored a touchdown on a 24-yard interception return. Hall impressed the coaching staff with his aggressiveness as a member of the scout team. Both possess fine all-around athletic ability and will give the Bruins a quality performance.

Junior ALI ABDUL AZZIZ (6-2, 224) and redshirt freshman ED STANSBURY (6-2, 240) will compete for playing time behind Ayanbadejo on the right side. Both are good athletes who practiced at other positions a year ago - Abdul Azziz at safety and Stansbury at quarterback. Third-year sophomore BILLY PIEPER (6-2, 213) and walk-on redshirt freshman KEVIN STROMSBORG (6-1, 207) will add depth on the left side.

Junior RAMOGI HUMA (6-1, 223) and true sophomore TONY WHITE (6-1, 235) are the leading candidates for the two inside linebacker positions. Huma, in his fourth year in the program, is a fast aggressive performer who made 15 tackles as a reserve a year ago. White earned some playing time as a true freshman and impressed the coaches with his overall athletic ability, making seven tackles in limited opportunities.

Redshirt freshman RYAN NECE (6-2, 203), a hard-hitting youngster, has been moved from safety to compete with Huma at one spot. Senior CHEYANE CALDWELL (6-1, 242), a gifted athlete, has moved from fullback to compete with White for a starting berth. Three walk-ons, junior JEFF MOORE (5-11, 219) and redshirt freshmen MIKE BABCOCK (6-1, 232) and TONY THOMPSON (6-0, 257) will add depth during Spring drills.

"Brian Willmer and Danjuan Magee will be tough to replace, but I feel we have some very talented players who have been waiting for their opportunity to play," Toledo said. "What we lack in experience, we will make up with athletic ability, aggressiveness and youthful exuberance. Brendon is an impact performer who combines strength and speed. The younger players all run well and have developed our aggressive mindset. If Cheyane can make the transition from fullback, he will give us an additional quality performer with some experience."

SECONDARY

One full-time starter and two players who started five games apiece highlight the secondary.

Senior LARRY ATKINS (6-4, 228) established himself as perhaps the top strong safety in the nation and a frontrunner for the Jim Thorpe Award during his breakthrough 1997 campaign. A superb all-around athlete who can run, hit and cover, he was responsible for nine turnovers a year ago - six interceptions to lead the team and three fumble recoveries. He was one of six semifinalists for the Thorpe Award and earned second-team All-America honors in his first season as a starter. He finished the year with 44 tackles, most among the returnees, to go with his nine turnovers.

True sophomore MARQUES ANDERSON (6-0, 182) and true junior JASON BELL (6-1, 177) are the leading candidates for the two starting cornerback positions. Both players started five games in 1997. Anderson, who earned first-team Freshman All-America acclaim, has fine speed and coverage skills. He made 42 tackles, second only to Atkins among the returnees, and ranked third on the squad with three interceptions. Bell, who started the final five regular-season games and showed continued development throughout the season, possesses good size and speed. He made 18 tackles a year ago.

Junior ERIC WHITFIELD (6-1, 201) enters Spring Practice as the leading candidate to replace Shaun Williams at free safety. Another aggressive performer with good overall athletic ability, he split time at rover a year ago, starting the first two games of the season. On the year, he made 31 tackles, including two quarterback sacks.

Redshirt freshman JASON STEPHENS (6-2, 193) and senior TOD McBRIDE (6-2, 203) will compete with Whitfield for the free safety position. Stephens is a raw talent with tremendous upside potential who impressed the coaches with his hitting ability a year ago as a member of the scout team. McBride made a switch from receiver to the secondary a year ago and gives the area another experienced player. He is also a contributor on special teams (he blocked a punt which was returned for a touchdown last season). Redshirt sophomore JASON ZDENEK (5-11, 190), who saw limited action last season, will also compete for playing time.

Senior DuVAL HICKS (6-1, 207), junior RYAN ROQUES (6-0, 190) and third-year sophomore DAMIAN ALLEN (5-9, 170) will all be competing for playing time and possible starting assignments during Spring Practice. Hicks, a strong safety, saw action as a key reserve and special teams performer last year and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. Allen, who has outstanding speed, appeared in all 12 games a year ago. He returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown and made 19 tackles on the year. Roques made a transition from tailback to cornerback last season and made five tackles in limited action. Several walk-ons - cornerbacks LARRY CLEMENTS (5-9, 181), CHRIS LAROCCA (5-11, 184) and JOHN HALL (6-1, 171) and safeties RON ALLEN (6-0, 192) and JOEY STRYCULA (5-11, 188) will also compete for playing time in the secondary.

"We've lost some valuable seniors in Shaun Williams, Javelin Guidry and Wasswa Serwanga," Toledo said. "We feel that Larry Atkins is the best safety in America. He is an unbelievable athlete who always seems to be around the football. He can also play either safety position, giving us flexibility in the backfield. Eric and Jason should give us an aggressive combination at free safety and I think we have some outstanding cornerbacks young in Marques, Jason, Damian and Ryan."

SPECIALISTS

The kicking area will again be one of the team strengths thanks to the return of double first-team All-American CHRIS SAILER (5-10, 190). One of three finalists for the Doak Walker National Place Kicker Award, he earned first-team All-America honors as both a place kicker (American Football Coaches Assn. and Walter Camp Foundation) and a punter (Football Writers Assn. of America).

In 1997, Sailer, in his first season as the team's place kicker, made 19 of 24 field goals, including 15 straight at one point. He ranked third (tied) nationally in field goals per game and 14th nationally and third among kickers in scoring (9.64). His 109 points ranked fourth in school history and his 19 field goals ranked fifth. As the team's punter, he ranked 19th in the nation and second in the Pac-10 with a career-high average of 43.65 in the regular season. He also performed the kickoff chores and 47 of his 75 regular season kicks resulted in touchbacks.

Redshirt freshman ZAK HASELMO (6-2, 177), who enjoyed a record-setting prep career, will be Sailer's backup. Junior JOEY STRYCULA (6-0, 186) did a fine job in his first season as Sailer's holder and will perform those duties again in 1998. Finding someone to replace long snappers Chris Rubio (place kicks) and Mark Weisman (punts) is one of the coach staff's Spring Practice goals.

Both the kickoff and punt returning duties will be up for grabs during Spring Practice. Tailback JERMAINE LEWIS (5-7, 180) averaged 21.0 yards on 14 kickoff returns and 6.4 yards on five returns. Cornerback DAMIAN ALLEN (5-9, 163) averaged 18.8 yards on five kickoff returns and tailback KEITH BROWN (6-0, 213) averaged 25.7 yards on three returns. Walk-on tailback MARK REYNOSA (5-11, 197) averaged 7.3 yards on seven punt returns. Several of the young players will also have the chance to compete for the two positions."

"Chris is certainly a valuable weapon for us," said Toledo. "In our opinion, he is the best kicker in the nation because he fills three roles for us and does them all extremely well. As a place kicker, he has greatly increased his range without sacrificing accuracy. As a punter, he had his best year in terms of average and he also helped out defense by putting so many of his kickoffs in the end zone.

"Joey is back as Chris' holder after doing a great job in his first year, but we need to find a reliable snapper to ensure that the unit functions smoothly. I think we have some outstanding candidates for the return jobs and one of our goals is to come out of the Spring having these positions filled."


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