By Andrew Borders
UCLA Sports Information Assistant
Looking at Mike Saffer's family history would indicate that the senior offensive tackle was destined to attend UCLA. Both of Mike's parents were educated in Westwood, as were an uncle and two of his aunts. Mike even had a local tie before the Tucson, Ariz. prep star made his decision to become a Bruin, having been born just a few miles from campus in West Los Angeles.
"It was pretty set in stone," Mike said of his decision. "There were a lot of things that were lined up for me to end up at UCLA, and I'm glad I did."
But it was more than his family's history at UCLA that has helped shape the path Mike has taken. His father, Don, played four seasons of basketball in Westwood, lettering in 1966 and helping his team win the 1967 NCAA title in his junior season. His uncle, Donald Rice, lettered in football at UCLA in 1971, and his two older brothers played baseball in the New York Yankee and Montreal Expo organizations.
Naturally, the experience of having played for John Wooden would color the tales of Westwood that Don would pass on to young Mike.
"He implemented all of the things that Coach Wooden had taught him into his life and into raising his children. A lot of the things that Coach Wooden had preached were passed on to me and my brothers and my sister as we were being raised," Mike said. "Everything here is so oriented around the ideas that Coach Wooden brought forth. It made for a nice fit."
Standing 6-foot-5 with an NCAA-championship basketball player for a father, it is curious that football became Mike's sport of choice.
"Both my brothers played football too. They had offers in both sports to go play in college and then both of them were drafted for baseball. It just seemed for them that baseball was a better fit," Mike said. "I played basketball and football in high school and it seemed like football was a better fit for me, so I gave up basketball and concentrated on football."
Mike has excelled not only on the field, but with his teammates as well. He has become a leader when a right tackle is not often seen as a position ripe to lead a whole squad.
"There's a misconception that the offensive line is not viewed as a leadership position. If you look at any team across the country with a group of experienced offensive linemen, they're usually looked to as some of the leaders," he said. "We're in the trenches where the game is being won. People realize that and look to us for experience."
Augmenting the physical stance required to play offensive tackle is the outspoken personality that has helped younger players identify Saffer as a leader and has allowed him to serve as a spokesman for the team.
"I've always been a pretty vocal person in every aspect of my life, especially in sports," he said. "Since I was a freshman here, I was always vocal and it seemed like we needed a vocal person on the offensive line. The role fit for me and I've just carried it on. I've been lucky enough to start for four years, and both of them go hand in hand."
Mike's positive performance extends off the field and into the classroom, having earned a spot on the Director's Honor Roll (3.0 GPA or above) each of the past seven quarters.
After completing his studies in December 2002, an important weekend for Mike will be next April 19-20, the weekend of the National Football League's draft. Offensive line coach Mark Weber knows what kind of talent the NFL will receive in Saffer.
"Mike is a smart, talented athlete who enjoys playing the game. He plays extremely hard," Coach Weber said.
With two generations now having donned the blue and gold of UCLA, one wonders if Westwood will be seeing another Saffer or two in a few decades.
"I'm sure UCLA has got a pretty good head start. I'm going to support them in whatever they do, but I might push a little bit toward UCLA," Mike said.
After the legacy Don and Mike Saffer have left behind, the next Saffer generation already seems ticketed for Westwood.