If you have been coming to this (online) bar since the first day it opened you would the know the kind of energy and excitement we have been experiencing around fall practice this year is unprecedented. We just haven't been this excited about football since we started blogging about UCLA football. However, we always knew we had to keep our excitement in check given the state of our football program which is in the middle of long rebuilding process after years of neglect under incompetent and mediocre football coaches. We knew the depth in our program is a big question since the depth chart is filled with youngsters who simply don't have the experience or enough of it to give us tangible datapoints on what to really expect from this coming season. That is why over and over again during this off season we talked about the realistic expectations around this team would be to hope for a +2 season (improvement from last year by getting 2 more victories) in 2009.
Well we got a jarring sense of reality after the bumps and bruises piled up during the second week of practice. Actually in Kia's case (as two of you have noted already in the fanshots) the injury is more than a mere bump as he will be will out for the entire season. From the LA Times:
Senior guard Micah Kia was lost for the season, after an MRI exam revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Center Kai Maiava, meanwhile, was a spectator, sitting out contact drills, said to be precautionary because of a sore shoulder.
On the other side of the ball, Jerzy Siewierski, a starting defensive tackle, was missing because of a back injury. Korey Bosworth, a starting defensive end, watched contact drills because of a "few bumps and bruises," he said.
"No question our depth is an issue," Neuheisel said, adding, "but it is what it is," which was followed by an optimistic moment, "we have to play with our hair on fire . . . "
That is a tough break for a kid who was coming in, all fired up, ready to have a great senior season. Kyle Bosworth can relate since he went through the same ordeal coming into his senior season last year:
"The more you heal now, the less it hurts and the less it bothers you later," said Kyle Bosworth, who missed most of last season with a knee injury suffered in Week 2. "When I got hurt, it was really hard to sit there and know I wouldn't be playing. At the beginning I thought, `I've been practicing so hard, it'll be nice to have a couple days off.' Those couple days turned into a couple days, a couple weeks, a couple months.
"Man, it really sucks."
What hurts the most, Bosworth said - and Kia agreed - was the extra hard work that went into what was supposed to be the final college season.
"Coming into this, I know he was so focused," Bosworth said. "Last year, this is everything, all the apples in the baskets. It's just like all that hard work is for nothing. It makes you hungrier. I remember coming back in for spring ball, and I played my (behind) off.
Well it's not fun but the world is not coming to an end in Westwood.
We discussed yesterday that this kind of injuries to linemen during training camp is not unusual. This happens and its the kind of adversity that is often just part of the game. This is why schools work so hard to stock pile their depth charts with bodies. To their credit coaches have been focusing on doing just that at OL since the time they stepped into Westwood. That is why coming into this year they had about 18 kids competing for the 5 starting spot at OL. Now this injury means a youngster will get definite chances to show his staff. This is exactly why kids like Hasiak and XSF came to Westwood, shocking the world during recruiting season this past year. They are going to be able to compete and develop themselves by jumping right into the fire. More after the jump.
"He has to realize that when these opportunities come around - and they don't come around very often - you've just got to rise to the occasion," Maiava said. "When the time comes and it's game time, I'll let him know, `You've got to step up because it's your turn."'
Hasiak will not be the only first year Bruin getting his shot to prove himself at the OL. From the LA Times:
The Bruins first offensive line unit included freshman offensive lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo and guard Stanley Hasiak and two community college transfers, guard Eddie Williams and center Ryan Taylor.
Maiava's condition was said not to be serious and he was expected to return to practice today. But Kia's injury all but guarantees that quarterback Kevin Prince's blind side will be protected by freshmen.
"That was a big loss," offensive line coach Bob Palcic said. "Micah was having a great camp. This was going to be his fourth year playing. He's an experienced guy."
So sit back and think for a minute about our starting unit in the first game of the season. Our offensive line will most likely have at least 2 true freshman, 1 transfer (Maiava). We will have starting QB who hasn't taken a single snap at the college level. Our RBs will either be extremely young or inexperienced. Among the WR corps, Austin and Ketchum will be only upper classmen, while Paulsen will be the only other senior besides Austin anchoring the offense. Do you get now why we have been relentless in being practical about our season expectations for this year? I think getting 7 wins with this unit would be an amazing accomplishment (akin to getting into second round of the NCAA tournament during Howland's second year). I will gladly take 6 wins and an appearance in a bowl game.
FWIW, CRN wanted the kids to play with the "hair on fire." Well look what happened out at Spaulding:
1) A spirited goal-line session was interrupted by players running onto the field after consecutive touchdowns to start the drill. UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel was not pleased, as he shouted to the sideline, "Cut it out!"
Take one: If I'm a head coach, I love the enthusiasm, somewhat misguided as it was. Good for Neuheisel for maintaining order, but good for the players for making him need to.
Seems like they are getting his message. Seems like they are dealing with adversity just fine and responding to the leadership of their head coach. Leadership, again something that has been missing from UCLA football at least from the head coaching position, for decades. I am glad to see signs of it.