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Roundup From BN Walk: Football News & Notes

We will start this Monday with a profile piece on Rick Neuheisel Mark Whicker from the OC Register penned over the weekend. In the article Whicker makes the obligatory references to Neuheisel’s troubles in his previous two jobs (without providing the Neuheisel’s story of what actually transpired in Seattle). Yet there are compelling parts to the piece that makes it somewhat of a decent read.

Mark mentioned about how Neuheisel’s worked to redeem himself at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle following his turbulent exit from Mont Lake. We have blogged about that story previously based on the reporting of Kurt Streeter in the LAT. What was interesting to me was the story of Neuheisel’s QB career in Westwood:  

Neuheisel's McClintock High team in Tempe had won two Arizona state championships and was undefeated his senior year. But Neuheisel was slight and comparatively slow. "I wasn't a good athlete," he said, "but I could hit targets."

He was up for a couple of service academies and was hoping to go into pre-law at Princeton.

"Well, I guess if you don't feel you're good enough to compete in the Pac-10, that's probably the best thing for you," Donahue told him.

Neuheisel's skin crawled. He came to UCLA and cajoled freshman classmates into long-snapping footballs into his hands through the night, as he tried to become the holder for placekicker John Lee. He was mistakenly listed as Donnie Fisher, from Port Arthur, Texas, in the media guide, which he welcomed because it made him sound faster.

"I'd come in from the practice field with my uniform all clean," Ramsey said. "Rick's would be filthy. He'd be working against the first-team defense all day, guys like Kenny Easley. He'd have to imitate the quarterbacks we'd play, for the scout team."

"But he was a better athlete than people thought," said Homer Smith, UCLA's offensive coordinator then. "Illinois had some great pass rushers and didn't get him. He has a probing mind. You had to really be good to stay ahead of him."

He gradually moved up the chart. Ramsey banged his knee against Cal and Neuheisel threw a 70-yard pass to Dokie Williams. "After that, Tom started flexing his knee and saying he was OK," Neuheisel said.

"It was really a 30-yard pass and Dokie took it 40," Ramsey said. "But I'm glad to know Rick's still telling that story."

Neuheisel came into his senior year No. 2 to Steve Bono, but Bono's shoulder was hurting in fall workouts and Neuheisel won the job on the field. That was a booby prize. UCLA lost to Georgia, Nebraska and BYU early and Donahue went back to Bono, "just to change things up. Rick actually had played all right." Then Bono got hurt against Stanford and Neuheisel went 8-1, including the Rose Bowl, with two of his TD passes going to Karl Dorrell, the coach he now replaces.

Neuheisel’s story book career as a student athlete is not going to translate into immediate success (in terms of hard W/Ls) in Westwood this season. However, the perspective he is going to bring to this program as a long shot walkon who found a way to achieve ultimate glory (and do it in a defiant manner) is exactly what we needed to inject life into our listless program. And for Neuheisel to kick start UCLA football he is going to need help of some key veterans. Kevin Pearson from the Press Enterprise lists five vets Bruins will need to “step up” this season:

DT Brigham Harwell - - An absolute beast in the middle, Harwell is a 300-pounder who has the potential to shut down the run and get to the quarterback.

CB Alterraun Verner - - Verner has six career interceptions but is no longer surrounded by an experienced cast. He must be the veteran and eliminate the mistakes that could be covered up by those around him.

RB Kahlil Bell - - Coming off major knee surgery, Bell needs to carry the load behind an inexperienced offensive line and manage to stay healthy.

QB Ben Olson - - Those in Westwood have been waiting years for him to play to his skill set. This is his last chance and he must play smart and stay healthy.

LB Reggie Carter - - Moving into the middle to make up for the loss of heady Christian Taylor, Carter is a menace who can change games and game plans.

As we have said before easier said than done re. replacing Taylor. Reggie is going to have some huge shoes to fill. Let’s hope he is going to display the same game IQ Taylor did on a consistent basis for last couple years at Mike LB.

As for Brigham Harwell, he provided the Daily Bruin his takes on off season strength conditioning which according to him as been “biggest part” of Neuheisel’s effort to change the program around:

 “(Neuheisel) changed the program around, and the strength and conditioning has been the biggest part of that, I believe,” defensive tackle Brigham Harwell said. “This offseason has been the animal, for me. (Of) these past four years, it’s been the best offseason, both for myself and for this team.”

Harwell, a redshirt senior who has already finished the classes necessary to graduate, has been around the program long enough to contrast the work the Bruins’ have done this past offseason with their work under former coach Karl Dorrell. Harwell credited Neuheisel and new athletic performance coach Mike Linn for bringing more accountability to the Bruins’ offseason weight-lifting and conditioning regimen.

“In the past we’d bench everyday, or squat everyday, not really working on things,” Harwell said. “Our conditioning wasn’t the best, we’d run up and down and that’s it. ... (Now,) in the weight room there’s no music playing, it’s just strictly business. Before it was more, ‘do the weights, okay, good job.’

“(Linn) writes down every set, every rep, for every player. So it makes everyone do every rep. There’s no cheating in the weight room. In the past, we’ve had that problem, everyone wouldn’t finish their sets or finish their reps, and now it’s all about finishing. It’s been a total 180 turn from the past staff to this staff.”

According to Harwell, the results of the heightened attention to detail are beginning to show in other areas of the program as well.

“When you work hard in the weight room, it makes you want to work hard in the film room, it makes you want to work out hard on the field, and it carries over,” Harwell said. “How hard you work in the film room and on the field helps you out on game day. We’ve been building a lot of toughness, and more so mental toughness.

“We weren’t so mentally tough in the past, but now we’ve done a lot of things that will force you to be mentally tough.”

Guess we will see how it plays on September 1st. As excited I am out the new season under a new leadership, I always try not to get too carried away from reading about articles about improved off season conditioning. It feels like we have read these kinds of reports out of Westwood every year. And this is not to knock on Harwell at all because I have no doubt he and his team-mates are doing everything they can this off season to redeem themselves so that they can exit with a memorable senior year. For now though I am hoping for a productive and focused training camp, that will allow the coaches to put together a well prepared Bruin football team that will come out fighting in the first game, and hopefully set the right tone for what should be a difficult season.

Elsewhere both Kevin Pearson (the Press Enterprise) and Brian Dohn (the Daily News) feverishly wrote up there position reviews on our depth chart over the weekend. You can check out there takes here and here.