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UCLA Football: RB Joshua Kelley Loves Being a Bruin

Bolu Olorunfunmi and Atonio Mafi return, but Josh Woods absence looms over camp. Plus Joshua Kelley gives his first interview since transferring to UCLA last year.

Joshua Kelley eludes defenders after catching a pass during 2018 Spring Practice.
Joe Piechowski

One of the things I’m learning about the Chip Kelly era is that it’s going to be rather difficult to write these Spaulding Reports.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m perfectly ok with the lack of practice viewing UCLA is currently allowing. Kelly wants to (rightly) keep things as close to the vest as possible, which is his right as a coach. Am I excited about how much harder it makes these practice reports to write, considering we have to now scrounge around for news out of 20 minutes worth of practice? Ehh, I could take it or leave it, but, as of now, Chip Kelly continues to get the benefit of the doubt.

One thing the shortened media viewing has created is something of an injury watch, where reporters try to figure out who’s ok and who’s not, and Saturday’s practice was marked by the return of a few players including Bolu Olorunfunmi.

As stated, Bolu had missed the last 3 practices. It’s not clear what kept him out, but being back so soon and without a yellow jersey means that whatever kept him out of practice was likely minor. This is good news for the Bruins as Bolu had essentially established himself as the lead back by this point.

The bigger return was that of defensive lineman Atonio Mafi. Mafi is projected to be an important cog in the Bruins defensive line this year. As Bruce Feldman put it in reacting to the news:

From the video above, you can see exactly what Feldman means. Mafi is a big dude, almost the exact prototypical nose guard in the 3-4 scheme UCLA will be running this year, and his agility is ridiculous for a guy his size. Do not be surprised to hear his name called often this fall.

Smaller news are the absences from practice at the moment. According to Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News, five players were not seen at practice on Saturday: Keyon Riley, Je’Vari Anderson, Otito Ogbonnia, Bo Calvert, and, most importantly, Josh Woods. With Chip Kelly addressing the media before practice today, expect someone in the scrum to try and get an answer regarding these absences.

We will have to wait and see how long Woods is out. Nguyen writes:

Since Woods was not at practice and the Bruins were already a little thin at inside linebacker with Anderson also missing, Leni Toailoa moved to the inside linebacker group during the individual drills. Toailoa had been working with the outside linebackers in the No. 2 group. If Woods ends up being gone for a significant amount of time, his loss would be tough to overcome due to the lack of depth at his position and that he seems to be a true leader among the defense.

While you have to like the flexibility of Leni, the move highlights that the coaching staff could feel that the inside linebacker spot could be thin going forward for any number of reasons.

Anyway, on to the interview of the day, with Joshua Kelley getting to step up to the microphone for his first interview since transferring to UCLA from UC Davis last season. Thanks to Matt Joye of Bruin Report Online for posting the full interview.

Let’s focus quickly on the non-personal story stuff, because I want to gush about how much I love Kelley, and the interview really focused on his journey to UCLA, so pulling out snippets actually talking about his game was rather easy.

On the type of running back he is, Kelley said:

I feel like I’m a little bit more balanced. Definitely a change-of-pace type of back. I feel like I’m really shifty. I like to get speed, because speed is one of my strengths. I like to run. I can do a little bit of both – lower my shoulder. But I definitely like to hit it. One-cut type of back for sure.

If you’ve seen any practice videos of Kelley in action, or watched Bolu running the ball, you can see why a running back like Kelley would be a huge change-of-pace. Bolu is definitely more of the bowling ball variety of runner (which isn’t to say he can’t be shifty), while Kelley is more of a sparkplug, and the two should complement each other well. Kelley was also asked about how the offense is progressing and he gave a boilerplate response that the offense is growing day by day.

No one asked Kelley about the quarterbacks. So, sorry if you were looking for any updates into that battle, though if you want more Dorian Thompson-Robinson content, Ben Bolch at the LA Times just wrote an article about him while interviewing former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti in which Bellotti discusses why he feels DTR could, and maybe should, win the starting job.

Now, onto the more interesting stuff. As I mentioned above, Joshua Kelley left UC Davis to come to UCLA as a walk-on. He had to sit out last year due to transfer rules, but he had reporters raving about his practice performances as early as Fall Camp last year. Just from this interview, you can tell how much it means for him to be in a UCLA uniform. Take this response discussing how Coach Kelly put him on scholarship this offseason:

Oh man! Hah! That was amazing. It was unexpected. We had a team meeting, I’m up there, like, oh, alright, we have a team meeting, and at the end of the team meeting, he calls me to do the break and I do the break and after that, he says the announcement. It was humbling because I was thinking about where I was a year ago — I wasn’t even here. I was offered a walk-on opportunity and now, like wow, I’m not saying it kind of paid off yet, but it’s like, man, it’s a start, it’s a start, and I’m grateful to Coach Kelly for that.

Kelley went into greater detail about how he basically had to sell himself to running backs coach DeShaun Foster and the UCLA staff, down to calling the front desk to get an invite to a UCLA camp. Kelley left a scholarship at UC Davis behind to come play for the Bruins, so it is even more rewarding to see him earn a scholarship here as well.

And if you were wondering how much he loves this school, Kelley said, “So it was just the fact that this was the place that I’ve always wanted to be at. Who doesn’t want to come here, you know? It’s UCLA.”

Spoken like a true Bruin.

Go Bruins!