One thing I’ve noticed that different this year as a result of the decision to close all practices to the public is that we seem to be learning more about the journeys that some of the players have gone through to get to where they are at UCLA.
The result of this is that we’ve probably learned more about UCLA’s football players as people than we have in the past because we aren’t talking or writing about the football that is going on each day in practice.
Early in camp, it was Josh Woods’ journey back to the field after being hurt last year (and before getting hurt in camp this year). Then, it was Jaelan Phillips and his journey back from the injuries he suffered in his scooter accident. A few days ago, it was Justin Murphy’s path from multiple knee injuries to selling real estate in Lubbock, Texas to returning to the gridiron in Westwood.
As compelling as each of those stories have been, None of them is as compelling as the story of how junior college transfer Tyree Thompson got to UCLA. That’s because, while he was at LA Valley College, Thompson took a night job with his dad’s janitorial company.
When he was interviewed after yesterday’s practice, he told some of the story.
“Well, my journey, I started off at Sacramento State out of high school and I redshirted my freshman year and I played the following year.” Thompson said. “I decided just to part ways and I went to junior college and, through junior college, I had to get a job with my father. So, I was a janitor at night time and I had like six classes so I would be eligible to leave. Then, yeah, it was a big leap of faith coming here. I had to put my trust in God and everything worked out.”
“We would clean office buildings. We would clean like dog shelters and stuff like that,” he said, describing the type of work he was doing. “I would have a night class. I would get out of there at like 7:30 and I would go clean probably for like two or three hours...however much I had to do if my dad needed extra help. So, I probably would get home at, like, 11, do some homework, get up at 7 (a.m.) for school.”
“It was a long year, but it paid off.”
But It almost didn’t.
During the early signing period, Thompson’s only offer was from Rhode Island.
“I rolled the dice again and didn’t sign with them, and I didn’t have any offers,” he said. “So, I just learned to be really patient and good things will happen.”
Now, due to the injury Josh Woods suffered earlier in camp, Thompson could end up starting at middle linebacker for the Bruins this year.
“It really just hit me yesterday,” Thompson said about being at UCLA. “It’s really surreal. Like, where I was at last year, it was totally different. It’s just real surreal that I even made it this far, and I’m just grateful.”
Here’s Thompson complete interview. Thanks to Matt Joye of Bruin Report Online for sharing it.
While Thompson’s story is incredibly compelling, it’s not the only info Bruin fans want to know about this year’s team and, really, there’s only one man who can answer those questions — UCLA’s coach Chip Kelly.
Before yesterday’s practice, Kelly met with the media where he answered every question he was asked, just not in a way that will assuage a fan’s thirst for info.
Kelly started off by saying that the team still has two more days of training camp, yesterday and today, and that the coaches “would sit down on Sunday and go through everybody” to determine who would be getting the starting jobs.
But, he still refused to be put on a timetable. In response to being asked if he hoped to have a starting quarterback in place early in the week for game prep, Kelly responded saying “We’re just hoping we all show up to play Cincinnati.”
He did confirm that Soso Jamabo’s absence from practice was due to an injury and that he expected him to get back to practice yesterday. And, indeed, he did. Ben Bolch of the LA Times notes:
“Running back Soso Jamabo attended practice after missing the previous three sessions, but was limited in his participation.”
Kelly also mentioned that Marcus Moore and Je’Vari Anderson are day-to-day.
When he was asked about his takeaways from Fall Camp, Kelly said:
I think they’ve got a great work ethic and it’s a lot of fun to coach this group. They’re excited. They come with a good attitude every single day and their approach in terms of what they do. They’re really good learners. I think there’s a lot of guys, when you watch make a mistake in day two, you don’t see it in day three. So it’s been a fun process to watch them develop since we started in the beginning of August to where we are now on the 24th. So, the development part has been interesting to watch and to mark. You see the young players starting to kind of step up and kind of figure out that, “Hey, I do fit in and I do have a role here.” So, it’s been encouraging.
Thanks again to Matt Joye of Bruin Report Online for sharing Chip Kelly’s interview.
While Chip Kelly indicated that traditional game week prep will start on Monday, it looks like UCLA is already prepping for Cincinnati. Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News writes:
Instead of having Stefan Flintoft punt Thursday [sic], the team used lefty walk-on Andrew Strauch, who is normally a place kicker. Strauch is the only lefty kicker on the team, so it’s possible they were using him to prepare for Cincinnati’s James Smith. Smith, a lefty from Australia, is on the Ray Guy Award watch list.
She adds that Darnay Holmes and Kyle Philips were the primary punt returners with Demetric Felton joining them.
The Bruins wrap up training camp with one last practice today.