Linebackers Jason Harris and Jayce Smalley were available for interviews after practice today and both seemed upbeat and positive about the state of the UCLA Bruins at this point. Harris started off talking about his journey to Westwood after he transferred to UCLA from Illinois State as a graduate student. For Harris, one of the main draws to UCLA was the culture. He explains:
I could just really tell that they wanted it to be a player-run team and the players are embracing that and that’s something I’ve seen that’s need in programs. You need it to be a player run team. You need the players to care.
He went on to say that the players are basically self-motivated and the older players lead the younger players without the coaches having to get on them to care and participate. The coaches “don’t have to do as much,” according to Harris, because the players care enough to take care of business on their own. This might answer some questions fans have about the culture shift and the exodus of so many players last year. Hopefully, this means that as players embrace the new culture, more will stay and fewer will choose to move on to other programs.
Harris also discussed the ups and downs of fall camp and how much the team has improved since the beginning. Regarding the progress of the defense, Harris notes:
It’s been awesome to see and I’ve been seeing it myself. It’s just guys getting the plays down compared to like day one, you see us messing up simple stuff and, now, running more complex stuff and people are getting it down and people are playing faster. It’s been great to see.
Harris also discussed the excitement of finally getting into game week. He said he’s “definitely excited to hit some other people.”
Fellow linebacker Jayce Smalley was up next and he also had some positive things to say about the changing culture in Westwood. He first notes that the defense is really gelling and and the chemistry is moving in a positive direction. Smalley also discussed the idea of the player-run team and how they’d “rather push ourselves” than having to be pushed by the coaches.
The subject of walk-ons came up for the second day in a row and, of course, the players have no idea when, or if, additional scholarships are going to be handed out. The positive, though, is that, according to Smalley, when you watch them practice you can’t tell who is a walk-on and who isn’t. “It’s one big team,” Smalley said. “There’s no walk-ons or scholarship people. Everyone is just together. Most of the time, you wouldn’t even know who the walk-ons are. Everyone just loves each other.”
The improving pass rush also came up, and Smalley had this to say:
I think we’ve all worked tremendously hard in the off-season to work on our pass rush [and] all our skills as a collective group. So, I feel like as we push together as a unit we’re going to be stronger, better, faster and, hopefully, get home.
Harris also spoke very highly of outside linebackers coach Jason Kaufusi and the impact he has had both on and off the field.
It was readily apparent from today’s interviews that there is a contagious positive attitude brewing in Westwood. That, of course, raise the question: “Will that attitude materialize into a win on the field next week?”
Today’s interviews are courtesy of UCLA Athletics.