UCLA had its first practices in San Bernadino yesterday, and while there were some developments on the practice field, the bigger story of the day was the status of incoming freshman linebacker Mique Juarez.
It’s hard to overstate how big of a recruit Juarez was. A consensus 5-star prospect, Juarez was one of the best outside linebacker prospects in the nation, and was compared to Myles Jack, which was very convenient for a UCLA team that was losing Myles Jack. Juarez enrolled early and was present during spring practices, and by the time August rolled around, Juarez seemed poised to take a crack at the starting lineup, being positioned behind Cameron Judge on the depth chart and given an opportunity to surpass the veteran.
So it came as a bit of a surprise last Friday when Mique Juarez was absent from practice. Bruin Report Online seemed to be the first to report this news.
Freshman LB Mique Juarez wasn't at #UCLA's practice today.— Bruin Report Online (@BruinReport) August 12, 2016
Now, if the saga ends here, this turns out to be nothing. Players occasionally miss practices. They get sick or are told to stay home to recover from an injury (like, for example, a concussion). One day is a non-story.
Then Saturday happened.
#UCLA frosh LB Mique Juarez is not at practice Saturday morning, for the second day in a row. The program says he has an excused absence.— Bruin Report Online (@BruinReport) August 13, 2016
Jim Mora didn't have much of an update on LB Mique Juarez, who's missed the last two practices: "He's got an excused absence from us."— Edward Lewis (@Edward__Lewis) August 13, 2016
Mique Juarez out of practice for last two days, Jim Mora said he "has an excused absence." No further specifics. #UCLA— Thuc Nhi Nguyen (@thucnhi21) August 13, 2016
Jim Mora called Mique Juarez's absence from practice the last two days an "excused absence" but wouldn't say when/if he might come back.— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) August 13, 2016
Ok, two days in a row, combined with a non-committal answer from the head coach when pressed on the issue, is a problem. I’m not going to judge what Coach Mora said here, specifically because we still don’t know the specifics for Juarez’s absence, and we probably will never know. Still, #MiqueWatch was now on, with speculation flying out of every nook and cranny of the internet. My personal favorite was shared by our own LCUbruin, reposting something from a BYU message board.
I am fairly connected in this, and I think he will leave UCLA. Whether he plays football again is still up in the air, but I think he probably will. Mique played for a small high school, North Torrance, and the level of competition was low. He was the man there, starting all four years. He accumulated huge stats. He graduated early and was at UCLA during the Spring, and he had a difficult time adjusting to the speed and schemes at D1 level. He was running 3rd and 4th string and was unable to stand out. People kept telling him prior to enrolling that he could go to UCLA and be the next Miles Jack, but that’s not a fair comparison. He doesn’t have that kind of athleticism. I think he went in expecting everything to come easier to him than it has been. It has been an eye-opening experience. He was looking at a redshirt year in 2016, and that never figured into his plans. Now he has girlfriend issues and misses her and his family. This combination of circumstances has taken a toll on him personally. He has told the UCLA coaches that his fire for playing football is gone, and they are giving him some space to figure out what he wants to do in the form of excused absences. Most expect he will leave the school on Monday.
To be fair to this particular BYU fan, he was probably just confused because BYU players normally don’t arrive on campus until they’re 24, so the concerns of an 18 year old are probably hard to understand.
Anyway, Monday arrived, and the big question was whether Mique Juarez was showing up to San Bernardino. And as the morning practice began, we had an answer.
UCLA's top 2016 recruit could be missing third day of camp. https://t.co/gN5N5WDgOB— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) August 15, 2016
#UCLA coach Jim Mora says "nothing has changed" with the situation of five-star LB Mique Juarez.— Edward Lewis (@Edward__Lewis) August 15, 2016
Imagine a big red panic button just sitting on the desk of a generic UCLA fan. Now, imagine this person reading that Juarez was not in San Bernardino this morning. Imagine that big red panic button having then been smashed into a million pieces as this generic UCLA fan has utilized a hammer to press said button. That’s basically how the morning went for everyone.
And then, from out of the blue, a ray of light.
Nice and warm in San Bernardino. Can't wait for practice!— Student/Athlete (@MiqueJ) August 15, 2016
An hour later, the good news train kept on rolling.
#UCLA coach Jim Mora says on local radio that Mique Juarez is back with team. "He never left the team, was just excused for a few days."— Bruin Report Online (@BruinReport) August 15, 2016
Mique Juarez is back with the Bruins and expected to participate in the evening practice.— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) August 15, 2016
LA Times columnist Lindsey Thiry even managed to put a few USC fans in their place over the whole thing.
Uh, USC wanted Juarez, badly. https://t.co/i0fldmn2bG— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) August 16, 2016
So all was going to be well in UCLA land, right?
Mique Juarez never made it to the #UCLA practice field in San Bernardino Monday night.— Bruin Report Online (@BruinReport) August 16, 2016
At least there was some good news for all of the heartache at the end.
Mique Juarez did not practice Monday but linebackers coach Scott White said the Bruins had been in contact with him and "he'll be just fine.— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) August 16, 2016
So that’s where we are after Monday. Juarez is (most likely) back with the team, and we will probably never know why these past 4 days happened.
And hopefully this whole article doesn’t jinx anything.