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Spaulding Report: UCLA Football Freshmen Take Center Stage

Players start coming back from injuries and a day full of freshman interviews, including all 3 new specialists

JJ Molson works on his technique during Fall Camp in Westwood.
JJ Molson works on his technique during Fall Camp in Westwood.
Joe Piechowski

UCLA Football is now fully in regular season-mode, with closed practices and planning underway for the first game of the season on September 3rd in College Station (can’t wait to see you all out there). Because of that, the news coming out of practice has slowed to a drip.

Still, UCLA did provide an injury update for most of the players we’ve heard about during fall camp. Here is where we’re at:

  • Deon Hollins is back to fully participating in practice after suffering a concussion during week one of fall camp. This is obviously good news for everyone here at Bruins Nation, as Hollins has obviously remained one of our favorite players, and his performance tends to be indicative of how the line goes.
  • The other concussion victim, fullback Cameron Griffin, is still not participating in practice. As with all concussions, it’s important to take the time to let the injury completely heal rather than rush them back too early (shout out to Rich Rod and Mike Leach).
  • Kenny Lacy is back to partial participation in practice, but the staff is understandably taking their time in bringing him back after the knee injury.
  • Takkarist McKinley is not at full participation after suffering a groin injury late last week, but again this appears to be more of the staff being careful with one of their best players.
  • Jacob Tuioti-Mariner has begun participating in activities again after a bout of appendicitis. Apparently the training staff was able to take care of the issue with antibiotics rather than surgery, which I didn’t realize was possible, but here we are.

Today’s #MiqueWatch update: Still with the team, not participating in practices yet. I hope this is as illuminating to read as it was to write.

Yesterday the freshmen took center stage in the interviews. Two defenders, Boss Tagaloa and Lokeni Toailoa, have really taken advantage of these practices to stand out, and figure to be big contributors in their first season. For Tagaloa, one of the top defensive tackles out west was expected to contribute early, but Toailoa’s emergence at middle linebacker is a year earlier than expected, though not unwelcome.

Meanwhile, UCLA brought in 3 new freshmen to take over the placekicker, punter, and long snapping positions. All 3 freshmen (J.J. Molson, Austin Kent, and Johnny Den Bleyker) are all highly-touted, and through the first few weeks of fall camp, all of them have lived up to the hype. That said, there is a difference between performing well in a practice, and performing well in your first collegiate game, on the road in a place that trademarked the 12th Man. Today’s interviews offered a good chance to check in on them and see how they’re progressing, specifically with the mental aspects.

Today’s videos are all courtesy of Thuc Nhi Nguyen at Inside SoCal. Thank you for the videos!

Lokeni Toailoa has, in many aspects, been the breakout star among the incoming freshmen, so he gets the opening slot. Toailoa discussed how important spring ball was for getting acclimated, and the competition that he suddenly finds himself with Isaako Savaiinaea and Kenny Young for that middle linebacker slot.

Boss Tagaloa is exactly where we expected him to be: contributing early and making an impact. Tagaloa got some time working with the starting line thanks to Eddie Vanderdoes’s lighter practice schedule, which he talked about here, along with what he’s learning from the more experienced players.

Our Canadian Kicker, J.J. Molson, obviously comes in highly-regarded, and he goes in-depth here on how his mental game is going. He also discusses working with the mental conditioning coach and how he wants to be the guy to kick the game-winning field goal.

Austin Kent spends his interview talking about the chemistry he’s developing with the other freshmen specialists, and how he’s excited about contributing whenever called upon.

Last but not least, long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker discusses how he got into long snapping (it’s a family thing) and the bond that’s growing between the specialists.

Thanks again to Thuc Nhi Nguyen for the videos.

Go Bruins!