Not to rain on your parade or anything, a reporter said to UCLA senior running back DeShaun Foster in September, when the Bruins were 2-0, but how will this team avoid a repeat of last season's collapse, during which UCLA dropped four of its final six regular-season games? "Mainly the senior leadership we have," replied Foster. "There are 24 of us, and we're not going to allow that to happen this year."
Do as Foster says, Bruins underclassmen, not as he does. After starting 6-0, UCLA has lost three straight games, including last Saturday's 21-20 defeat at the hands of Oregon, which provided an apt conclusion to an ugly week for the Bruins. Foster, who leads the Pac-10 in rushing with 1,109 yards, learned on Nov. 7 that he would be suspended for the game against the Ducks—and possibly longer—for violating the NCAA's "extra benefit" rule.
The benefit in this case was a 2002 Ford Expedition that was lent to Foster by a 49-year-old television director and former actor, Eric Laneuville, best known for his role as hospital orderly Luther Hawkins in the 1980s TV drama St. Elsewhere. Foster has reportedly said he met Laneuville a few years ago and mat they became friends. Yes, he'd been tooling around in the SUV, Foster admitted to an NCAA investigator last week, but only because his own car was in the shop. (This account raised a few eyebrows because the NCAA learned that Foster had been driving the vehicle for about a month.)
Because the sculpted, 6'1", 215-pound Foster will almost surely be a first-round pick in next spring's NFL draft, UCLA and NCAA officials were keenly interested in learning whether Laneuville was just being a generous guy or was recruiting Foster on behalf of an agent. If the former was the case, Foster could be back in uniform for the Bruins' game against USC on Saturday. If it turns out Laneuville is helping out an agent, Foster could be done for the season. (Neither Foster nor Laneuville could be reached for comment by week's end.)
According to his high school and college coaches, Foster merely suffered a lapse in judgment. Then again, in July 2000, he was cited for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, a charge to which he later pleaded guilty and paid a $250 fine. With his latest misstep he has not only contributed to UCLA's collapse but also drop-kicked his Heisman hopes.
Nevertheless, some teammates defended Foster on Saturday. "DeShaun is our brother," junior reserve linebacker Audie Attar said after the game, which ended with Bruins kicker Chris Griffith missing a 50-yard field goal attempt on the final play. "Not only did we want to [win this game] for us; we wanted to do it for him," said Attar. "When he has 300 yards, he's everyone's friend. Now people aren't supporting him."
Friends describe Foster as a homebody whose idea of a big night is a movie with his apartmentmates, tight end Bryan Fletcher and Damesha Craig, a former sprinter for the Bruins' women's track team who's now studying acting. He's also a big Monopoly fan, with a weakness for such bargain properties as Baltic Avenue and the powder-blue streets: Vermont, Connecticut and Oriental. "I'm a slumlord," he said in October. That fits with his running style. Foster does his best work in one of the gridiron's tougher neighborhoods—between the tackles.
It may be telling that when Foster took on Fletcher in Monopoly with a reporter looking on, Foster was partial to a certain game piece. He didn't want to be the dog or the old hat or even the shoe. He liked the car.