- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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In a Westwood restaurant not long ago, UCLA junior Wide Receiver Cormac Carney—who last season led the Bruins in receptions with 33—was talking about the alleged pressures of his position. "So what if I fumble or drop a pass? Who'll remember in 20 years? I'd never shed a tear over losing, but I would if I knew I didn't try as hard as I could."
That spirit is omnipresent at UCLA, where everybody tries, where talent is deep and where patience runs deeper. Like when Homer Smith, the offensive coordinator, was diagraming on a chalkboard a play called "Pass 1-2 Pass." He asked a sleepy-eyed athlete if the play was a pass or a run. "Run," came the answer. Smith, a former West Point head coach who later studied at Harvard Divinity School, stayed calm. "That's pretty good," he said, "but let's back up just a little bit. What color is a brown dog?"
In charge of setting this tone is Terry Donahue, now in his sixth year as head coach. Donahue once planned to have Sunday practices, but his players politely suggested they'd rather not. Seeing nothing wrong about listening to players, Donahue backed off. Another example of Donahue's wisdom is the way he combats his conservative image: he uses his offensive weapons recklessly. "I bet I've run the fake punt more than any coach in America," he says.
UCLA had a surprising 9-2 season in 1980, and thanks to a powder-puff non-conference schedule of Colorado, Wisconsin and Iowa, the Bruins could be 9-2 again even with a weaker team. First, though, Donahue must develop an offensive line. Gone is hard-running Tailback Freeman McNeil, the No. 1 pick of the Jets; his spot probably will be taken by Kevin Nelson, but there is concern whether the 5'11", 190-pound sophomore can stand up to the punishment an I back endures. At quarterback again will be junior Tom Ramsey, who was gangbusters early last year when in a four-game stretch he completed 42 of 69 passes. "I'm not the best passer and I'm not the best runner," he concedes, "but I'm pretty consistent."
Ramsey has a fine corps of receivers, particularly Carney and senior Tight End Tim Wrightman; last year Wrightman weighed 232 and ran the 40 in 5.1, but after a summer bartending at Trani's, a sports hangout in San Pedro, he's 237 and does a 4.9. Wrightman likely will be the first tight end taken in next year's NFL draft. He was heavily recruited in high school, and decided on UCLA after a visit to Notre Dame. He stepped off the plane in South Bend, slipped on the ice, ripped the seat out of his pants—and could hardly wait to get back to his native California.
On defense, the Bruins are big and tough up front—especially 260-pound Tackle Irv Eatman—but have no veteran linebackers. And replacing three-time All-America Kenny Easley at free safety is next to impossible. Preseason choice is Tom Sullivan, who says, "Kenny is bigger, Kenny is faster, Kenny is stronger. Physically, it is not much of a contest." But the defense has plenty of talent, and thanks to the philosophy of Coordinator Jed Hughes—"We turn 'em loose and let 'em play hard"—UCLA won't embarrass itself. The Bruins gave up only 135 points in 1980, the fewest by UCLA since 1969, and Donahue says, "We expect to pick up where we left off."
So do the players. As Carney says, "We're good. Heck, if we don't think we're good, how can we expect others to think we're good?" And they're loose. Witness junior Fullback Frank Bruno, who offers his football philosophy: "When in doubt, sleep."
10. NORTH CAROLINA
Every summer Coach Dick Crum packs up his wife and three sons and heads for the Canadian wilderness. "Nobody can get me up there," he says. "If they need me, they have to send out a Mountie." Once Crum returns to the insanity of Carolina, however, everyone goes after him. " ACC teams seem to play their best against us," says Crum.