The younger Hundley moved to receiver for his junior year, and Brett Sr. even tried to persuade his fellow coaches to use his son on defense. All along the elder Hundley knew that Brett Jr. would get his chance. The opportunity came the second week of the season, when Peoria Centennial raced to a 34--6 lead over the Wolves. At halftime Ewan told Hundley he'd play quarterback in the second half. There was no miracle comeback—Chandler wound up losing 62--38—but Hundley completed 14 of 18 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 83 yards. He started every game for the rest of his high school career.
Before Brett's senior season at Chandler he and his father visited Arizona State, where Noel Mazzone had just been hired as the offensive coordinator. The Hundleys adored Mazzone, but he had arrived in Tempe too late in the college-selection process. Though Hundley didn't commit to UCLA until September 2010, that summer he had narrowed his options to the Bruins and Washington. Still, Mazzone tried to pitch the state's best quarterback on the idea of staying close to home. "I saw a great upside for him," Mazzone says. "I thought he needed some work on his throwing mechanics. [But] he had the ability to run and use his feet. He was a good athlete, a good-sized kid. I saw him as kind of a project. When I watched him on film, I thought, This is a guy who two or three years down the road could be a really good football player."
Despite arriving on campus in January 2011 (after graduating early from high school), Hundley redshirted his first season with the Bruins. UCLA went 6--8 and made the Pac-12 title game but only because NCAA sanctions barred crosstown rival USC—which had beaten UCLA 50--0—from playing. By the time the Bruins took the field against Oregon in the title game, coach Rick Neuheisel had been fired, and UCLA eventually hired former Falcons and Seahawks coach Jim Mora Jr. to replace him. While Mora was building his staff, Mazzone was looking for work after missing out on the top job at Arizona State. Mora hired him, much to the Hundleys' delight. "When Coach Mora announced that his offensive coordinator was going to be Noel Mazzone," Brett Sr. says, "Brett and I probably did the Riverdance together."
Going into the 2012 season, Mazzone and Mora wanted there to be an open competition between Hundley and seniors Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut for the starting quarterback job. When the coaches chose a starter last August, the elder Hundley was visiting his son in California. He had just returned to his hotel when the phone rang. "He was crying his eyes out," Brett Sr. says. The younger Hundley couldn't speak at first. Finally Brett Jr. choked out the news: He had been named UCLA's starting quarterback. "What does his tough dad do?" Brett Sr. says. "Starts crying with him."
Based in part on his work ethic and distinct lack of ego, the younger Hundley's teammates voted him a captain before he'd taken a collegiate snap, but Mora overruled them: Hundley would have to earn the title. He began doing that immediately, breaking two tackles and racing away from the Rice defense for a 72-yard touchdown on his first play. With the senior running back Franklin carrying much of the load, Hundley and the young offense—at one point as many as seven starters were freshmen—helped the Bruins to a Pac-12 South title. Hundley set a school record for passing yards in a season (3,740) and threw for 29 touchdowns while running for nine more.
With Franklin gone this year, Hundley is the unquestioned leader of the offense. "Johnathan was our security blanket last year," Mazzone says. "If we couldn't complete a pass, couldn't make a first down, we'd just give it to Jonathan and he'd make things happen. I kind of see Brett taking on that role this year. I'm not saying as a runner, but in our passing game and being the go-to guy in the offense."
The 6'3", 222-pound Hundley wouldn't mind adding a few rushing yards to his 2012 total of 355; he says last year "was not my complete package." Mora, meanwhile, wants Hundley to be smart as he tries to match his Tim-Tebow-at-Florida frame with Tim-Tebow-at-Florida stats. "For Brett it's about having a feel for what's happening around him in the pocket and knowing when it's time to tuck the ball and run," Mora says. "And then when he runs, he needs to learn when to slide. He's got to get down so he doesn't take all those hits."
Fortunately for Mora and Mazzone, Hundley's economics classes probably have him calculating the opportunity cost of dump-trucking a linebacker versus standing in the pocket and throwing. If he figures correctly, Hundley could produce sensational numbers and, more importantly, lead the Bruins to wins that could send demand for UCLA Football Inc. soaring. "I'm like everybody else," Mazzone says. "I'm kind of anxious to see. What are you going to do next, Brett?"