He’s just like any other student at UCLA. You may recognize him from a political science class, you may have seen him getting lunch in the dining halls or you may have seen him over at Spaulding Field during UCLA football practices. Meet Dimitri Hajimihalis, a fourth-year political science student from Baltimore, Md. He’s one of the unsung heroes guiding the Bruins behind the scene. Hajimihalis and his family are longtime friends of coach Rick Neuheisel and his family, dating back to Neuheisel’s days coaching with the Baltimore Ravens in 2005. Hajimihalis sat down with the Daily Bruin to tell his story of how he got involved with UCLA football as well as outline what he does for the team.
Daily Bruin: How did you get to where you are today?
Dimitri Hajimihalis: During my senior year in high school, our parents became friends and my brothers were friends with Coach’s three boys. I was being recruited by a couple of Ivy League schools to play lacrosse and football. Before he even got the job here, he was always talking about UCLA. It sounded like a great school, and I would have been interested, but it was just too far for me. I’m kind of a homebody. When he got hired, he said, “Now you don’t have a choice. You’ve got to come look at it.” So I came out here and he showed me around. I fell in love with it. What’s not to love? It’s such a great academic school and I was lucky enough to get in. I was going to walk on to the team, but I came to terms with the fact that being a short, undersized fullback was not in my future. Coach knew how much I enjoyed football, and I started working with him. I started off just coming in on Mondays. I rearranged by class schedule so that I could come in, and he allowed me to sit with him while he watched tape because Monday is when coaches do the bulk of their game planning. I would just pick his brain and ask him what he was looking at, try to identify coverages and stuff. That’s really where the passion spawned, and he’s been great at nurturing that. During the middle of my sophomore year, he gave me the opportunity to be his assistant. He’s got so much on his plate and in turn, he’s been a tremendous mentor to me, both from a football perspective and in life, how to deal with people. I got more and more involved learning offenses, developed a rapport with different position groups and just trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can.
DB: Sounds like a lot of work. Do you get compensated at all? A scholarship maybe?
DH: I’m just any other student. I just help Coach as much as I can. It’s long hours, but you don’t think of it that way because you’re having so much fun. Now, I get a small grant but it’s not work for me. Coach is one of the greatest guys in the world. He’s an awesome guy to work for and the rest of the staff is dynamic. The staff meetings are entertaining and you’re learning so much and then to be out here with the guys. It’s an interesting perspective because I’m the same age as a lot of these guys. You kind of have to wear two different hats because you develop great relationships as friends and as peers but at the same time, you’re trying to look at it critically as a coach and see that, for me, it’s rewarding. I see the coaches developing these great relationships and for me to be doing that as well, it’s exciting. It doesn’t feel like work. You come in and it’s fun every day. I think I’m the luckiest guy on campus.
DB: Since you’re a student, I’m guessing you don’t have to be afraid of any staff overhauls?
DH: The nature of coaching is pretty volatile. If I lost that edge, I could definitely succumb to that, but I think I’m doing a good enough job right now. It will hopefully show up when we win. I try to make it so coach Neuheisel and all of the other coaches can focus on the things they need to focus on. Whether that’s recruiting or whether that’s game planning, meeting with our guys are the real meat and potatoes of coaching. I try to limit all of the extraneous stuff, whether that’s breaking down film or making sure a meeting is set up, just little things that they don’t have to worry about. Football is a team game, and I think that’s true in every aspect from the managers to the trainers to me making sure that the meeting rooms aren’t messed up and making sure the film is cut up and all of those fun, exciting jobs. Somebody’s got to do it.
DB: After you graduate, are you looking to stick around? Maybe as a graduate assistant?
DH: That would be a tremendous role. To get another degree from UCLA, that would be a dream come true, and to be able to keep coaching for coach Neuheisel, that really would be a dream come true.
DB: What’s your official title with the team? I know you don’t show up on the roster or in the media guide.
DH: I guess since there’s GAs, I’m the UGA (undergraduate) with less of the official responsibility. At the end of the day, I’m not really in it for the media guide or anything else. I’d rather just see more wins than anything else.
DB: What are some of your roles with the team? I know you’re vital enough to have a headset on during games.
DH: I’m helping in the extensive process in communicating with the quarterbacks and getting the right guys in the game at the right time. We’ve got an intricate system for that, and it has a lot of different moving parts. I listen to coach (Mike) Johnson and all of the other assistant coaches.
DB: Where do you see yourself in the future? Would you like to get into coaching eventually?
DH: I’d love to, if I could. A lot of it is addictive in the sense that I’m around such good people here, and I want to emulate them and be a great person. I’m fortunate enough to have a family that’s supportive of my aspirations. I think coach Neuheisel and the other guys are such great role models in that regard that I couldn’t imagine myself not wanting to pursue that. I look back in the short time that I’ve been involved with football, and the people that I’ve met there have had the greatest impact in shaping me, aside from my parents. Coaches play a huge role in helping to shape the type of person you are. It would be a hugely rewarding profession in that regard.
DB: You mentioned having an interesting perspective with the players. Do the coaches ever ask you to keep tabs on the guys because you’re a student and you live close?
DH: A lot of these guys are great friends but at the same time, you want to see them excel. I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve never really been in that situation. I think it’s because 99.9 percent of the guys on our team are making good decisions 99.9 percent of the time. I’m not saying that guys don’t go out and have fun ““ and I won’t say that I don’t either … (but) Rick went here, he knows what it’s like to be a student at UCLA. His expectations are clearly defined. Guys know not to toe that line whether I’m supposed to be Big Brother or not.
DB: Is your role rare? Do a lot of schools have someone like you?
DH: We’re not unionized yet. We’re not going on strike because I’m sure someone would want to replace us.