Tuesday, July 16

UCLA football seniors go out on top

Cornerback Aaron Hester, shown here in UCLA's 2012 victory over USC, was a crucial part of a Bruin secondary that was able to contain the Trojans' talented wide receivers.

Cornerback Aaron Hester, shown here in UCLA's 2012 victory over USC, was a crucial part of a Bruin secondary that was able to contain the Trojans' talented wide receivers.

Blaine Ohigashi

Daily Bruin file photo

Coach Rick Neuheisel guided UCLA to its first bowl win in four years in 2009.

Tim Bradbury

Redshirt senior running back Johnathan Franklin smiles as he holds a UCLA flag following the Bruins’ win over the Trojans.

Blaine Ohigashi

Redshirt seniors Damien Holmes, David Allen, Johnathan Franklin and Datone Jones entered the Pac-12 Championship, their last non-bowl game as Bruins, holding hands, unified in their pursuit of a title and a berth to the Rose Bowl.

Tim Bradbury

Redshirt senior wide receiver Jerry Johnson attempts a catch during the 2012 UCLA game against USC.

Daily Bruin file photo

Coach Karl Dorrell was fired following the 2007 regular season, in which his team posted a disappointing 6-6 record.

Blaine Ohigashi

Then redshirt junior quarterback Kevin Prince is hit by the Trojans’ defense during UCLA’s 50-0 loss against USC last year.

Daily Bruin file photo

Outside linebacker Akeem Ayers celebrates UCLA’s dominating performance over Texas in 2010. Ayers had a key interception, his last of the 2010 season, in the 34-12 victory.

Blaine Ohigashi

From taking his team to San Bernardino to ending UCLA’s losing skid to USC, coach Jim Mora has changed UCLA’s football culture, thanks in large part to the leadership of redshirt seniors.

Lexy Atmore

Fall camp also saw redshirt freshman Brett Hundley earn the starting quarterback position, a change that would be crucial to the success of the redshirt seniors’ final season.

Blaine Ohigashi

A former standout at Dorsey High School in L.A., redshirt senior runningback Johnathan Franklin is now UCLA’s all-time leading rusher.

Blaine Ohigashi

Datone Jones was a top-ranked defensive end coming out of high school. This season, he has been a nightmare for Pac-12 offenses, totaling 57 tackles and six sacks.

Blaine Ohigashi

Redshirt senior outside linebacker Damien Holmes, pictured here against Colorado, has played in all 13 games for the Bruins this season.

In 2007, a core group of five high school seniors set out on a journey to play under coach Karl Dorrell. Their mission: to help solidify a program that had shown glimpses of greatness, from a 10-2 season in 2005 to an upset win over USC in 2006. During their tour in Westwood, this group of redshirt seniors ““ running back Johnathan Franklin, outside linebacker Damien Holmes, wide receiver Jerry Johnson, defensive end Datone Jones and cornerback Aaron Hester ““ experienced the highs and lows of a team that has been anything but predictable.

Five years and three coaches later, the five who stuck it out now have just one game left as Bruins. But regardless of the Holiday Bowl’s result, these redshirt seniors leave behind a program better than the one they entered.

March 6-10 ’07

In the span of five days in 2007, UCLA received verbal commitments from nine high school players, the most successful early recruiting the Bruins had done in years. The Bruins’ success was due in great part to the recent hiring of Eric Scott, an L.A. native and former All-American wide receiver at UCLA. Scott’s local roots and strong relationship with high school teams helped pull in local high school standouts who are now redshirt seniors and crucial elements of the team: running back Johnathan Franklin, defensive end Datone Jones, wide receiver Jerry Johnson, linebacker Damien Holmes and cornerback Aaron Hester.

Dec. 3 ’07

Near the end of the group’s first season with the program, in which the Bruins ultimately went 6-6 despite being ranked No. 11 after their first two games, coach Karl Dorrell was fired. The season had been full of injuries and upsets, including a loss to then-winless Notre Dame. Dorrell was dismissed two days after losing to USC despite being under contract until 2011. With defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker temporarily taking the helm as the Bruins headed to the Las Vegas Bowl, the group of top recruits was left uncertain about its future at UCLA.

Dec. 29 ’07

After a desperate 26-day search, former UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel was hired as the Bruins’ new coach. Neuheisel had previously coached for Washington and Colorado, and ““ despite a reputation for NCAA infractions ““ quickly won over players with his enthusiasm and his commitment to retaining key assistant coaches. A couplemonths later, on National Signing Day, Neuheisel officially welcomed what many referred to as the best class of new Bruins in a decade, a recruiting class that was, as the newly signed Johnathan Franklin described it, “dedicated and committed to football and … going to build a family at UCLA.”

Dec. 29 ’09

Exactly two years to the day of the hire of coach Rick Neuheisel, the Bruins earned their first bowl win since the Sun Bowl during the 2005 season. A then 6-6 UCLA squad defeated a 9-3 Temple Owls team coached by current University of Miami coach Al Golden at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, D.C. Then-redshirt freshman running back Johnathan Franklin ran for 6 yards on three carries in the first bowl game of his college career. The Bruins outscored the Owls 13-0 in the fourth quarter to give Neuheisel a winning record in his second season at the helm.

Sept. 25 ’10

On the road against No. 7 Texas and in front of a national TV audience, the Bruins dismantled the Longhorns, winning 34-12. The win in Austin was the first signature victory for UCLA during the Rick Neuheisel era and signaled the start of a breakout year for then-redshirt sophomore Johnathan Franklin, who rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown against the nation’s No. 2 run defense. In fact, the Bruins decimated the Longhorns on the ground, gaining 264 rushing yards in a dominating performance that required then-redshirt sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince to attempt just eight passes the entire game.

Dec. 4 ’10

After riding high from a win over then-No. 7 Texas, who eventually collapsed and finished last in the Big-12 South, UCLA went on to lose six of its last seven games, including a 28-14 loss to USC in the final game of its abysmal season. UCLA finished 4-8, ineligible for a bowl game for the second time in three years, and ended up the ninth place team in the Pac-10 Conference. The Bruins’ 2-7 conference record tied for the school’s worst finish in more than a decade.

Nov. 28 ’11

You’re not supposed to wear white to a funeral. But that’s exactly how it felt after UCLA, debuting all-white adidas alternate uniforms, was soundly defeated 50-0 by USC. The mourning period soon followed for the Bruins with coach Rick Neuheisel being fired two days later, on Nov. 28. Johnathan Franklin split carries in the backfield with Derrick Coleman. Datone Jones, touted as a potential early entrant to the NFL draft, registered just three sacks and failed to register on many scouting lists for the draft. Jerry Johnson’s year was wiped out by injury. The Bruins would go on to lose in the Pac-12 Championship game and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, finishing 6-8.

Dec. 13 ’11

Former NFL coach Jim Mora is introduced as the new UCLA coach. Mora refers to UCLA as a “sleeping giant” in college football and says he wants the program to compete for Pac-12 championships and national championships. In the coming days, Mora hires key assistants such as running backs coach Steve Broussard from Arizona State, defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin from Washington and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm from Southern Methodist. The group of fifth-year seniors begin working with their third head coach.

Aug. 4-16 ’12

In keeping with a long-running tradition among NFL teams, new coach Jim Mora chose to isolate the Bruins at Cal State San Bernardino for fall camp, a move he hoped would help bring discipline and focus to the troubled program. Temperatures rose into triple digits frequently, causing several players to fall prey to heat exhaustion, but the team expressed enthusiasm about the bonding opportunity. After choosing to postpone his jump to the NFL in favor of one more season with the Bruins, Johnathan Franklin, the gem of the 2008 recruiting class, was already popping up on watch lists for top college football awards.

Dec. 27 ’12

In its last season as Bruins, the group led UCLA to its best finish since 2005 (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12), including a decisive 38-28 victory over USC that ended a five-year losing streak to its bitter rival. The season culminated in a gut-wrenching Pac-12 Championship game that saw the Bruins fall just short of the title and the Rose Bowl berth that comes with it. Fittingly, the championship game saw Johnathan Franklin ““ already the Bruins’ single season and career rushing leader ““ have his best game of the season, rushing for 194 yards and two touchdowns against Stanford’s nation-leading run defense. When the redshirt seniors take the field at the Holiday Bowl later this month ““ UCLA’s best bowl berth in more than a decade ““ in their last game as Bruins, they will do so with the knowledge that no matter the game’s outcome, they will have left this program better than they found it.

Compiled by Emma Coghlan, Tyler Drohan, Andrew Erickson, Jacob Ruffman and Liz Schneider, Bruin Sports senior staff.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.