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.