A coach’s dream is for his greatest athletes to have challengers right on their heels, to have reserves constantly pressuring the starting lineup so everyone improves.
When rising redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley looks behind him on the quarterback depth chart, he has to squint to find his closest competitor, still to be determined.
Instead, he finds quarterbacks flanking him on either side in his starting offense. Rising sophomore slot receiver Devin Fuller, as well rising redshirt senior wide receiver Darius Bell both have experience under center. Fuller played the position at Northern Valley Old Tappan High School in New Jersey, while Bell was a backup quarterback for UCLA in 2010 after transferring from City College of San Francisco.
Fuller came to UCLA as a freshman with the understanding that he would compete for the starting quarterback job, but Hundley had the spot locked down by mid-August and the athletic Fuller had to move to wide receiver in order to see time on the field. This spring provided Fuller with his first opportunity to focus almost entirely on his new position.
“I’m working on learning the routes as a receiver and breaking my routes off at 12 (steps) instead of 14 and stuff like that,” Fuller said.
“You know, second windows and stuff like that as a receiver instead of a quarterback.”
To capture Fuller’s athleticism in a setting other than out wide, coach Jim Mora has made limited use of a change-of-pace formation that features the rising sophomore at quarterback. Despite growing pains in the new set, Mora remains optimistic.
“Well, a couple of the snaps weren’t very good as you saw,” Mora said Monday. “Devin has a different cadence than Brett (Hundley), so it takes getting used to, but we’ll try to keep expanding on that package and see where it takes us.”
Often lining up opposite Fuller in the Y receiver position is Bell, who caught seven passes for 143 yards and a touchdown last season before he was sidelined by a broken rib and a separated shoulder sustained against California.
This offseason, the rising redshirt senior has focused on morphing his figure into that of a receiver’s, becoming leaner and more muscular in order to be able to run routes with precision and take hits over the middle without injury.
“For me, it was just body weight. When I played quarterback, I was big. Real big. I was 237 (pounds),” Bell said. “As a slot receiver, it’s not about top-end speed; it’s about finding holes and it’s about being quick in and out of your breaks.”
Bell is now tasked with trying to fill the enormous shoes of 6-foot-7-inch Y receiver Joseph Fauria, who caught 12 touchdowns for the Bruins last fall. Bell said being his best – and not trying to replicate Fauria – will give him the most success; no matter how hard he works, the 5-foot-11-inch Bell can’t count on a sudden growth spurt.
“You’ve got to run routes, you’ve got to run at the right depth, (build) chemistry with your quarterback,” Bell said. “Because when you’re 6-8, the only chemistry you need is to throw it up.”
But for the current starting quarterback, the presence of former quarterbacks makes the offense run more like a well-oiled machine.
“People don’t realize, but it helps so much because they’re on the same page as what I’m doing and they know what I’m thinking and what I’m looking at with what defense,” Hundley said.
This week, Mora became the first current major NCAA football coach to openly accept and encourage gay athletes and coaches to compete.
In a recent video produced by the You Can Play Project, aimed at moving past homophobia in athletics, Mora appeared with a number of current UCLA athletes and coaches. The video was shown at an Athlete Allies event put on by UCLA Athletics for student-athletes on Monday.
Mora expressed his appreciation for diversity, indicating he judges his players based on physical ability and not sexual orientation.
“At UCLA, we play with integrity and we honor diversity,” Mora said. “We respect all athletes and coaches. If you can play, you can play. And if you can coach, you can coach.”