The sheds and walls painted black during the offseason throughout Spaulding Field matched the tone of the UCLA football flag that now hangs at half-staff in honor and mourning of wide receiver Nick Pasquale.
Coach Jim Mora undertook the cosmetic makeover of the practice facility as a way to establish his own culture in the program he inherited.
In light of the recent tragedy, the new look displays an appropriate decorum. And the man in charge has shown much of the same.
Mora’s appearances and public statements the past several days demonstrate that he is not just the right coach to develop these players, but the right person to develop these men.
The coach understands the role he can play in his players’ lives – for four years, they’re his sons, day in and day out. Pasquale undoubtedly meant a lot to Mora, but the redshirt freshman meant even more to his family.
So Mora knew exactly where he had to be Sunday evening – by the Pasquales’ side at the candlelight vigil held at San Clemente High School, along with several teammates. Immediately afterward, Mora held a meeting with Pasquale’s second family – his team.
Mora said to the media on Monday that everyone grieved in their own way but that what was most important was that they were together for one another. He admitted that he didn’t know what to say, but who would?
During the press conference, Mora spoke movingly of the “young man who had a tremendous influence in our locker room.” Meanwhile, a local news television technician spoke on the phone as the coach struggled to find the right words to convey his respects for the loss. But his next words to the technician were loud and clear. After rightfully expressing his disgust, Mora left the press conference.
Mora lost his cool, but his actions were a lot more gracious than what most of us probably would have done in that situation – this was restraint.
He’s passionate – even to a fault at times, occasionally lashing out at his players and staff – but he was all in the right this time, demonstrating just how much he cares. His response carried nothing but compassion for Pasquale.
A few minutes later, Mora showed class by opting to speak to the media once more. Once again, Mora eloquently and candidly discussed the memory of Pasquale and just how much he meant to his teammates and coaches.
When asked of a memory of Pasquale that stood out to him, Mora chose a simple image.
“One that always pops back on me was just on Thursday when I rubbed his head because he just shaved his head.”
It’s one that seems commonplace and insignificant, yet evokes the image of a father playfully adoring a son. The mundanity of the moment is its power – that Mora misses nothing more than the day-to-day relationship with Nick.
He notices and cares about every detail of his players’ lives – even a haircut.
And that’s precisely why Mora has become so much more than a football coach to his players. He cherishes these personal moments just as much as those on the field.
There’s a lot to be learned from Mora while playing for him – dedication, care and commitment to name a few. Even more when you consider just how quickly and needlessly those years can end.