SAN BERNARDINO — Jim Mora could hardly wait.
His post-practice interview session with the media Saturday lasted all of three minutes, his answers curt, his manner hasty. When the end was signaled, the coach broke into a brisk jog, out of the interview tent, off the field and towards the locker room, leaving the practice field at San Bernardino for the last time this year, maybe even forever if the rumblings that the Bruins may not return next year are true.
Many of his players too could hardly wait, wanting to return to Westwood.
It showed in the quick, nonchalant play of Saturday’s non-padded, no helmets “mock-game,” the speed of the scrimmage mirroring a slowly ticking countdown.
It showed in their jogs off the field afterwards, much faster than their typical leisurely paced walks in exiting the 15 other practices in San Bernardino.
In their interviews throughout the week, the players hinted at it – their desire to go back home. In practices, they felt it, sustaining a high number of injuries, several heat-related, over almost two weeks.
The 16 practices over 14 days in San Bernardino seemed to drag on.
Perhaps at the end of the season, one which the Bruins have higher aspirations for than in many past, Mora will reflect back on his team’s time in San Bernardino and point to the journey’s beginnings.
That’s where linebacker Kenny Young emerged.
That’s where the defense began to show its All-American potential.
That’s where it all began – this year, or better yet, three years ago when he arrived at UCLA and brought the team to a secluded, humid location, intent on changing the culture of a then-underachieving program.
Perhaps at the season’s end, that much will be the legacy of San Bernardino for the Bruins.
With the end of the Bruins’ two weeks in San Bernardino for its almost three-week long fall camp, here were the top five San Bernardino fall camp standouts so far:
1) Kenny Young, freshman inside linebacker
The clear-cut breakout star of fall camp so far has been freshman Kenny Young. Relatively unknown two weeks ago, Young has emerged as the front-runner for the open inside linebacker position, the gap between him and the competition widening by the practice.
His size (6-foot-2-inches, 225 pounds) and raw physicality are a natural fit for the position. In one-on-one drills, he jars running backs or eludes them swiftly. Already, he’s shown a captivating ability to read plays and cover passes. His teammates, however, point to his maturity and work ethic as what stand out about him.
“He’s balling. He’s with the ones right now, he’s rolling. He looks like he has a good chance to steal the spot,” said sophomore linebacker Myles Jack on Wednesday. “He’s pretty much further along (than I was at this point last year).”
2) Fabian Moreau, junior cornerback
After a spring practice in April, as Moreau walked off Spalding Field, Mora motioned over to his junior cornerback
“I think he is on the verge of being a great cornerback – like one of the best in college football,” Mora said. “If he has the kind of year that I think he is capable (of having), he’s an All-American.”
With each passing practice, Mora’s words appear to be less of the hype, and more of the inevitable. Watching Moreau day-after-day, it’s hard to miss the prototypical star cornerback qualities; the bow-legged, lean 6-foot-1-inch build, the smooth athleticism, how he sticks to receivers on routes almost effortlessly, rarely getting beaten, and if so, likely on short, quick slants and curls.
The question around Moreau isn’t of whether he can be good this year, it’s just how good he can be.
“To me, he looks really comfortable with the ball. He’s looked really comfortable with everything,” Mora said earlier this week. “I just think he’s a good player, a really good player.”
3) Myles Jack, sophomore linebacker
It’s a simple, but clear assessment at this point: Jack looks better – significantly better – than he did last season. His athleticism is the crux of his jaw-dropping playmaking ability on defense.
Multiple times in camp while covering a receiver, he’s been able to stop on a dime, turn around and intercept passes – picks that not many linebackers could make, college or professional. He’s been on the verge of lighting up offensive players in practice, likely only holding back because it’s his teammates in practice, and the opposing plays in a game.
Jack will also likely be used to rush the passer more often this year, but the verdict is still undecided on if those skills have improved.
4) Eldridge Massington, redshirt freshman wide receiver
Massington has the look and the build of a potential star receiver – long legs, lean yet strong and speed to go along with height, enabling him to grab balls over the top in coverage.
Through two weeks, he’s consistently hauled in difficult catches: the fades in the end zones, the midrange post routes, the sideline out catches and more. He hasn’t run very many deep routes in camp but he has the big play potential other UCLA receivers haven’t shown so far.
Expect Massington’s standout two weeks at San Bernardino to roll over into the regular season, where he will likely be a major part of the rotation on the outside.
5) Najee Toran, freshman offensive lineman
On Aug. 3, Toran, like Young, was far below the radar. A few days ago, Toran said offensive lineman coach Adrian Klemm relayed a simple message to him of his chances of starting in the Bruins’ season opener against Virginia on Aug. 30.
“(A) big possibility. Just keep playing like I am and that’s where I’ll be most like,” Toran said last week on what Klemm told him.
Injuries to the offensive line may have given Toran more reps, but he’s made the most of them, playing with a relentless motor and a “mean streak,” as teammates and coaches have described it.
Though he’s smaller in size than many of his fellow scholarship offensive linemen, he seems to have played his way into the starting lineup at right guard.
Here are some tweets from UCLA football players on their return to Westwood Saturday afternoon:
Westwood has never looked so beautiful
— Michael Carlson (@thatlightskin26) August 16, 2014
Back to Westwood!!!!!!!
— owamagbe (@LPJ_Odighizuwa) August 16, 2014
VERY productive two weeks of camp in San Bern. Definitely made strides toward where we want be. Finally back to LA, only 14 days bruins!
— Asiantii Woulard (@Asiantii2_) August 16, 2014
Oh how I love you Westwood.
— Jaleel Wadood (@OGLeel_2) August 16, 2014
We Made It #BackHome!!
— Devin Lucien (@D_Lucien15) August 16, 2014
Back to the Wood we go
— Zeus McCarthy (@footballgod18) August 16, 2014