Andre James donned number 75 on the back of his jersey in his first three years at UCLA.But this season, the redshirt junior left tackle switched to number 77 in honor of 1977, the year his father was born. Andre James’ father, Marcus James, died two days before his 41st birthday and five days before his son’s game against Arizona after a battle with cancer.
Andre James went back home the weekend prior to his father’s birthday to surprise him, but when the redshirt junior got there, he said things started going downhill.
After spending a couple of days with his family and attending his father’s memorial service that Wednesday, Oct. 17, James came back to the Bruins on the following Thursday, played on Saturday and received the game ball.
“It was almost kind of meant to be,” James said. “For me to be (home) and be there for my whole family, it was an awesome situation out of a bad situation. It was good for me to be there. Then coming back for the game, it was emotional.”
His teammates channeled their positivity toward him and rallied around him.
“I think he was by far the best player on that field tonight,” said redshirt junior running back Joshua Kelley after the 31-30 victory over the Wildcats. “He’s tremendous for us and I don’t have enough words to say about how great of a player and a man he is.”
Over the last five games, James and the rest of the offensive line have paved the way for an average of 179.2 rushing yards per contest. UCLA has run for a touchdown in seven consecutive weeks and more than 100 yards in every game – the Bruins failed to crack that mark in six of their 13 games last season.
Saturday’s 313 rushing yard barrage marked the first time UCLA had more than 300 yards on the ground since 2014.
Kelley tallied 289 of those yards, and he was finally running behind a fully healthy offensive line.
Graduate transfer tackle Justin Murphy had not appeared in a game since the end of September. Murphy medically retired after multiple knee injuries while he was at Texas Tech, but he ended his retirement to fight for a starting position at UCLA.
Murphy initially believed another season would be cut short after he underwent surgery to clear out cartilage in his knee about a month before the USC game.
It turns out he only needed four weeks to return to action.
“Having three knee surgeries, I kind of expected the rehab process to be longer than initially thought,” Murphy said. “But these guys have gathered around me and been great teammates for me, so I thought if I could produce for the team, it was worth it. It was 100 percent worth it to go out there and lay it on the line for these guys.”
Murphy added that UCLA has submitted an NCAA waiver to petition for a sixth year of eligibility. He didn’t play in 2014 or 2017 and he only played in five games in 2015.
“From what compliance has told me, they say I have a strong case,” Murphy said. “But as you know with the NCAA, you just never know.”
For now, Murphy and James will focus on defeating Stanford for the first time since 2008.
“California in-state rivalries are fantastic. I’ve had plenty of (in-state rivalries) in Texas, so I know the emotions that go with that,” Murphy said. “(For James) to be able to say, ‘They didn’t sweep me my whole college career,’ that’s a great feeling.”