There is a different vibe surrounding the Bruins this spring.
Rising sophomore defensive lineman Atonio Mafi said that last season was difficult at times for UCLA football, but he felt a new wave of chemistry come across the team when they came out for spring practices.
“We’re just a lot more experienced this year and the team camaraderie is definitely way higher than it was last year,” Mafi said. “There’s a lot of trust going on in the locker room.”
Mafi said he has also built a strong relationship with rising senior center Boss Tagaloa, someone he has been looking up to since his days in high school.
Mafi, who arrived at UCLA before the start of last season weighing in at over 400 pounds, said Tagaloa has been an instrumental figure in helping him shed nearly 50 pounds in the past year by motivating him to keep at it.
“(Tagaloa) is kind of like my big brother,” Mafi said. “We would come in together everyday in the evening and work out together, so pretty much just following behind him. Some days I didn’t want to go out there but I’d see him go so I was like, ‘Alright, I got to go out too if he’s going to go.’”
Tagaloa is no stranger when it comes to grinding toward a goal. He made the transition from defensive lineman to center last season and ended up becoming the team’s starter by the end of the year.
While Mafi said he would still like to drop an additional 20 pounds before the season begins in August, he expects to be a much more effective player than he was a year ago thanks to his slimmer frame.
“It’ll definitely help me move easier and just be more comfortable in space because that’s the one thing – moving around within all our blitz packages and stunts and stuff,” Mafi said.
On the other side of the ball, rising redshirt junior wideout Demetric Felton is also expecting a breakout year from the team’s experienced receiving core, one that will bring back each of its top three receivers from a season ago – rising senior Theo Howard, rising sophomore Chase Cota and Felton.
“I think there’s a huge potential for us to be great this season,” Felton said.
Howard led the group last season with 677 yards on 51 receptions while Cota caught 13 passes for 168 yards as a true freshman.
Felton – who hauled in 20 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown last season – said he is also hoping to see more time at running back after appearing at the position on a number of occasions last season.
“I’m not sure myself, but I do hope that it carries over to the season,” Felton said. “I would like to do both and be used wherever I can help the team out.”
Felton carried the ball five times for 30 yards last season.