UCLA football builds on quarterbacks’ qualifications with new coach, deep roster
While only two quarterbacks on UCLA football’s roster have in-game experience for the Bruins, five signal-callers have been in coach Chip Kelly’s offense for multiple years, including incumbent starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who is entering his fourth year. (David Rimer/Daily Bruin staff)
By Jon Christon
May 13, 2021 3:31 p.m.
Not only do the Bruins return one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the conference, but they also have experience waiting in the wings.
UCLA football currently has six quarterbacks behind incumbent starter rising senior Dorian Thompson-Robinson, including rising redshirt sophomore Chase Griffin, who started two games in place of Thompson-Robinson last season.
One new face in the quarterback room is quarterbacks coach Ryan Gunderson, who is currently in the midst of his first set of spring practices in Westwood after making the move from San Jose State in the offseason.
“The only way you’re really going to grow is (by) learning a new offense and something new,” Gunderson said. “I kind of see it through the lens the way (coach Chip Kelly) likes to see it – some new stuff, some stuff I’ve already done. (We’re) kind of learning each other’s lingo, but he’s really sharp, and I’ve learned a ton from him already.”
Along with wanting to learn under Kelly, Gunderson also cited Thompson-Robinson as a reason why the job enticed him.
Thompson-Robinson is coming off of a season in which he only played in five games but improved his efficiency numbers and his passer rating from the years prior. The fourth-year quarterback has been the starter under center for each of the pastthree seasons.
“I really wanted to pursue working with a quarterback who’s got a lot of experience and a ton of talent, and kind of a different skill set than what I’m used to,” Gunderson said. “He really wants to learn. He wants to know the ‘bad’ – he doesn’t just want to be told what he’s doing right. We’ve had an awesome experience so far.”
Behind Thompson-Robinson on the depth chart sits Griffin, the former Gatorade Texas state Player of the Year in high school. In two collegiate starts, Griffin has thrown for 324 yards and two touchdowns.
As the second-most experienced quarterback on the roster, Griffin said last year’s experience under center has given him confidence and that he is still growing every day in spring camp.
“Over time, you just learn more and more, especially with playing experience, and I feel more confident, more comfortable with myself, and canfocus on more specific things when I’m behind the center,” Griffin said. “As far as coming out here each day, I’m just playing at this point – it’s a really free feeling.”
Gunderson added that Griffin’s playing time last year has shown him that the young signal-caller understands how to move the offense down the field, even if Griffin isn’t as flashy as some of the others in the quarterback room.
“Chase did a nice job of moving the offense down the field,” Gunderson said. “I use the term, ‘Drive the bus.’ You don’t necessarily need to drive a sports car, but you got to get all the kids to school. And he does a good job of operating the offense.”
While no other quarterback on the roster has any collegiate game experience, three of them will be entering either their second or third year with the program and in Kelly’s offense. Rising redshirt sophomores Chase Artopoeus and Blake Kirshner and rising sophomore Parker McQuarrie were all on the Bruins’ roster last season but never saw game action.
Of the newcomers, rising redshirt freshman Ethan Garbers has the most collegiate experience, redshirting last season with Washington before transferring to UCLA in the offseason. Garbers – who has yet to receive immediate eligibility for UCLA this season – received his first college scholarship offer from Gunderson while the latter was still at San Jose State.
The only quarterback on the roster without any collegiate experience is freshman Kajiya Hollawayne, a class of 2021 three-star recruit from San Jacinto, California.
Thompson-Robinson said the two newcomers have impressed him in their first practices in Westwood.
“(Garbers and Hollawayne are) both really special when it comes to throwing the ball,” Thompson-Robinson said. “(They’re) special with the ballin their hands, and (they) really make plays. So I’m excited for those two.”
As the most experienced signal-caller on the roster, Thompson-Robinson said he is making sure to do his part to help groom the next generation of Bruin quarterbacks.
“The biggest thing is being a servant (to my teammates), so picking up bottles after practice, cleaning up the field, if there’s a helmet someone left out there picking up those and shoes, stuff like that,” Thompson-Robinson said. “The biggest thing I’ve worked on so far this offseason is making sure I’m taking care of everybody but myself.”