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UCLA football returns to pre-pandemic offseason schedule for 2021

UCLA football returned to fall camp over the weekend and will have 16 fall practices before it starts game preparation week for its 2021 season opener against Hawai’i on Aug. 28. (Esther Ma/Daily Bruin)

By Jon Christon

Aug. 1, 2021 4:17 p.m.

This post was updated Aug. 1 at 8:48 p.m.

On March 12, 2020, the Bruins had an indoor team meeting.

In the meeting, the program discussed the possibility of taking a short break from spring practice to help “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases.

The team finally returned from that short break for their first indoor meeting since then Thursday night – 504 days later.

“I remember in that meeting on March 12, we were going to go for break – just going to flatten the curve, then we’re going to start spring ball back,” said coach Chip Kelly. “I don’t know if I’ve heard ‘flatten the curve’ in over 500 days.”

UCLA football officially started its fall camp this week, marking its first return to a normal schedule since before the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bruins will have 16 fall practices before they start to prepare later in the month for their Aug. 28 season opener against Hawai’i.

“It kind of feels like two years ago – everything has gotten back to normal,” said senior defensive back Quentin Lake. “Obviously, there’s still some policies and some regulations that we have to follow, but it feels pretty much back to normal.”

After that March 2020 meeting ended their spring camp prematurely ahead of last season, the Bruins were forced to adapt their usual schedule, particularly with regard to their normal summer routines. In a typical year, the players follow scheduled workouts between spring and fall camps – but in 2020, that wasn’t an option.

For senior linebacker Bo Calvert, this meant looking at alternative plans such as hiking with 50-pound rice bags on his back and doing lunges on the sidewalk.

With the return of a typical offseason schedule this year, Calvert said he is happy to be back home in the friendly confines of the UCLA weight room surrounded by strength and conditioning staff.

“I feel a lot better being able to have just structured stuff,” Calvert said. “Being able to have coaches around you who know their stuff and know how to get you in the right shape has made a world of a difference.”

After the at-home summer training a year ago, the 2020 season itself was a modified version of what it usually is, with a late start in November and only seven games on the schedule.

Even though the Bruins were back on the field, COVID-19 protocols limited what players could actually do. Restrictions were placed on how many players could be indoors together, which meant indoor team meetings, weightlifting sessions and team meals at the facility weren’t allowed.

With 98% of the program currently vaccinated, according to Kelly, the COVID-19 protocols from a year ago are now gone, and players and coaches can share the same room for the first time in more than a year.

Redshirt senior running back Brittain Brown – who decided to return after his first year in the program came amid the protocols – said he’s excited to finally get the real UCLA football experience with his teammates this year.

“I’m glad it’s all kind of behind us now and we have a vaccine – it’s helped us all just get out here and everybody’s able to play,” Brown said. “It kind of affected us in certain ways, so it was good to be able to get out here with less distractions.”

Another change from a year ago will come in Pasadena, where the Bruins will be able to have fans in the stands for the first time since 2019. UCLA Athletics announced in June that the Rose Bowl – among other outdoor venues – will be at full capacity come fall.

For first-year players from a year ago like Brown, Aug. 28 will mark the first time they play in front of the Bruin faithful despite having already played games for the blue and gold.

Senior linebacker Caleb Johnson, a 2020 junior college transfer, said he’s especially excited to get back to the Rose Bowl, as the last time Johnson experienced a crowd-filled Rose Bowl came in middle school as a fan.

“I feel like it’s going to be a great environment out there, (and) I feel like there will be a whole bunch of fans out there, especially coming out of COVID,” Johnson said. “Our program is on the rise right now, so it’s going to be a great environment.”

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Jon Christon | Sports editor
Christon is currently the Sports editor and a reporter on the men's basketball and football beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a reporter on the women's basketball and softball beats.
Christon is currently the Sports editor and a reporter on the men's basketball and football beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a reporter on the women's basketball and softball beats.
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