UCLA football awards scholarships, makes changes going into new season
UCLA football coach Chip Kelly walks at practice with a football in hand. Kelly put six former walk-ons on scholarship this week. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)
By Jon Christon
Sept. 1, 2022 11:21 a.m.
Days before the Bruins’ season opener, Chip Kelly gathered his players for an announcement.
The fifth-year UCLA football coach called up six players to the front of the room – redshirt junior kicker Nicholas Barr-Mira, redshirt junior defensive back Alex Johnson, redshirt freshman linebacker Carson Schwesinger, redshirt junior defensive lineman Dovid Magna, senior long snapper Jack Landherr IV and redshirt senior wide receiver Josiah Norwood.
The players had one thing in common: all were recruited as walk-ons.
Now, all are on scholarships.
“We didn’t know (what was happening),” said senior offensive lineman Jon Gaines II. “I’ve been here long enough that I’ve seen it happen a couple of times, so I had a feeling.”
Boosted by cheers from coaches and players, Kelly awarded the six Bruins scholarships at a team meeting ahead of UCLA’s matchup against Bowling Green on Saturday. The six Bruins join former walk-ons redshirt senior linebacker Shea Pitts and redshirt junior tight end Hudson Habermehl, who earned scholarships earlier in the offseason.
“We finished the day. It got right before we left to go home, and he (Kelly) said, ‘These guys, through their hard work and dedication, they’ve been put on full scholarship,’” Gaines said. “It was crazy.”
Barr-Mira has played the most among the new scholarship honorees, handling place-kicking duties each of the last two years. He will again be UCLA’s field goal kicker as well as the team’s starting punter in 2022.
Schwesinger and Landherr are the only two to join Barr-Mira on the Bruins’ two-deep depth chart – the former is slotted as the team’s starting long snapper while the latter a backup linebacker. However, Kelly said the former walk-ons all earned scholarships because they will play “significant roles” for the team in 2022.
“Any time a guy coming from a walk-on is able to earn a scholarship, there’s been an immense amount of work that’s gone into that,” said redshirt senior linebacker Bo Calvert. “They don’t just hand those things out.”
In addition to his scholarship, Johnson was awarded one more honor this week: the right to wear the No. 36.
No. 36 is given out to a walk-on or former walk-on in honor of Nick Pasquale, a former Bruin who died in a car accident in 2013. Kelly said in fall camp that there would be a vote on who would get the number, and, earlier this week, it was announced it was given to Johnson.
“He’s (Johnson) given everything to this program,” Kelly said. “I know he’ll tell you it’s an honor to wear it but there was no more fitting guy to be that guy than Alex.”
Depth chart news and notes
UCLA released its first depth chart of the season Monday night, detailing 14 new offensive and defensive starters for the Bruins from the end of last season.
On offense, the blue and gold will run out a nearly completely revamped offensive line, with redshirt junior Raiqwon O’Neal – a transfer from Rutgers – and redshirt freshman Garrett DiGiorgio starting at left and right tackle, respectively.
Redshirt senior Jake Bobo and redshirt junior Kazmeir Allen earned starter spots at wide receiver with the departures of Chase Cota and Kyle Philips, while redshirt senior Michael Ezeike will take over for Greg Dulcich at tight end.
UCLA’s new defensive starters include three transfers – senior linebacker Darius Muasau, redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Gabriel Murphy and redshirt senior cornerback Azizi Hearn.
In addition to the newcomers, a number of returnees have risen the ranks to become starters on that side of the ball. Junior JonJon Vaughns and redshirt junior Kain Medrano will start at linebacker and redshirt senior Martin Andrus Jr. will start on the defensive line.
Regardless of the starting lineup, Calvert said the Bruins have depth throughout the program that will prove beneficial come Saturday.
“We’ve had depth on both sides of the ball that’s shown that we can be aggressive, we don’t need to hold anything back,” Calvert said. “Guys are able to put everything they have out there on the field and know that the next guy up is going to give just as much.”