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Zach Charbonnet emerges as leader on, off the field for No. 11 UCLA football

Senior running back Zach Charbonnet stiff-arms a defender. Charbonnet rushed for a career-high 198 yards in No. 11 UCLA football’s win over Utah on Saturday. (Jason Zhu/Daily Bruin staff)

By Francis Moon

Oct. 13, 2022 6:10 p.m.

Soft-spoken by nature, Zach Charbonnet lets his game do the talking.

“Our players really gravitate to him,” said coach Chip Kelly. “The first part of leadership is you have to be able to walk the walk before you can talk the talk – and that’s what Zach does.”

The senior running back has taken on a greater workload both on the field and in the locker room for No. 11 UCLA football this year compared to his debut season with the blue and gold in 2021.

After accumulating 1,334 scrimmage yards with 13 touchdowns last year while splitting touches with former Bruin running back Brittain Brown, Charbonnet has stepped into a new role as the feature running back in 2022. The former Michigan transfer has accounted for over half of UCLA’s backfield carries through six weeks despite missing a game.

On a per-game basis, Charbonnet leads the No. 21-ranked rushing attack in the country, with the sixth-highest individual production on the ground. Charbonnet has also increased his presence in the passing game, almost doubling his receiving yards per contest from last season.

Against then-No. 11 Utah on Saturday, Charbonnet gashed the top defense in the Pac-12 for a career-high 198 rushing yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts, including a 49-yard dash for the longest run of his career.

But Charbonnet’s impact goes beyond the box score – or even just the running back room. With another year of experience under his belt, the senior has emerged as one of the Bruins’ leaders alongside redshirt senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

Kelly said Charbonnet’s contagious presence in the locker room is not a coincidence, praising his attention to detail and commitment to getting better every day – which in turn motivates those around him.

“He’s got a work ethic that’s off the charts,” Kelly said. “His dedication to the film room, his dedication to the meeting room, his dedication to the weight room is unmatched.”

Regardless of position, senior offensive lineman Jon Gaines II said the entire team strives to emulate the running back’s efforts every day both on and off the field.

“Leading by example is his biggest thing,” Gaines said. “He speaks when he needs to speak. When he talks, everyone wants to listen because he does everything right.”

With Charbonnet and the offense clicking to the tune of a 6-0 start, UCLA enters its bye week with a top-ranked offense and defense in the country and an extra week to prepare for a showdown with No. 12 Oregon.

Despite being undefeated, Charbonnet said he is not satisfied, and the team is instead zeroed in on improving with each day on the practice field.

“It doesn’t mean nothing,” Charbonnet said. “We’ve got Oregon up next, so we’ve got a little improvement week coming up. That’s what this team is focused on.”

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Francis Moon | Sports senior staff
Moon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, track and field and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and women's tennis beats, while also contributing for Arts. He is a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student.
Moon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, men's soccer, track and field and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and women's tennis beats, while also contributing for Arts. He is a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student.
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