Past midpoint of camp, members of UCLA football seeing historic depth
Junior wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala runs between two defensive backs during a spring practice in 2022. (Joseph Jimenez/Photo editor)
By Jack Nelson
Aug. 14, 2023 11:58 a.m.
This post was updated Aug. 21 at 7:13 p.m.
You heard it from the man himself. Or maybe you didn’t.
“I do want to say that, but I don’t want to jinx it – so yes, it is,” said coach Chip Kelly.
UCLA football’s sideline boss didn’t jump at the chance to call this season’s team his deepest in six years of leading the Bruins. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that similar sentiments were spoken regarding the 2022 squad, the winningest of Kelly’s tenure.
Last season’s story has already been written – from its fiery 6-0 start to its unceremonious bowl game loss and everything in between. But now, with the midpoint of fall camp in the rearview mirror, Kelly said UCLA’s depth surpasses the past.
Fresh talent across the board is evident on the offensive side of the ball, where Kelly suffered considerable turnover after last season. The core of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, running back Zach Charbonnet and wide receiver Jake Bobo that once spearheaded the nation’s No. 4 offense is fully disbanded, with all three now vying for NFL roster spots.
In response, Kelly made moves that are already paying off, at least out wide, redshirt senior wide receiver Josiah Norwood said.
“I’ve been here for six years now, and this is the most deep receiver group we’ve ever had by far. It’s insane,” Norwood said. “We have a lot of really good guys here, so it’s going to be fun to see what happens.”
With Bobo and Kazmeir Allen no longer options, the Bruins now look to redshirt sophomore J.Michael Sturdivant and senior Kyle Ford, a pair of wide receiver transfers from California and USC, respectively. Sturdivant tallied 65 receptions, seven touchdowns and 755 receiving yards last season, leading all Golden Bears in the former two categories, while Ford’s 18.25 yards per catch on 20 receptions led the 2022 Trojans.
The duo is joining senior Kam Brown, junior Titus Mokiao-Atimalala and senior Logan Loya – the top three returning Bruins by 2022 receiving yards – among other pieces that make up the ongoing position battle.
“We have a lot of speed, obviously. Kyle coming in – he’s kind of teaching us to be a little more physical,” Mokiao-Atimalala said. “He’s a bigger guy, so I finally put on a little more weight, too – so I’m trying to be a little more physical on the line.”
The physicality Ford helps instill in UCLA’s offense is complemented by the quickness Sturdivant brings, creating a versatile one-two punch that Norwood has already noticed.
“Those guys are just so special in their own ways. They bring so many different things to the table,” Norwood said. “J. Mike (Sturdivant) has crazy speed, and he just brings different things that we can take off from each other.”
The wide receiver group is a case study of the depth perpetuating throughout UCLA’s roster – all despite the aforementioned major departures.
The mix of proven transfers and high-potential returners meshes into a Bruin team with an opportunity to set itself apart in a conference that features five preseason top-25 teams according to the Coaches’ Poll. But Norwood has greater aspirations for where his position group could stand.
“Maybe one of the best in the country,” Norwood said.