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Then to now: DeShaun Foster leads UCLA football 26 years after his freshman season

A feature on then-freshman running back DeShaun Foster from a 1998 copy of the Daily Bruin is pictured. Twenty-six years after first taking the field for UCLA football, Foster was hired to lead the program as it heads to the Big Ten. (Daily Bruin archive)

By Grace Whitaker

Feb. 15, 2024 12:04 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 15 at 8:47 p.m.

The Bruins have reached the prestigious bowl game hosted on their home field only 12 times in program history.

In one of those appearances, running back DeShaun Foster took to the field – a true freshman who posted 10 touchdowns and 635 rushing yards in his first regular season as a Bruin.

The back-and-forth contest ended 38-31. Heads hung low, the Bruins exited the field as their 1998 season ended in defeat.

UCLA football has not appeared in a Rose Bowl since.

Fast forward 25 years, four full-time head coaches, 16 bowl game appearances and one conference move later, that same running back who attempted to bring the Bruins their first Rose Bowl win since the 1985 campaign will assume the helm of his alma mater in its first season of Big Ten football.

Before his time in the coaching chair and stint in the NFL, Foster was a Bruin himself from 1998-2001, but the team he was a part of looked quite different from the product he commands today.

For Foster, the UCLA football that he remembers was one of stadiums filled to the brim, expected wins and bowl game berths. The first-time head coach said he plans to return the Bruins to that status.

“People used to love coming to the Rose Bowl games, filling the stadium. It was jam packed when I played in there,” Foster said. “There was no games that I played in that weren’t. It didn’t matter who we were playing. We’re going to get back to that.”

Foster’s UCLA tenure was arguably one of the program’s best.

The 1998 season had a substantial resume that included a 10-win season, a Pac-10 championship, a Rose Bowl appearance and the eighth-straight victory over crosstown rival USC. UCLA’s only two losses of the season came at the very end in a harrowing 49-45 battle with Miami and the bowl game brawl with Wisconsin.

That season, Foster was the leading rusher of the Bruins in the regular season and trailed Jermaine Lewis by just one in rushing touchdowns.

Foster played for UCLA for another three years. In his final campaign for the Bruins, he helped spearhead a victory over Alabama and contributed over 1,000 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns.

Foster said holding the head coach position at his alma mater is a landmark point in his life.

“I’ve played in Super Bowls, I got drafted, I’ve had kids, and this feeling – it’s such a different one,” Foster said. “It’s been an exciting ride, a roller coaster just filled with emotions.”

(Felicia Keller/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Foster (left) and athletic director Martin Jarmond (right) hold a modern UCLA jersey with Foster’s name on it. The jersey was one of two given to Foster at his introductory press conference Tuesday. (Felicia Keller/Daily Bruin senior staff)

But the group he is taking over is at an interesting point in its own history.

UCLA is coming off an eight-win season but has been marred with nearly record-low attendance numbers in recent years, has one bowl game victory in the past nine years and holds the 89th-ranked recruiting class – the lowest in the Big Ten. The team also boasts no players that rank within the top 100 of name, image and likeness deals, according to On3. The program and school faced heavy criticism for the direction in which they were heading.

Athletic director Martin Jarmond said bringing in someone like Foster, who understands what it’s like to be Bruin, will benefit both Foster and his players.

“He’s played on the biggest of stages, both in college and in the NFL, he’s seen what UCLA looks like when the Rose Bowl is roaring,” Jarmond said. “He gives me goosebumps talking about it and believe me, he remembers it well, just like it was yesterday.”

Foster is undertaking a unique responsibility with the move to the Big Ten and a lengthy schedule that begins in six and a half months against Hawaiʻi. Opponents LSU, Oregon and Penn State wade in the distance not far after that.

The question persists of how Foster plans to fill the Rose Bowl. But he’s confident he’s the man for the job.

“We’re going to get this Rose Bowl back to how it needs to be. We’re in LA. We are UCLA,” Foster said. “We win banners in every sport. We can do it. I just got to get football back.”

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Grace Whitaker | Sports senior staff
Whitaker is currently a senior staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats.
Whitaker is currently a senior staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats.
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