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UCLA football employs one-on-ones, increases physicality ahead of Big Ten move

Sophomore running back T.J. Harden (left) carries the ball while senior linebacker Kain Medrano (right) celebrates after a play. The pair faced off in a one-on-one competition period at the start of Saturday’s practice. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

By Joseph Crosby

April 7, 2024 11:07 a.m.

This post was updated April 7 at 9:26 p.m.

Mario vs. Luigi, Kirby vs. Pikachu or T.J. Harden vs. Kain Medrano.

They’re iconic matchups in “Super Smash Bros.” – or in the case of the sophomore running back and senior linebacker, a recognizable pair on the backfields.

As the video game-esque drills moved from the screen to Spaulding Field, Bruin pairs were surrounded by their teammates for a modified Oklahoma drill to kick off Saturday’s training session.

“It’s just something to get the energy going early at practice,” Medrano said. “A little one-on-one competition.”

Medrano didn’t mince words about the outcome of his showdown against Harden.

“I hate saying it, but T.J. got me.” 

Medrano and Harden were just one of the pairs to go head-to-head Saturday during UCLA football’s third open spring practice session. Wrapping up the first week of spring camp, coach DeShaun Foster said Saturdays will typically serve as review days after the coaching staff introduces new packages of plays on Tuesday and Thursday.

But for the first Saturday of spring, one-on-ones took center stage early.

“This is the first time that we had it this year, like that competition period,” said redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Keanu Williams. “Practice has gotten a little more physical which … Cause we’re going into a big conference, we got to play against some big dudes, so we got to be a little bit more physical than we were before.”

Practice continued in similar formats to the first two of the week, featuring 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. UCLA’s defense controlled Saturday – forcing five turnovers and a timeout by redshirt freshman quarterback Justyn Martin.

Shared journeys

(Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)
UCLA redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Keanu Williams attempts to rush past a USC offensive lineman and make a tackle. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

Williams enrolled at UCLA one year ago after transferring from Oregon.

He expanded a pack of Ducks-turned-Bruins from three – redshirt sophomore defensive back Jaylin Davies, redshirt junior offensive lineman Jaylan Jeffers and junior tight end Moliki Matavao – to four.

That flock has since hatched two more members – one of whom assumed a coaching position.

Soon-to-be seventh-year defensive back Bryan Addison joined UCLA’s roster this offseason, while former Oregon defensive graduate assistant Tony Washington Jr. joined the Bruins’ coaching staff as the team’s defensive line and outside linebackers coach in January.

“Coach Ikaika (defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe) truly believes in him (Washington),” Foster said. “Especially being able to hand over a position, so it was good that he’s played the position – I like guys that have played the position.”

Malloe served as the Bruins’ defensive line coach for the 2023 season before his promotion – by former coach Chip Kelly – to defensive coordinator following D’Anton Lynn’s departure to USC.

Washington – who was a linebacker with the Ducks from 2010 to 2014 – overlapped with all five now-Bruins while later coaching at Oregon. And now having worked under both Malloe and Washington, Williams said the pair’s coaching is additive.

“Honestly, I don’t really think it’s a difference,” Williams said. “It’s like we’re adding together now. Now we’re adding a lot of information together, and we’re just given more pieces to the puzzle, so we can actually be better.”

Another QB transfer

(Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)
Redshirt junior quarterback Collin Schlee runs past swarming Boise State defenders during the LA Bowl. Schlee entered the transfer portal Thursday. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

UCLA used three different starting quarterbacks last season, mixing and matching redshirt junior Ethan Garbers, freshman Dante Moore and redshirt junior Collin Schlee.

In December, Moore entered the transfer portal, eventually landing at Oregon – the school he initially committed to before flipping to become a Bruin.

This Thursday, Schlee followed Moore into the portal.

“He wants to go closer to home,” Foster said. “I love Collin, he had a great season for us last season, we’d love for him to stay, but I completely understand. Being across the United States is difficult for some kids.”

Schlee, a Maryland local, started twice and appeared in seven games total – including the LA Bowl before exiting with an injury. The dual-threat quarterback struggled in the air with two touchdowns and two interceptions on a 53.2% completion percentage. But on the ground, he averaged 10.1 yards per carry for 425 net yards while adding three scores.

With Schlee departing, UCLA’s quarterback room now features Garbers, Martin, senior Chase Griffin and freshman Luke Duncan – and will add three-star recruits Karson Gordon and Henry Hasselbeck in the fall.

“I’m excited about the room; it’s a deep QB room,” Foster said. “It gives other guys some reps, and I’m excited to see if they’re ready to play.”

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Joseph Crosby | Sports editor
Crosby is the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and NIL beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a fourth-year statistics student.
Crosby is the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and NIL beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a fourth-year statistics student.
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