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UCLA football faces injuries and embraces competition during spring practice

Senior Hudson Habermehl carries the ball downfield during UCLA football’s game against Stanford. The 6-foot-7 tight end exited Saturday’s practice with a knee injury. (Jake Greenberg-Bell/Daily Bruin staff)

By Kai Dizon

April 14, 2024 12:09 p.m.

This post was updated April 14 at 9:17 p.m.

The monotonous loop of “Still D.R.E.,” “California Love” and the cheers and jeers of UCLA football players ground to a halt Saturday morning.

Senior Hudson Habermehl let out a yell and slammed his fist against the Spaulding Field turf. An apparent injury during an 11-on-11 practice drill meant the 6-foot-7 tight end had to be helped off the field, putting minimal weight on his left leg. The rest of the Bruins sat silently on one knee as the senior was attended to.

“Hudson went down today,” said coach DeShaun Foster after practice. “Obviously a knee injury. We’ll get more information once we run a few tests.”

Habermehl appeared in all 13 games for the Bruins last season – racking up 148 receiving yards and three touchdowns, including a 29-yard, two-touchdown performance against USC.

“Hoping for the best,” said junior tight end Moliki Matavao. “Hopefully, it’s nothing bad. That’s my guy – I’m keeping him in my prayers.”

Outside of the injury, however, Foster said he was pleased with the effort and energy his team put into the last practice of the second week of spring camp.

While the Bruins’ head coach dubbed Saturday “competition day,” he maintained that competing isn’t just about action on the field.

“It’s the little things,” Foster said. “Do you compete at taking notes in the film room? Are you competing and watching film? Are you competing to be the first one in the building in your position group? … I’m just trying to bring it to the whole team – compete in everything you do. … If you’re living a life of competition, it’s easy once you get out here on the field.”

The Bruins began the day with one-on-one drills between some receivers and defensive backs before moving on to the Oklahoma-type linemen drills seen at previous practices. Players split into position-specific drills for around an hour and then transitioned to both six-on-eight and 11-on-11 drills. The six-on-eight drill is a variation of the traditional seven-on-seven drill, where the defense has a two-man advantage.

Foster spontaneously ended the day with a kick-return competition – not between players, but coaches. Cornerbacks coach Kodi Whitfield and wide receivers coach Erik Frazier took turns as returners and tight ends coach Jerry Neuheisel eventually got in to kick some punts.

“I just want a competitive atmosphere with coaches and players,” Foster said. “So let’s get the coaches in there too. That’s how you build true camaraderie – when you’ve got guys pulling for coaches.”

Matavao seemed to agree.

“Competition brings the best out of all of us.”

Injury updates

Foster is still waiting to push redshirt sophomore wide receiver J.Michael Sturdivant.

“We’re just taking precautions with him,” Foster said. “He was running and stuff on the side, so he was being active. But we didn’t really want people pulling on him running.”

Foster said redshirt freshman wide receiver Braden Pegan is dealing with a hamstring injury and may have re-aggravated it Saturday.

Foster added that redshirt senior linebacker Ale Kaho is expected to return to action next week.

Additionally, freshman running back Troy Leigber, a walk-on, was helped off the field after an apparent knee injury Saturday.

Transfer portal

NCAA’s undergraduate 15-day spring transfer window is set to open April 15 before closing April 30.

Foster laid out whom he’ll be targeting.

“I’m looking for bigs on both sides of the ball,” Foster said. “O-lineman, D-lineman, tight end or maybe a running back. A couple of DBs (defensive backs).”

Foster added that he doesn’t anticipate losing any of his players to the portal.

Matavao shared a sense of attachment to the first-year head coach.

“Coach Foster is a player’s coach,” Matavao said. “He wants what’s best for us. He loves us.”

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