LOS ANGELES — They’ve been there, done that.
For most of the players on the UCLA football team’s fall camp roster, getting ready for a new season is nothing new. Counting redshirt seasons, nearly half are entering at least their fourth year. More than two-thirds are at least three years in. Academically, 21 have already graduated, and 20 of them are in graduate school.
“They can explain to the younger kids not only how we’re doing things, but why we’re doing things,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “We do have a veteran leadership group.”
The Bruins seem to have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to experience among their core players. They’ll hope that translates into a special 2022 campaign.
The NCAA allowed an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning players like defensive back Mo Osling III have been on campus for six years. Outside linebacker Bo Calvert and defensive back Stephan Blaylock are both entering their fifth seasons. Offensive line stalwarts Jon Gaines and Sam Marrazo are in years five and six, respectively.
And quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is also returning for season five handing the ball off to fourth-year running back Zach Charbonnet.
Azizi Hearn, a redshirt senior defensive back transfer from Wyoming, said: “I feel like experience is the No. 1 thing, because you can’t buy experience. There’s some things you get out there and you just kind of see or you just feel it coming.”
Redshirt junior Kam Brown believes the cumulative level of experience on the roster has raised the standard this season.
The older players are stepping up, starting with Thompson-Robinson, who Brown said has noticeably taken younger players under his wing. The quarterback handed out his phone number to the freshmen players, let them know of outside film sessions and just “stepped it up to a whole other notch,” Brown said.
“They look good right now,” Brown said of the new crop of players. “I’ve really been telling them, ‘Just ask questions. Questions, questions, questions.’ Because you don’t want to come out here and not know. So those guys have been great at being vocal if they don’t know something and trying to figure out how to do it.”
Redshirt senior receiver Jake Bobo, a transfer from Duke who is poised to be one of Thompson-Robinson’s top targets right away, said that in addition to the quarterback reaching out and taking him through Kelly’s “daunting” playbook, joining a group of players on offense who have worked together for years is special.
“It’s cool to step in and be a part of that chemistry,” Bobo said.
Osling called the six-year journey “amazing” and a process that has seen change — for the better. Over the summer, the defense held meetings every other week, building camaraderie that has become “like a brotherhood.”
“I’ve been here six years. I’ve never felt anything like this,” Osling said. “So I’m very excited for this group, and the young guys to just come up and learn from us.”
Placekicker Nicholas Barr-Mira could also serve as the team’s punter this season, as UCLA is still looking to fill the void left by punter Luke Akers’ transfer to Northwestern.
Kelly said that Barr-Mira would have served as both the kicker and punter for last year’s Holiday Bowl, which was canceled. He was impressed with the redshirt junior’s work during spring practice and over the offseason, and believes Barr-Mira can “certainly” handle doing both kicking and punting.
Freshman Chase Barry is the only punter listed on the roster, along with four other kickers.
“He’ll get every opportunity to compete for that job,” Kelly said of Barr-Mira. “We were all very impressed with what he did during springtime.”