BOULDER, Colo. — Laiatu Latu thought his career was over after a neck injury sidelined him for two years. The linebacker medically retired in December but made a comeback with a different team.
Now he’ll be going against his former team when UCLA hosts Washington on Friday night at the Rose Bowl.
Latu played eight games for Washington as a freshman in 2019 but a neck injury suffered on a hit during a practice cost him two seasons. He thought his playing days were over, but he has revived his career after transferring to the Bruins in the offseason.
He said he wants to treat Friday like any other game, but it will be tough with so many familiar faces on the other sideline.
“I know I came from there, but we want to win every game just as much and that’s how I’m looking at it” Latu said. “It’s going to be fun seeing them though. But I’m treating it like any other game.”
He also expects some back-and-forth through texts and social media before kickoff Friday night.
“They’ll probably say something, but knowing those guys it’s all love at the end of the day,” Latu said.
If Latu plays like he did in the 45-17 win at Colorado on Saturday, he could have an impact on the outcome. In just his third game in two years, he had three sacks and created havoc in the Buffaloes’ backfield.
“Just a gutty performance by him,” UCLA head coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s got such a work ethic, kind of just puts his head down and goes. It’s almost like the rust is shaken off of him. He’s starting to get a little bit more comfortable, a little bit more confident and playing with a little bit more poise.”
The Bruins have outscored opponents 68-28 in the second half this year, including a 24-14 edge against Colorado on Saturday. Kelly credits the conditioning and attitude for the edge.
“It’s everything. There’s a mindset that we talk about all the time, how we feel, how we train, how we recover,” Kelly said. “We’re pretty dialed in in terms of how we do it, and I think it’s paid off.”
Kelly said the team ignored the fact it played at altitude, including the sign reminding teams of the elevation outside the visiting locker room.
“We cover it up so our players have no idea if we played at altitude or below sea level today,” Kelly said. “We’re not running cross country. Some people try to make a big deal out of that. But when you look at the physiological part of it, there isn’t really much of an effect.”
ZACH IS BACK
Zach Charbonnet’s three touchdowns and 104 yards on just nine carries were a good sign for the Bruins after a less productive couple of weeks. He rushed for 111 yards in the opener, missed the second game and had 78 yards and a fumble in last week’s win over South Alabama.
“I know he played last week, but the Zach you saw today is exactly who we’ve seen for a long time,” Kelly said.