Offensive lineman Raiqwon O’Neal and the UCLA football program were exactly what each other were looking for in the transfer portal.
UCLA was looking to add a potential starter with experience to help at offensive tackle, after left tackle Sean Rhyan and right tackle Alec Anderson moved on to the NFL after the 2021 season.
O’Neal is expected to help add a high level of protection for players such as quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet.
In 2021, the front line helped Charbonnet produce 1,137 rushing yards. The Bruins were ranked 14th nationally in rushing offense (215.1 yards per game) and led the Pac-12 Conference in scoring (36.5) to finish the season.
O’Neal was looking for a place where he can focus on the upcoming season while also laying down the foundation for life after football.
“I just felt like this was the best fit for me,” O’Neal said. “It was about on- and off-the-field development.
“What I want to do after football is get into media and TV broadcasting. This is the best platform for me after football.”
O’Neal will spend the next year studying business and entertainment in the classroom while embracing the challenge of learning another team’s offense for the first time in four years.
“I’m learning from the other (lineman) because that’s part of being a leader,” he explained. “Even though I have the experience they can teach me things I never knew, so we are both learning from each other.”
O’Neal said some of the biggest lessons for the lineman have come with the different techniques and learning the defenses.
While O’Neal will have exhausted his eligibility by the time UCLA is expected to be a member of the Big Ten Conference, he could also share his travel experiences and what the game environment is like against those future opponents.
He calls it a “different experience than being out here on the West Coast,” with the New Jersey weather in November ranging from strong cold winds to heavy snow.
Nicholas Barr-Mira is expected to continue his role as the primary placekick this season for the Bruins, but he continues to be a strong option as the team’s punter.
“It’s been fun,” Barr-Mira said about the potential of working double duty. “It reminds me of high school a little bit.”
Barr-Mira has experience punting, but the Bruins went with Luke Akers in that starting role last season.
“I’ve always worked on punting,” Barr-Mira said. “I was always getting reps with the second team and for the scout team.”
Akers transferred out of the program after the regular season game against Cal in late November, which would’ve left Barr-Mira as the starting punter as early as the Holiday Bowl in December before it was canceled.
“We have four or five kickers in camp and they’ll all get opportunities because of how we train, but we’re excited about Nick as our punter,” Coach Chip Kelly said. “He would have punted for us in our bowl game last year and then he continued working through the whole offseason and did a really nice job in the spring.”
Freshman Chase Berry is the only other punter listed on the roster and will likely serve as the backup this season. It remains unclear who will be the backup place kicker.