Orange Coast (Calif.) College offensive tackle Zach Bateman took a long path to go just a short distance.
"I just committed to UCLA," said Bateman. "Being a junior college guy and living on my own, paying my own way for school while playing football and while doing education, you're on your own. It's really humbled me and built character. And I knew that UCLA was the place where I need to be.
Bateman said when he was weighing the pros and cons of each school he had three main points he was keying on.
"I broke it down to three aspects," said Bateman. "One is the education. Since I was a kid I've wanted to go to the NFL and I'll do everything in my power to uphold that dream. But I also know that it's a big process and you have to be realistic. The education from UCLA is huge. I'm not saying that an Ohio State or Arizona State education is any worse than UCLA, but I feel when I'm older I want to live in California and having a UCLA education will really solidify my life here in California."
Football wise, the Bruins also stepped up.
"Secondly, one of the reasons why I chose them from a football aspect was I look at what UCLA was before Coach (Jim) Mora got there. From not being really a threat to now where he's taken it single-handedly with his staff to an empire. I feel like UCLA is nothing but on the rise, and I'll be hitting it at one of its strongest points."
And being a JC prospect with only two years left to play made the decision easier.
"That's where thirdly coming in as a JC guy, I have two years to make the NFL happen. I'm not saying I'll walk in and start right away, but I'm saying they don't have three tackles deep. I know UCLA doesn't offer many JC guys at all, and one of the reasons they offered me, well, they wouldn't have offered me if they didn't think I was an impact player. I had Ohio State, Arizona State, Oklahoma State really close, but when I really broke it down, and was not just focused on the football aspect of it, but broke it down to all three categories, UCLA seemed like the most wise decision, and it will affect me the most in my life."
So Bateman called UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm on Sunday night and told him he wanted to be a Bruin.
"I called Coach Klemm and he's been the guy who's been recruiting me since day one. He is obviously my position coach and so I had to call him. One of the reasons I committed there, I wanted to make sure I'll love where I'm at. Not just like it, but love it. And there, I know I can trust Coach Klemm. From his NFL experience, he's full of wisdom at the next level. He can get me there and put me there."
Bateman took his official visit to UCLA for the Oregon game, and even though the Bruins lost to the Ducks that day, the reaction from the team further made the case for the Bruins.
"I get up there and they lose to Oregon," said Bateman. "But watching how the team handled it and the passion that Coach Mora put in to it, that brotherhood bond, that's football. You win some, you lose some, but having that strong bond, not just when you're at your highest, but when you're at your lowest, that's what I need to be a part of. Leading up to the visit, I was already thinking about the whole education, but seeing that brotherhood, that bond, that was it."
Bateman will sign in December and be on campus in January.
"As a kid who was hardly recruited in high school, to have what happened to me, I always knew I had what it took to be a D-I athlete, i always knew I was capable of this. But I also hit a point where I was like, 'Alright, Zach, it's time to kick ass,' and that was in the classroom. I have a 3.3 GPA and I'm a mid-year guy. I'm taking 23 freaking units right now. But I'm doing it because I'm all for a great cause right now. Most people having to do what I had to do couldn't balance it all. But I have a master plan. In the spring of 2013, I knew I had take a certain amount of units so I'm not starting my NCAA clock. That's the thing, what happened happened. The first round wasn't easy. But the main thing was I didn't feel sorry for myself. This happened, but at the end of the day, I'll have a hell of a story to tell my grandkids."
Bateman knows his path hasn't been easy, but it hasn't slowed him down.
"At 18, I had to provide for myself, put a roof over my head, food on the table, pay my way through school, and all while trying to play football," said Bateman. "But I don't feel like I've proven anything yet. Other than those who doubted me getting to the D-1 level, now it's proving that I'll be good at the D-1 level. And not just be good, but be a dominant force and an impact player. I want to come in and lock down the position and do what I always dream of. And all the while, have my head secured on that even if it falters, I'll have a bitchin' UCLA education to fall back on."
While Orange Coast's season is done, it hasn't slowed down for Bateman.
"Even before I committed, as soon as I was done playing football, it was five days of Monday-Friday weight lifting with another training day on Saturday. It's been nonstop and it's go time for me. I can't wait to be there, but I'm not going to act like 'Hey, it's time to take my breath and then I'll start rolling when I get there.' I know what I need to do to hit the ground running."
On Saturday, Bateman will be in the Rose Bowl when UCLA hosts USC. "I'm going to the game on Saturday against USC. I'll take a deep breath and feel that crowd around me. I'll take a big long breath of 'This is it.' This is my calling. It's going to be all that much more surreal."