Embedded With UCLA for a Day -- for Avery

Aug. 24 -- A Bruin Report Online subscriber recounts the amazing day he had embedded with the UCLA football team and coaches in San Bernardino, as part of his donation package to help Avery Huffman. It included Jim Mora making a run to WalMart...

At the beginning of July, Avery Huffman, the six-year-old daughter of Scout.com recruiting expert and Bruin Report Online contributor, Brandon Huffman, was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, which is a very serious cancerous brain tumor.

UCLA coach Jim Mora immediately offered fan donation packages through BRO to raise money for the Huffmans. One of the packages was to be embedded with the UCLA football team and coaches for a day and night during fall camp in San Bernardino for $1,500.

One BRO subscriber bought the San Bernardino package, and he sent us an e-mail about his amazing experience.

I just wanted to drop you a note to thank you again for making the Fall Camp Coach experience possible. This experience went beyond anything that I had imagined. Frankly, I "bought" the package primarily because it gave me another good reason to help support Avery and the Huffmans and to help make sure that Coach Mora could see and feel that he was making a difference. I would not have lost any sleep if, for some reason, I was not able to make it out to San Bernardino and had just donated the money. Fortunately, though, I was able to make it there earlier this week on the only two days that could work for me during fall camp, before it got too hot, and at the same time that Avery crossed a huge milestone by wrapping up some of her treatments. Good karma.

Everyone on the football staff that I had a chance to meet in San Benardino was welcoming, inviting, competent and focused. Even though it was just the first few days of fall camp, the coaches, assistant position coaches, analysts, graduate assistants, and entire staff were already grinding through 18+ hour days. Away from the workout sessions, walk-throughs and actual practices, there was a non-stop sequence of coaches meetings, position group meetings, film study, breaking down of tape from practice, grading of each player, adjustments and install work, and whatever recruiting outreach that could be done that ran from 6:00 a.m. to well past midnight.

I really didn't want to disrupt or distract anyone from the staff and players doing their jobs but, since Coach Mora insisted early on that I get involved, I had the chance to sit in on many of these sessions. He also told me to be on time and, while I don't really work for him, let's just say that I didn't want to be late. And, yes, the trappings of San Bernardino aren't quite the same as you'd find in Westwood. But for a diehard Bruin alum and fan yet a novice in the Xs and Os of football, this was truly a priceless experience.

I could probably go on for hours recounting some of the experiences, but there were three things that I did want to share with you that maybe you can in turn share with Brandon if and when you see fit. While these are small things when compared to the enormity of Avery's situation, perhaps they can bring a smile to his face and let him know how much people are thinking of - and praying for - her, him, and his entire family.

When I was brought into the coaching staff meeting for the first time on Tuesday, I could feel a lot of quiet stares and glances. The kind you get when you're an outsider being brought into a tight-knit group. As Coach Mora started the meeting and explained to all the coaches, assistants and staff why I was there (supporting Avery and the Huffmans through Scout and BRO), it was like the polar ice caps melted. It was clear that everyone in the room knew about Avery and Brandon's situation and were hoping and praying for the best for Brandon. The meeting was diverted for several minutes as many in the room clapped and cheered, commented what a good dude Brandon was, and came up to me to shake my hand. One of the coaches (I won't say who) even half-jokingly asked me to sit next to him so that it would be less likely that Coach Mora would yell at him about how much better Monday's practice could have been.

When I first checked into fall camp and got my swag bag and the agenda/instructions given to all the players, coaches, and staff prior to their departure to San Bernardino, I noticed that people were asked to bring their own bed and bath linens. While I brought some towels, I had not thought about bringing bed linens. (Too pampered from traveling on an expense account and too far removed from dorm life, I guess.) Fearing that I would need to take a quick trip to some store nearby (and of course worrying that I might not even find a linen store in that part of San Bernardino), I was somewhat surprised when I saw that my room had already been made. Later, one of the interns told me that Coach Mora himself had gone to Walmart to buy the linens for me. I was pretty taken aback. I mean, if it had been me in my job, I would have sent one of my assistants to take care of something like this without blinking an eye. So, next chance I got, I thanked Coach Mora for taking care of this and I told him that he really didn't have to do that for me. He said, "I just feel like I have to do my part for Avery and the Huffmans." Holy cow. Could you imagine Nick Saban making a personal Walmart run to buy sheets?

As Wednesday's practice was wrapping up and players were stretching with their position groups, Coach Mora yelled across the field for me to join him in the center of the field to help him end practice. After blasting the air horn and gathering the players in the center of the field, he first talked about what the team had accomplished that day (Wednesday's practice - the first in shells - was a pretty good one). Looking around at all the players, he then proceeded to ask how many of them knew Brandon Huffman and knew about Avery's situation. Every player I could see was nodding and some hushed whispers of "good guy" could also be heard. After Coach Mora introduced me and talked about why I was there, there was a lot of clapping and cheering. Right after breaking the huddle, dozens of players came up to me to thank me and say that they were thinking about and praying for Avery too. It's hard to adequately put into words the image of hardened football players after a long day of practice with temperatures pushing well into the 90s instantly softening and thinking about a courageous little girl a thousand or so miles away. But that's what we had. And at that moment I could not have been prouder of the high character and quality of our players, our coaches and our team.

Brandon may work for Scout. But he's still one of us at heart - a Bruin and a BRO. He should know that the whole UCLA football program, led by Jim Mora, is thinking of him and praying for his little girl.

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