Heading into his junior year with 84 career receptions and 1,297 yards, wide receiver Craig Bragg has put up the best numbers of any UCLA receiver ever after his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Coming off a 2002 year where he led the Pac-10 in punt returns, grabbed 55 passes for 889 yards, and earned the Las Vegas Bowl MVP, Bragg is primed and ready for what is traditionally the best season for Bruin receivers.
BRO talked with Bragg at Pac-10 Media Day:
BRO: UCLA has been picked 6th in the Pac-10, for the second year in a row. Will that motivate the team more?
Bragg: We are a lot better than 6th. But it's just going to make us work hard. The poll doesn't mean anything if we don't work hard and play. Last year that's where we were at and we did better than 6th. And we have more guys coming back this year.
BRO: You guys are setting the table for a big 2004 season. How huge is this year?
Bragg: With a good season, we can be in the drivers seat for 2004. This year is really important, for momentum for next year. We could have everyone back on offense, and we have a lot of youth. Next year could be great. But we have to set the table for then by having a good season this year. I hope to be back next year, answering questions on if we can repeat.
BRO: What has been the biggest difference between the regimes of Bob Toledo and Karl Dorrell so far?
Bragg: We had to get up early all off-season, make it to work and be focused. Coach Dorrell demands excellence from us. The offense is a lot different now, and we had to learn it but (wide receiver) coach (Jon) Embree and Coach Dorrell have really taught us a lot. And then the atmosphere is a lot different. The fans, the students, they come up to us and say, "You guys are going to be really good next year, we can't wait." I hear a lot that people are really excited about this season.
Bragg: We are excited to go to Colorado. That's a big game for us. After what happened last year, they said we weren't tough, we weren't physical, we were soft. That sticks with us. That's been motivating us ever since. And Oklahoma could be #1 when we play them. Illinois, a national game, home opener. It's going to be fun. We would love to go 4-0 before we start league.
BRO: Speaking of Oklahoma, 85,000+ fans will be there. Will that be a problem for this team?
Bragg: Nah, it's not. We have gone to Alabama, Washington, USC, Oregon and some guys are still on the team that went to Ohio State a few years ago. We've played in front of big crowds a lot. The Rose Bowl has a lot of people in it. We just need to stay focused and make plays.
BRO: If you look traditionally at UCLA receivers, they usually blow up during their junior year: Kevin Jordan, J.J. Stokes, Freddie Mitchell, Danny Farmer. You are a junior now. You think you ca match their junior performances?
Bragg: I hope to have a junior season just like they did. I have improved in a lot of areas that I want to show more this year. Coach Embree and Coach Dorrell have really helped with that.
BRO: Speaking of Coach Dorrell, you are 24 catches and 220 yards from passing him on the all-time list. You plan to mention that to him?
Bragg: (laughing) Naw, I want to still catch the ball. Coach Dorrell can always show me his rings and get the last word.
BRO: What's been Coach Dorrell's biggest impact so far?
Bragg: He knows what its like to play for UCLA, what it took to win. He won a couple of Rose Bowls, won a couple of Pac-10 championships. They beat SC. He has a lot of pride in playing for UCLA, and is showing us how important it is to be a representative of the school, of the team. We had a great spring. We put a lot of hard work into the off-season, then had a great spring, and we have worked hard this summer. When we come back, we want to have a good fall. We didn't think our 8-5 record last year was good. We are making strides, and the coaches have been pushing us.
BRO: What was the team's reaction to Coach Dorrell being hired?
Bragg: Relief. We were relieved that a coach was named. It was a long wait for us. For myself, I was pretty excited, knowing he came from the NFL, knowing he was a wide receiver coach. When we met him, we could tell all he wants to do is win.
BRO: With all of the great receivers in the conference, it's easy for you to be lost in the shuffle. The Sporting News named you the Most Underrated Player in the Pac-10. Any thoughts?
Bragg: It doesn't matter to me that I don't get a lot of attention. That will come when I have a good season. What's important is that we win.
BRO: You redshirted when Freddie Mitchell was here. He was a flashy, outspoken guy, while you are kind of the anti-Freddie. Yet you are netting similar results. Does Freddie ever talk to you about that?
Bragg: Not really. It's not really my style to always be in the paper, or on TV. But Freddie is great. He still comes around and works with me on things I need to improve on. Footwork, catching the ball. He is good at that. Mike Sherrard also comes and gives me tips on how to improve. And of course, Coach Dorrell does, too. I just want to make plays and let my play make itself noticed. I am quiet. Instead of always being out, I would rather stay home or go to a movie and just relax. I want to lead by example.
BRO: You had a great game in the Las Vegas Bowl, returning a punt for a TD, and being named the MVP of the game. How critical was that game to this season?
Bragg: Before we left for Las Vegas, Coach Dorrell came and spoke to us. He told us that the Bowl Game was the first game of next season, and treat it with importance. We wanted to go into the off-season with a win under our belt. We feel like that was the start for this year. I was honored to be named MVP.
BRO: Kind of off the subject, but your brother (QB Darren Bragg) is now going through the recruiting process. Does he call for advice ever?
Bragg: Every once in a while. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's tough, but I went through it myself and I just tell him to hang in there. It's picked up since he had a great summer at some camps, but I know he sometimes gets frustrated by the media not giving him much attention. I just tell him to keep working hard and scouts will notice.
Bragg: Yeah, I just went out there and proved myself, and that's all he can do. He'll be alright. He is a hard worker.
BRO: Obviously the Colorado game will have significant meaning for several of the coaches. Coach Dorrell, Embree and coach Eric Bieniemy all coached there, and Bieniemy and Embree played there. Coach Brian Schneider and coach Larry Kerr coached against Colorado. Has that added anything to the game?
Bragg: They haven't really said anything but I know they want to win that one. There's more focus on it because it's our first game. I think when the game gets closer, they will talk about it more.
BRO: Which leads to the last question. Any thoughts about leaving early?
Bragg: I plan on being here. I am not in any hurry to
leave. I love playing college football. It's fun. I want to get some
rings. The records don't mean anything if you aren't winning. Coach
Dorrell has Rose Bowl rings, Pac-10 championship rings. That's what I