State of the UCLA QB: Part 2

A new contributor to Bruin Report Online, Robert Kuwada, looked into the UCLA quarterback situation heading into spring practice. Part one delved into the status of Kevin Prince and Kevin Craft, but now we look at true freshman Richard Brehaut enrolling at UCLA early to compete...

Robert Kuwada is a veteran Los Angeles area sports writer, having written prominently for the Long Beach Press Telegram and Orange County Register over the course of two decades. He was the UCLA beat writer for the Register for five seasons.
It's the NCAA, so of course there are a lot of pesky little rules.

Richard Brehaut had crammed two semesters of English, government, psychology and the like into one to complete his high school course work by winter so that he could enroll at UCLA in time for spring practices.

But UCLA still couldn't give Brehaut a playbook per NCAA rules.

Also not allowed were informal throwing sessions with his future teammates, 7-on-7s, or in-depth film study with the offensive coaches. No head start on his college football career.

So, Brehaut has not exactly been immersed in the Bruins' offense, like incumbent quarterback Kevin Craft or redshirt freshman Kevin Prince, with whom he will get the majority of the reps at the start of spring practices (which begin April 2nd). What he has been doing since he got out of high school in January and waiting to enroll at UCLA is work, and working out.

Four days a week, he is at a physical therapy clinic administering ultrasound treatments and soft tissue massage. "Basically whatever they tell me to do," he said.

He's in at 8 a.m., out at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon; with later hours on Fridays. After that, Brehaut will grab a bite of lunch, then lift weights and work,out at Los Osos High, get some throwing in with former teammates. That often is followed by more training, core and speed work three days a week at Advanced Acceleration in Rancho Cucamonga.

But on Monday that will all change, since the spring quarter at UCLA will start. And on Thursday, intent eyes will be upon him at Spaulding Field; watching, studying, evaluating.

Brehaut very quickly will have to develop a base of knowledge to catch up to Craft and Prince, who are a year ahead of him working with coordinator Norm Chow in the offense. He will need to grasp and digest the terminology, the protections, the run concepts, the passing schemes.

He will have to command a huddle, make plays and develop a presence in an offense that was not well run a year ago when the Bruins went just 4-8 and were ranked 109th of 119 teams in scoring offense with 17.7 points per game.

It might be unrealistic or unreasonable; too much too soon.

Brehaut doesn't see any of that, though. And now that the Bruins are about to open the spring, no one, he said, should be surprised if at the end of the Bruins' 15 practices he is named the starting quarterback or at least has a chance to be the man in the fall. "I don't think so, no," he said.

All questions have been shelved, any doubt squelched.

More than anything, Brehaut said, it is an opportunity, the back-end reward for six months of work and sacrifice turning his senior year of high school into a senior semester. This is a chance, an opening.

And he is confident he can acclimate quickly. "It's going to be crazy, but it's going to be fun. I'm going to enjoy it, for sure," Brehaut said.

Cashing in on such an opportunity is not without precedent.

Brehaut at the UnderArmour Game.
In his one season at North Carolina State, in 2000, Chow had a high school senior complete his school work early in order to enroll in college and compete in spring practices. Phillip Rivers won that job the first week of spring ball and, while the Bruins' coordinator is not comparing the two quarterbacks, Brehaut obviously has piqued the renowned coach's curiosity.

"I think he's a mentally strong guy. He's a physical guy. He has a lot of skills. He's very athletic and he can get us out of bad situations," Chow said of Brehaut, who last led a pro-style offense as a high school sophomore before running a spread the past two years. "It's just going to be a matter of how fast he can pick up the things going on. It's just a matter if he can handle all that. But the fact that we have him for the spring is a huge deal."

Coach Rick Neuheisel has said that Brehaut will get ample opportunity to make an impression. The 6-foot-2 freshman and Prince will get the majority of practice reps the first two weeks of the spring (seven practices) as the Bruins' staff tries to find a quarterback that can limit the game-changing mistakes and move the offense forward.

The senior-to-be Craft, who started every game a year ago, threw 20 interceptions, six of which were returned for touchdowns, including two in a loss at Cal and three in a loss at Arizona State.

"It may seem unlikely, but I want to give Richard the chance to show that he's comfortable," Neuheisel said. "Really, what I'm looking for from Richard this spring is poise and leadership. Can he handle a huddle as a young kid? His eyes will be wide open, especially since it will be his third day of class (when spring practices start). Can he handle that? What are the growing pains? It will be a large, large, transition. But if he's big enough to handle it then we'll see how quickly the improvement will come."

Command of the offense will be a key, which likely puts Brehaut in a hole to start the spring, needing to catch on and catch up quickly. But it can be done, Chow said. "Yeah, no question," he said. "If a guy has that 'it' factor to play quarterback, yeah, he can play. Phillip Rivers, one day into spring practice it was very obvious. I went to the head coach and said, 'Coach, do you mind if we change it now because we're going to change it eventually.' And he said, you know, you beat me to it. I think he just felt that swagger, that 'it' factor that he had, then it was just a matter of teaching him everything that we needed to get done. But you have to have that confidence that you can get it done, and I think Richard has it. We'll see."

Brehaut, not surprisingly, has no doubts, though the last true freshman to earn extensive playing time at quarterback at UCLA was Cade McNown, who started the fifth game of the 1995 season against Fresno State. Drew Olson and Matt Moore started games for the Bruins in 2002, following an injury to starter Cory Paus, then to Olson.

"I just think as a quarterback you need to have that confidence," Brehaut said. "I think that's what the position is all about, having that confidence on the field and knowing that you can get it done. I totally have confidence in myself to go in there and learn some things, see how things shake out in the spring and just continue the competition into the fall. I have the goal of being that No. 1 guy going into (the season opener against) San Diego State.

"To be honest with you, I couldn't be more excited. I've been waiting for this for a long time."

Still to come: Kevin Prince and his Mormon Mission...

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