2001 Spring Football Outlook
March 29, 2001
A year ago, UCLA defeated Alabama and Michigan in non-conference action, had nine of its 12 games decided by seven or fewer points and played in a bowl game for the third time in the last four years. This season, UCLA has the talent and experience needed to return the program to the level it enjoyed in 1997 and 1998. During that span, UCLA compiled a record of 20-4, won two league titles, won a school-record 20 consecutive games and earned back-to-back Top 10 rankings for the first time since the 1987 and 1988 seasons.
UCLA returns 17 starters from last season - seven on offense and eight on defense plus a punter and a kicker -- plus a dominating defender who started in 1999. On offense, the Bruins return 1,000-yard rusher DeShaun Foster at tailback, 2,000-yard passer Cory Paus at quarterback, 50-catch receiver Brian Poli-Dixon at wide receiver, center Troy Danoff, tackles Mike Saffer and Bryce Bohlander and fullback Ed Ieremia-Stansbury. On defense, the returnees include the entire front line of tackles Rodney Leisle and Anthony Fletcher and ends Rusty Williams and Mat Ball, linebackers Robert Thomas and Ryan Nece, strong safety Marques Anderson and cornerback Ricky Manning, Jr. Punter Nate Fikse and place kicker Chris Griffith, both All-Pac-10 second-team selections a year ago, round out the returning starters.
Other key returnees include tight ends Bryan Fletcher and Mike Seidman, wide receivers Jon Dubravac and Tab Perry, tailback Akil Harris, guards Shane Lehmann and Blake Worley, quarterbacks Ryan McCann and Scott McEwan and fullback Matt Stanley, 1999 starting defensive end Kenyon Coleman, linemen Sean Phillips, Dave Ball and Ken Kocher, linebackers Marcus Reese and Stephen Sua and cornerbacks Joe Hunter and Keith Short. Key losses include wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, UCLA's single-season receiving yardage leader, offensive guards Brian Polak and Oscar Cabrera, tight end Gabe Crecion, outside linebacker Tony White, cornerback Jason Bell and safety Jason Zdenek.Several redshirt freshmen players will gain valuable learning experience from their first Spring practice, including offensive linemen Paul Mociler, Eyoseff Efseaff, John Ream and Steve Vieria, running back Manuel White, receiver Craig Bragg, defensive back Ben Emanuel and linebackers Tim Warfield and Ray Cassaday.
'I am excited about this football team because we have a great group of starters coming back and who have invaluable experience,' said head coach Bob Toledo.
'During our off-season program, the team has shown a great work ethic. In addition, our seniors have done a nice job of demonstrating good leadership qualities during the workouts.
'I feel we have a chance to be a very good defensive team. With two new coaches, including a new coordinator, on the staff, I feel we have renewed enthusiam. That enthusiam, coupled with the experience of our returning players, gives me reason for optimism,' Toledo said.
'Offensively, we will again be productive because we have outstanding returning players at key positions. In addition, we have a system that all of our coaches are comfortable with, and we will add some new wrinkles because we have a new coordinator involved in the game plan.'UCLA will again face a challenging schedule that features non-conference opponents Alabama and Kansas on the road and Ohio State at home. The Bruins will travel for Pac-10 conference games at Oregon State, Stanford, Washington State and USC. Arizona State, Washington, California and Oregon will come to the Rose Bowl.
Seven starters, including the entire backfield, three from the offensive line, and wide receiver Brian Poli-Dixon plus several other key performers form the nucleus of what figures to be another productive, high scoring offense. The Bruins are experienced in the areas necessary to be successful at both running and throwing the football.
UCLA has three experienced performers at this position -- two with starting experience and a third who has produced in several key situations.Junior CORY PAUS (6-2, 212) enjoyed an outstanding year in 2000, becoming only the third sophomore in school history to pass for over 2,000 yards in a season. Despite missing three full games plus all but the opening series of the year's first game, he completed 134 of 241 passes (55.6%) for 2,154 yards and 17 touchdowns. In the eight games in which he played extensively, he averaged 269.3 yards per game and he threw for at least 300 yards on three occasions. His 17 touchdown passes tied him for fifth place on that UCLA single-season list. Paus' regular-season efficiency rating of 145.8 would have led the Pacific-10 Conference if he had appeared in enough games, as would his average of 250.9 passing yards per game. He possesses a strong arm and great leadership qualities. He has a keen understanding of the offensive scheme and the ability to find his secondary receivers.
Junior RYAN McCANN (6-4, 213) and senior SCOTT McEWAN (6-3, 200) will compete for playing time behind Paus. Last year, McCann rallied the Bruins to a win over Alabama after Paus was injured on the first series and then started the next three games. During his four contests, including wins over Michigan and Fresno State, he completed 60 of 120 passes (50.0%) for 688 yards and four touchdowns. Once Paus returned to the lineup, McCann did not appear in another game and had to undergo surgery for a torn labrum in his left (throwing) shoulder prior to the end of the year. He should be ready to participate in Spring Practice.
McEwan appeared in two games a year ago and did a solid job on both occasions, playing the entire second halves against Fresno State and Wisconsin in the Sun Bowl. On the year, he completed 17 of 28 passes (60.7%) for 164 yards. The senior has an excellent grasp of the offensive system and showed poise when thrust into the lineup unexpectedly.
Redshirt freshman ROMAN YBARRA (6-2, 176), who made the team a year ago as a non-scholarship player, will also compete for playing time during the Spring. He did a fine job running the scout team a year ago.'I thought Cory played well a year ago,' said head coach Bob Toledo. 'You could see him becoming more comfortable with the offense and gaining confidence with every game. He has a strong arm, reads defenses well and possesses the intangibles to be an outstanding collegiate quarterback.'Ryan did a nice job of stepping in when Cory was injured early in the season. He did the things necessary to help the team win some big games and demonstrated that he has very good athletic ability. He will compete with Cory for playing time. Scott didn't see as much action as either Cory or Ryan but he did well in both of his opportunities. The coaching staff has a lot of confidence in him.'
UCLA has one of the top tailbacks in the nation, and is blessed with superior depth at that position along with several quality fullbacks -- just the ingredients necessary for a productive running game in 2001.Senior DeSHAUN FOSTER (6-1, 215) has established himself as one of the top tailbacks in the nation and a serious candidate for All-America honors. He should also be a prime contender for the Doak Walker Award, presented to the nation's top running back, and the Heisman Trophy. A tough inside runner with the ability to find daylight on any carry, he is well on his way to becoming one of the best runners in UCLA history.
Foster enters his senior year having already scored 31 touchdowns and 188 points and having rushed for 2,085 yards. He ranks fourth in school history with his 31 TDs and needs just nine to move into a tie for second place. His 2,085 rushing yards rank 11th in school history and the talented senior can move into second place all-time with 1,111 yards in 2001.
A year ago, Foster recorded the 13th 1,000-yard season in school history despite missing one and one-half games due to a broken bone in his right hand and performing the second half of the season with that injury. On the year, he finished with 1,037 yards, including 187 against Alabama, 159 versus Stanford, 140 versus Fresno State and 107 against Wisconsin in the Sun Bowl. He also scored 13 touchdowns, tied for eighth on the school's single-season list. The first-team All-Pac-10 performer ranked fourth in the Pac-10 in rushing, scoring and all-purpose yards. His 16 receptions also ranked third on the team and second among the returnees.
Sophomore AKIL HARRIS (6-0, 209) will be the primary backup to Foster. In 2000, he ranked third on the team with 201 rushing yards and his average of 4.5 yards per carry was the highest on the team among players with more than five attempts. He was at his best against Arizona State, rushing for a career-high 100 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 attempts. On just the second carry of his career and his first in the ASU game, he ran around right end for a 23-yard touchdown.
Redshirt freshman MANUEL WHITE (6-3, 240) will be one to watch this Spring. He stood out in many of the scout team drills and scrimmages last season and earned Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year honors from the Bruin coaching staff. As a senior at Valencia (CA) High School, he earned All-America recognition while rushing for over 2,500 yards and 38 touchdowns. During his career, he rushed for 6,745 yards, No. 4 in California state history, and scored 78 touchdowns.
Seniors ED IEREMIA-STANSBURY (6-2, 259) and MATT STANLEY (6-3, 243) each started games last season at fullback. Ieremia-Stansbury, in his first season at the position after switching over from linebacker, started six of the last nine games and appeared in all 12 contests. In addition to his outstanding blocking, he made 10 receptions with three accounting for touchdowns, including the game-winner versus Michigan. He also carried the ball five times for 24 yards.
Stanley started two of the first three games and appeared in eight games overall. He suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the Michigan game and saw limited action the rest of the season. A good blocker and productive receiver out of the backfield, the former walk-on caught three passes for 24 yards last season. Both Stanley and Ieremia-Stansbury are coming off of shoulder surgery.Redshirt junior CHRIS JACKSON (6-3, 263) also made the switch from linebacker to fullback prior to Spring Practice a year ago and demonstrated the ability to add quality depth at the position. Redshirt freshman PAT NORTON (6-1, 240) could compete for playing time after impressing the coaching staff as a member of the scout team in 2000. A formidable blocker during his career at Hart High in Valencia, CA, he led his team to two straight CIF Division III championships.
'We feel we have a number of talented running backs in our program,' Toledo said. 'DeShaun is a complete performer. He possesses great vision and size to go along with breakaway speed. He was on his way to a super season last year until he got hurt, yet still ended up with over 1,000 yards. Akil is an exciting young tailback with a bright future. We got a glimpse of his vast potential last season. Manuel was a very solid performer on our scout squad and is capable of helping us. At fullback, both Ed and Matt did a good job a year ago. Chris is waiting in the wings and we think we have a talented youngster in Pat Norton.'
Leading the way is senior BRIAN POLI-DIXON (6-5, 219) who had 53 catches for 750 yards and five touchdowns. Last season, he became just the second receiver in school history to catch at least 44 passes twice in a career, joining Kevin Jordan. Poli-Dixon also became the second player in school history to record at least 712 receiving yards in two seasons, joining J.J. Stokes. His 165-yard game against Washington last season ranks as the 11th-best single-game performance ever at UCLA.
The talented wideout has scored 18 career touchdowns and last season, he also threw a 32-yard touchdown pass. He enters the 2001 season ranked eighth on the career reception list (115) and 11th in career receiving yards (1,712).In 1998, Poli-Dixon started the final 10 games of the season at split end and enjoyed one of the most productive sophomore seasons in school history. He was the team's No. 2 receiver with 44 catches for 712 yards and a team-leading 10 aerial touchdowns. Only J.J. Stokes (728 in 1992) ever gained more yards as a Bruin sophomore and only Mike Sherrard (48) and Kevin Jordan (44) ever made more receptions.
Seniors JON DUBRAVAC (6-4, 214) and CODY JOYCE (6-2, 200) are the most experienced of the returning group of receivers. Dubravac ranked fourth on the team last season with 14 catches and scored one touchdown. Joyce battled nagging injuries for most of the season and saw most of his action on special teams.
True sophomore TAB PERRY (6-3, 218) made six catches for 58 yards in 2000. He also set school records with 29 kickoff returns and 598 yards, breaking Jim McElroy's records of 24 and 595, set in 1995. As a senior at Milpitas (CA) High, Perry earned All-America honors while making 47 receptions for 715 yards and six touchdowns
Two redshirt sophomores - JERRY OWENS (6-3, 184) and RYAN SMITH (6-3, 201) - each saw their first action for the Bruins last season, primarily on special teams. Owens, a prep All-American considered the top receiver in the West in 1998, made 63 receptions for 1,376 yards and 16 touchdowns in 1998. Smith, a second-team All-Texas selection as a senior, caught 57 passes for 744 yards and seven scores as a prep senior.
Speedy redshirt freshman CRAIG BRAGG (6-1, 183) will attempt to inject himself into the rotation this Fall after doing an outstanding job on the scout team a year ago. He made 39 receptions for over 600 yards while earning All-America acclaim at San Jose (CA) Bellarmine Prep.
'Brian has proven he is one of the most productive and dependable receivers in school history,' said Toledo. 'He became a much more consistent player last season and is primed for a big year. We also look for him to continue in a leadership role with this young and inexperienced group.
'Tab did a nice job as a freshman and we feel he has the size, speed and overall talent to be a major contributor this year. Jon and Cody have each shown flashes over the last two years. Jerry and Ryan both have the talent necessary to contribute this season, but must continue to work hard in practice. I also expect Craig to contribute this year. He is a receiver with speed and displayed plenty of big-play ability as a member of the scout team.'
The tight end position is one of the strongest on the team with two experienced players plus one redshirt sophomore vying for playing time. The depth is important because the Bruins have several multiple tight end formations and will continue to emphasize this position.
Senior BRYAN FLETCHER (6-5, 235), a gifted all-around athlete, made 10 catches for 144 yards and a couple of touchdowns last season. He appeared in all 12 games a year ago and enters the Spring as the starter at this position after starting three games in 2000.
Junior MIKE SEIDMAN (6-5, 241) appeared in 10 games as a true freshman and in all 12 games last season. Regarded as the nation's top high school tight end in 1998, he has the speed, hands and blocking ability to have a big season in 2001. He caught six passes last year and scored his first career touchdown against Stanford.
Redshirt sophomore BLANE KEZIRIAN (6-6, 238) figures to add depth at the position with continued development during Spring Practice. Senior walk-on DENNIS FOX (6-4, 232) will also compete at this position.'Despite the loss of Gabe Crecion, this remains a position of strength for us,' Toledo said. 'The performance of the tight end is critical in our offensive scheme and we have two players capable of making major contributions at the position. I would expect to throw more to our tight ends this season because of their talent and experience levels.'
Three starters return for the Bruins -- senior center TROY DANOFF (6-5, 307) and junior tackles MIKE SAFFER (6-5, 305) and BRYCE BOHLANDER (6-6, 292) -- who will have to replace a pair of three-year starters in Oscar Cabrera and Brian Polak at the guard positions. That battle will be one of the focuses of Spring Practice and several talented young players will need to step up.
Danoff, who possesses good overall athletic ability, returns to lead the line this season. He has started 21 games at center over the past two seasons. Backing him up will be a redshirt freshman, JOHN REAM (6-4, 289). Ream, considered the top lineman in his home state of Nevada as a prep senior, missed much of last year's practices after suffering a knee injury which required surgery. He is expected to be ready to take the field this Spring.Saffer started all 12 games at right tackle last season after starting seven games at right guard in 1999. A fiery leader, Saffer is a fine all-around athlete who plays with a special passion for the game. Bohlander has started the past 14 straight games at left tackle. A good all-around athlete, he appeared in every game as a true freshman and started all 12 last season. Both Saffer and Bohlander played virtually every snap a year ago.
Senior ED ANDERSON (6-6, 281) is an experienced backup on the line. Redshirt freshman STEVEN VIERIA (6-6, 296) showed plenty of size and promise in Fall practice and will get a long look in his first Spring practice as a backup tackle.
Junior BLAKE WORLEY (6-6, 309) started 10 games in 1999, nine at left tackle and one at right tackle. He came off the bench last season at both guard and tackle, appearing in five games on offense and participating on special teams. Worley will compete for the starting left guard position this Spring. Redshirt freshman Paul Mociler (6-5, 295) is expected to challenge Worley. Mociler was a highly-regarded prep prospect while starring at St. John Bosco. He earned Parade Magazine and USA Today All-America accolades. Mociler sat out much of Fall practice while recovering from knee surgery.
Redshirt sophomore SHANE LEHMANN (6-5, 284), one of the top offensive line prospects in the West as a prep senior in 1998, will battle for the open starting slot at right guard. He appeared in seven games as a reserve guard last season and graded out well. Redshirt freshman EYOSEFF EFSEAFF (6-3, 285) is a powerful young man who earned high praise throughout Fall practices last season. Efseaff could battle for a starting spot with a strong Spring. He is also expected to see some action at center.
'The offensive line will be one of the most closely watched areas of development this Spring,' said Toledo. 'Our young tackles gained valuable experience last season and performed well. We have just one starting senior, at center, and we will try to replace a couple of three-year starters at guard with some promising young linemen. I expect the competition to be intense since we will be looking at several players who will be trying to impress the coaching staff. We know that this is a gifted group and feel confident that it will come together and be able to turn that talent into a high level of performance.'
In 2001, the Bruins have eight returning starters on this side of the ball and that does not include defensive end Kenyon Coleman, who utilized a redshirt season last year following knee surgery. Six of the starting players from the front seven return. Coleman, middle linebacker Robert Thomas and defensive backs Ricky Manning, Jr. and Marques Anderson form the nucleus of the defensive unit.
Toledo is excited about this area. The blend of talent, both young and veteran, now has plenty of experience after an injury-filled 2000 season saw UCLA use nine different starters along the line.
One of the injured Bruins was senior KENYON COLEMAN (6-6, 276). Coleman suffered a knee injury in the Michigan game last season and sat out the remainder of the year. He has returned to full health after a rigorous rehab schedule. Over the years, Coleman has developed into a dominating defensive end. Despite numerous double teams, this Lombardi Award and All-America candidate enjoyed his best season as a junior in 1999. He made 50 tackles, including nine at USC and seven at Stanford, and ranked second on the squad with 3.5 quarterback sacks and nine tackles for loss. He also broke up eight passes. A gifted athlete who possesses great size, strength and speed, he started all 11 games at left end in 1999 and the first three of 2000 before going down with the injury.
Junior RUSTY WILLIAMS (6-4, 270) had a 22-game starting streak at defensive end stopped at the Sun Bowl. He sat out that game after shoulder surgery to repair an injury which limited his performance, but not his effort, for most of the 2000 season. He is expected to miss Spring practice while continuing to rehab in an effort to be at full strength for the start of Fall camp.Twin brothers DAVE BALL (6-6, 265) and MAT BALL (6-6, 263) will compete for starting spots at defensive end. Dave, who started three games at end last season and saw action in all 12 contests, is listed as the starter going into Spring at the end position opposite Coleman. Mat, who started four games last year, is expected to back up Coleman. He appeared in seven games on defense a year ago and returned an interception for a touchdown against Oregon State.Senior KEN KOCHER (6-4, 306) battled through a series of nagging injuries to see action in nine games and make one start. He possesses the size, strength and quickness to be a major force in the middle of the Bruin defense. He figures to use this Spring to battle to regain a starting spot at defensive tackle after starting nine games there in 1999.
Redshirt sophomore RODNEY LEISLE (6-4, 295) and senior ANTHONY FLETCHER (6-4, 295) will be competing with Kocher for starting jobs at the tackle position. Leisle, who started all 12 games in 2000, was one of the young players who caught the eye of the coaching staff during Spring Practice a year ago. He ranked first among lineman with 36 tackles last season, including four behind the line of scrimmage. He made a career-best seven stops against Oregon State and made an interception to clinch the Arizona win. Leisle earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors and was named a Freshman All-American by The Sporting News.
Fletcher, a strong athlete who is hard to block, ranked second among the linemen with 28 stops and ranked fourth on the team with five tackles for loss. He played in all 12 games last season and started seven times, including the first six before dealing with a series of injuries.
Junior SEAN PHILLIPS (6-6, 299), a highly-recruited performer from Texas, appeared in every game as a reserve, playing at least 15 snaps five times in 1999. Last season, he started three games at end following Coleman's injury before being sidelined by a sprained ankle. Phillips projects at the tackle position in 2001 and should compete with several candidates for playing time.Fourth-year juniors STEVE MORGAN (6-3, 288) and SAIA MAKAKAUFAKI (6-3, 288) will also compete for playing time at the two tackle positions. Morgan saw action in 11 games last season and was credited with 11 tackles, including one for loss. Makakaufaki played in three games and recorded one stop. Both have proven to be very capable reserves. Redshirt sophomore end ASI FAOA (6-4, 269) saw limited action in five games in 2000 at linebacker and defensive end, as well as on special teams. Faoa did an outstanding job in double days two years ago as a true freshman and played 29 snaps in three games (one start). He injured his back, missed the remainder of the 1999 season and was granted a medical redshirt.
'This area of our football team had more than its share of injuries in 2000,' said Toledo. 'On the plus side, we were able to get some of our talented young players on the field for valuable experience. However, you always want to have your best football players in the lineup and that was not always the case last season. It is very exciting to realize that we return virtually everybody from last year. I expect our run defense and our ability to pressure the quarterback to be much improved.
'The Spring will be an important evaluation period as our new coordinator, Phil Snow, gets to see the personnel in action for the first time. For us to be at our best, we need to have a healthy Kenyon Coleman and Ken Kocher on the field. Kenyon has grown into a dominating player with a rare blend of size, strength and speed. Ken can be a force in the Pac-10. Rodney and Anthony can also be a formidable pair at tackle spots. Rusty Williams, when healthy, is a solid defensive end with a non-stop motor. Players such as Steve Morgan, Sean Phillips, Asi Faoa and the Ball twins provide us with quality depth that now has experience as well as talent. We expect our defensive line play to be one of the strengths of the defense in 2001.'
This unit has utilized a lot of young players over the last two years. In 2001, the linebacking corps figures to be one of the strengths of the team because of its experience.
ROBERT THOMAS (6-2, 237) is the anchor of the unit at middle linebacker and was a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award last year, which honors the nation's top performer at linebacker. A starter the past two seasons, Thomas is known for his aggressiveness and ability to roam from sideline to sideline. He led the team in tackles last year with 88 and was tied for second on the squad with nine tackles for loss. Thomas led the Pac-10 with six forced fumbles and earned second-team all-conference accolades.
Redshirt sophomore DENNIS LINK (6-2, 210) saw limited action last season. A prep All-American in 1998, Link saw action in nine games backing up Thomas in the middle and playing on special teams. He recorded four tackles in his first year with the varsity.
Senior RYAN NECE (6-3, 224) ranked second on the team with his 78 tackles. He started all 12 games last season at weak side linebacker and has started the last 21 games overall. A three-year starter, he is an outstanding athlete who is adept at pass coverage as well as run support. A Freshman All-American in 1998 when he was credited with 85 tackles and six quarterback sacks, Nece ranked third on the squad with 65 tackles in 1999 and his average of 7.2 per game ranked second behind only Thomas. However, his status for Spring practice is in doubt due to off-season shoulder surgeries.
True junior MARCUS REESE (6-2, 209) will push hard for playing time, and a possible starting berth, at weak side linebacker. A multi-talented performer who was highly recruited as a prep senior in 1998, Reese runs well, hits aggressively and is always around the football. He appeared in all 12 games last season and finished with 34 tackles to rank ninth on the team.
Also in the mix on the weak side is redshirt junior AUDIE ATTAR (6-0, 205). Attar, a hard-hitting defender, has seen action in the secondary the past two years, especially in the nickel package. He also has been a major contributor on special teams. Last season, Attar appeared in all 12 games, starting once at strong safety, and made 19 tackles, two of which caused fumbles.True sophomore BRANDON CHILLAR (6-3, 229) is listed as the starter going into Spring practice at the strong side linebacker post vacated by Tony White. Chillar, who possesses good all-around ability, saw action in all 12 games last season as a backup linebacker and on special teams. He was credited with six tackles a year ago.
Senior STEPHEN SUA (6-2, 267) appeared in 11 games last season as a defensive end in passing situations. He made six tackles, three for loss and two sacks. This Spring, Sua will make a switch to strong side linebacker.Redshirt freshmen RAY CASSADAY (6-1, 247) and TIM WARFIELD (6-2, 237) will add depth as they compete in their first Spring practice. Cassaday earned All-West Coast acclaim as a linebacker/fullback at Valencia (CA) High by making 126 tackles. He projects as a reserve at middle linebacker. Warfield was one of the top linebackers in the San Diego area as senior in 1999. He earned All-America acclaim at Vista High in Oceanside, CA, making 111 tackles, including 19 for losses. Warfield is expected to battle for playing time at strong side linebacker.
'We are really excited about this group which is headed by three talented veterans,' Toledo said. 'In Robert, we have one of the nation's most gifted linebackers who is certainly deserving of All-America recognition. Ryan is a three-year starter who brings a steadying influence to the team. Marcus possesses big-play potential and will see the field extensively in 2001. In addition, we have an outstanding group of young players to evaluate during Spring Practice. This will be their opportunity to impress the coaching staff and earn playing time this season.'
The Bruins have two returning starters to lead the secondary. Several talented youngsters, some with game experience, will be competing for starting roles during Spring Practice.
Senior strong safety MARQUES ANDERSON (6-0, 207) possesses the athletic ability to be one of the country's top players at his position. A candidate for All-America honors and the Thorpe Award, presented to the nation's top defensive back, he is an exciting big-play defender. In his 10 regular-season games, he was involved in seven turnovers to tie for No. 1 in the nation with 0.7 turnovers per game. On the year, the hard-hitting safety finished third on the team in tackles with 73 stops, and his 6.6 average per game was second only to Robert Thomas. Anderson led the team with 11 tackles for loss and four fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown against USC. He ranked second on the squad with three forced fumbles and 12 pass defenses. Anderson shifted to strong safety during the final week of Spring Practice a year ago and has found a home at that position.
True junior RICKY MANNING, JR. (5-9, 180) burst on to the scene with a solid freshman season two years ago. He improved his level of play so much a year ago that the league's coaches voted him a first-team All-Pac-10 selection at cornerback. A tremendous all-around athlete who possesses fine cover skills as well as the ability to stop the run, he moved into the starting lineup in the third game of the 1999 season and has become a fixture in the secondary. Manning has started each of the last 22 games, the longest current streak of any defensive player. Last season, he ranked fifth on the team with 65 tackles. His four interceptions led the team, as did his 14 pass defenses. As a freshman, he led the team with 10 tackles for loss, including two sacks, and ranked fourth (tied) on the squad with 53 tackles.
Junior JOE HUNTER (5-11, 171) and true sophomore KEITH SHORT (5-9, 167) are expected to challenge for the starting cornerback slot opposite Manning. Hunter appeared in all 12 games last season and had 20 tackles, seeing extensive action in nickel and dime coverages. He started four games as a freshman and made 22 tackles. Short also saw action in the Bruin nickel package last season, as well as on special teams. A sure tackler, he was credited with 21 stops, many as the first Bruin down the field on kick coverage. Short made 59 tackles and seven interceptions while earning All-America acclaim at Irvine (CA) High.
Redshirt sophomore KEVIN BRANT (6-0, 192), redshirt freshman BEN EMANUEL II (6-3, 202), senior JASON STEPHENS (6-2, 192) and redshirt sophomore RYAN WIKERT (6-2, 186) will each compete for playing time in the Bruin secondary. Brant, a 1998 prep all-star, is a good, all-around athlete who appeared in all 12 games last season, mostly on special teams. He will compete for the free safety position during the Spring. Ranked among the nation's top three safety prospects out of high school, Emanuel made 86 tackles as a senior and 13 interceptions during his career at Clear Brook High in Friendswood, TX. This talented youngster who possesses outstanding size and ability enters Spring Practice in contention for the starting free safety position.
Stephens, a hard-hitting former starter, appeared in seven games last season while battling the injury bug. He finished with five tackles and an interception. As a redshirt freshman in 1998, he started the final seven games of the year and ranked sixth on the squad with 58 tackles, including five for losses. He will compete for playing time at strong safety this Spring. Wikert, another hard-hitting prospect, shifted to cornerback from safety during practices a year ago and saw action in eight games, primarily on special teams. He will provide relief for Manning while competing with Hunter and Short for the open starting berth.
'In Manning and Anderson, we have two of the best secondary performers in the college game,' Toledo said. 'However, the unit as a whole must be ready to show overall improvement and this Spring will be crucial to its development. We have a lot of youngsters who will challenge for playing time. We need several of them to step up their game and be ready to contribute despite their lack of experience. We are excited about the future of young players such as Emanuel, Short, Brant and Wikert. Add in the experience of Stephens and Hunter and I think we have the necessary ingredients for success.'
The Bruins possess one of the nation's strongest groups of kicking specialists. Both of last year's kickers return for their junior seasons and the team is also well stocked with kick returnees.
True junior NATE FIKSE (5-9, 180) turned in a second straight outstanding season as the team's punter. In 2000, he earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors after averaging 43.3 yards on 75 kicks. He had 19 kicks of a least 50 yards and 17 of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line. His regular-season average ranked first in the Pac-10 and 13th nationally and his career kicking average of 42.68 would rank No. 2 on UCLA's all-time list. An outstanding place kicker in high school, Fikse also handles the kickoff duties, routinely planting the football in the opposition's end zone.
Redshirt junior CHRIS GRIFFITH (6-2, 198) handled the place kicking chores in 1999 and earned a scholarship for the 2000 season. A second-team All-Pac-10 selection last season, Griffith connected on 11 of 14 field goals and 44 of 46 PATS and ranked second on the team with his 77 points. His 24 career field goals rank him No. 7 on the all-time list and his career field goal percentage of .750 ranks third among players listed in the Bruin Top 10. In his two years, he has made 18 of 22 attempts from inside 40 yards and six of 10 from at least 40 yards.
Senior JEFF GRAU (6-4, 248) will be in his fourth season as the long snapper for both field goals and punts. A former walk-on, he is a steadying influence on the Bruin kicking game and earned a scholarship prior to the 2000 season.
There are numerous candidates to return kickoffs and punts, but two veterans return. Junior RICKY MANNING, JR. (5-9, 180) is the team's top punt returner. Last year, he ranked eighth in the conference in punt returns with his average of 6.7 yards on 18 returns. In 1999, he averaged 10.2 yards on 10 kicks, including one for 43 yards.
True sophomore TAB PERRY (6-3, 218) set school records with 29 kickoff returns for 598 yards last season. He averaged 20.6 yards per return to rank ninth in the conference. Perry broke Jim McElroy's records of 24 returns for 595 yards, set in 1995.
'Special teams is an important part of every football team,' Toledo said. 'Griffith and Fikse give us veteran performers with outstanding credentials at both kicking positions. In Manning and Perry, we also have some dependable return specialists who will give us good field position. We will look at several other candidates to give our return game some flexibility this Spring. We are fortunate that Grau is back to handle the long snapping.'
Wed 10/16 | 7:00pm PTLive