Neuheisel hopes he can impress Mora

April, 4, 2012
4/04/12
5:17
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Jerry Neuheisel looks, walks and talks so much like his father that if it wasn't for his uniform, you might think Rick Neuheisel is still coaching at UCLA when you see him on the practice field.

Jerry had his teammates in awe when he did an impression of his father during a talent show last fall and he arrived at the UCLA spring camp opener Tuesday looking to do another impression of dear old dad, who rose from walk-on to starter and Rose Bowl MVP during his playing days with the Bruins.

So just because Rick was fired as coach of the Bruins last November and replaced by Jim Mora, that doesn't mean the Neuheisel era is completely over at UCLA. Neuheisel has every intention of trying to catch Mora's eye with his play and working his way up the quarterback depth chart.

"I definitely consider myself to be a part of the competition," Jerry Neuheisel said. "If you didn’t, you wouldn’t want to be a part of Division I football. You always want to be the guy who is leading the team out of the tunnel and winning the games and so for me that’s my goal and I’m not looking for anything less."

Neuheisel signed with the Bruins out of Loyola High in 2011 when his father was still coaching but did not enroll at UCLA until after last season -- a process known as "grey shirting" used to extend the eligibility of players.

He sat out the second half of his senior year in high school after suffering a concussion, so it had been about a year and a half since he last participated in a football practice and he said it was a bit of an emotional disappointment to walk through the gates of Spaulding Field and not see his dad out there for his return to the field.

"I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t," Neuheisel said. "It was always my dream to play for him, but he’d tell me I would be foolish not to keep going after my dream of being the UCLA quarterback just because he’s not here. That’s always been the goal for me and I know he’s out there rooting me on. And I know he wishes he could be coaching me, but I also know he’ll be our No. 1 fan."

That Neuheisel is still with the Bruins is a surprise to some. Many figured that Jerry got a scholarship onlly because Rick was coach and that after his father left, Jerry would soon follow him out the door. Jerry said he never even entertained that idea, despite the potential awkwardness of playing under another coach.

"As much as people don't believe me when I say this, I didn’t come here to play for my dad," he said. "I came here to be a UCLA Bruin. Even when he left, the thought never crossed my mind. I want to go to school here and I want to be the quarterback here."

Neuheisel has been a bit of an afterthought when it comes to the open competition for quarterback underway at UCLA. Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, the only two with Division I playing experience, are thought to be the early frontrunners with Brett Hundley close behind and incoming freshman T.J. Millweard getting some early hype.

Neuheisel is the forgotten man in all of this seemingly by everyone except the coaching staff. He got plenty of action Tuesday during the first spring session and became the surprise of the day when he was the third quarterback to have his number called after Prince and Hundley.

"Same as the rest of them," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Noel Mazzone said of Neuheisel's chances in the quarterback competition. "He’s in there competing and battling like all the rest of the five guys with him. I’m going to play the best guy. I’m going to play the guy who can run the offense the best."

Neuheisel completed 47 of 80 passes for 590 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in four games as a senior in high school and as a junior, he completed 117 of 190 passes for 1,621 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was a top-30 quarterback recruit nationally, and yet even with his famous last name, managed to go unnoticed heading into spring camp.

"I kind of like that being under the radar," he said. "It's not a bad place to be. Especially on the first day after missing so much time. Getting to practice was much awaited and much anticipated and I loved being out there, but you could tell I had a few butterflies."

Because Neuheisel sat out last season, he might have a bit of an advantage over some of the other quarterbacks who have to scrap their knowledge of the Pistol offense the Bruins ran the last two years and learn Mazzone's spread. Neuheisel, however doesn't see it as too much of an advantage. He was around practice on a regular basis and picked up a thing or two because "I had a close relation to the coach," he said.

"I already knew that offense," he said. "But I think we’re all on square one with this offense. We’re all on equal ground and I’m just looking forward to getting my shot."

Rick Neuheisel's days at UCLA might not be completely over just yet. The former coach recently signed on as an analyst for the new Pac-12 Network, meaning his job duties might someday bring him back to the Bruins' field for game prep and interviews. Jerry Neuheisel said he'd be thrilled to see that.

"I hope he does because I’m going to be photo-bombing the back of the camera and making fun of him the whole time," Jerry joked, before turning serious. "At some point I’m sure he’ll be around here and it’ll be great to see him on this field again."

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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