The UCLA Bruins football players renewed a long-standing tradition Tuesday when they sprinted off the practice field and jumped over a wall surrounding the facility just before practice began, ending the session just after pre-practice stretching.
The Bruins (6-7) are preparing to face Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 31, but members of the senior class instigated a ditch day for the team, which planned on seeing a movie Tuesday afternoon.
About 90 percent of the players participated, while a handful of players walked dejectedly off the field and the coaching staff stood at midfield and watched in bewilderment.
Mike Johnson, the interim coach in the wake of Rick Neuheisel's firing and in advance of newly-hired Jim Mora taking over, said he knew about the tradition but wasn't aware the players were going to bolt Tuesday.
"I had practice scheduled, but if there is a tradition of jumping over the wall, then I’d rather have it happen today," Johnson said. "You don’t want to lose the day of work, but at the same time that’s what the last two weeks were for. We covered a lot in those last two weeks."
The tradition was supposed to have ended. Last year's senior class implored the team not to jump over the wall because it sent the wrong message about a team that had been mired in mediocrity for the better part of the last decade. Some current players were not happy the tradition was renewed.
"I tried to voice my opinion about it but the seniors wanted to do it and ultimately it’s their call," junior quarterback Kevin Prince said. "I was hoping it was kind of out of our system, but clearly it’s not."
Running back Johnathan Franklin, a team captain, has been vocal about changing the losing tradition at UCLA over the past two seasons and acknowledged that skipping practice wasn't exactly the way to send the message that things were, indeed, heading in the right direction.
"I’m in agreement with that, but like I said it was the seniors' call," Franklin said. "In my opinion, if I’m here next year, it won’t be happening."
Cornerback Andrew Abbott, one of the team leaders, received an earful from defensive coordinator Joe Tresey as both returned to the locker room after the stunt, but said there was no harm in renewing the tradition of going over the wall.
"It's just a tradition for the Bruins," Abbott said. "If people can't understand that, then hey. It's just a little fun."