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Second-coming? Jerry Neuheisel eyes UCLA QB spot

2/16/2015

Jerry Neuheisel looks like his dad, former UCLA quarterback and coach Rick Neuheisel, but their most notable resemblance is when they speak. The delivery, tone of voice, mannerisms, the tendency to make sport of the moment is so similar it's uncanny.

It's amusing for those who know father and son, and it's amusing for Jerry.

"My mom will call and I can answer the phone and pretend I'm my dad and she will have no idea for the first two minutes," he said. "Then I can't take myself seriously any more and I burst out laughing. I think I spent too much time in the press conference room as a child. Now I can't get rid of it."

He's like his dad, now the lead football analyst for the Pac-12 Network, in other ways. When Rick Neuheisel showed up at UCLA, he was a walk-on who became best known for holding for All-American kicker John Lee. He wasn't big or athletic and didn't have a great arm. Little was expected of him. Jerry Neuheisel isn't a walk-on but he hasn't generally been considered a legitimate candidate to start behind center for the Bruins.

Yes, he came off the bench for the injured Brett Hundley to beat Texas last year, but that smacks of an isolated moment. After all, touted recruit Josh Rosen has arrived in time for spring practices, and he looks as if he stepped out of quarterback central casting. The younger Neuheisel doesn't really have a chance, right?

"I would say Neuheisels have a lot of experience being counted out of quarterback competitions," Jerry said. "In any competition, whether there's a favorite or not, it comes down to who's the best player. I know at the end of the day it won't be about who's who but who's the best guy to lead the team. And I wouldn't want it any other way."

Rick Neuheisel, of course, won the starting job for UCLA to start the 1983 season, lost it to Steve Bono after a 0-2-1 start, but replaced the injured Bono to lead the Bruins to a win over USC and a Rose Bowl triumph over then-No. 4 Illinois, with Neuheisel winning game MVP.

So dismissing Jerry might be premature. Sure, he's the underdog, but he showed moxie against Texas in difficult circumstances, completing 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards with no interceptions and two touchdowns, including a beautiful 33-yard game-winner on a double move from receiver Jordan Payton. While that's a small bit of serious work with which to evaluate Neuheisel, it resonated with larger meaning to the rising junior quarterback.

"It just showed that I could do it," Neuheisel said. "You dream about that moment. You grow up in a college coach's house and I dreamed about wearing UCLA's colors and being a college quarterback and winning a game like that. I can remember being in my back yard making that throw, only it was usually a Hail Mary and not a pump fake. It was one of those moments when your dream becomes your reality and then you know you can do it."

The game film, which, yes, he's watched a few times wasn't all rainbows and rose petals, though. Neuheisel saw himself going through his progressions too fast. He was too focused on what he could ascertain from his pre-snap reads. A couple of times, he almost tossed interceptions when he made assumptions about coverages that weren't correct.

When Neuheisel talks about the game, he sounds like a coach. He rolls through his analysis, little of it self-congratulatory, ticking off things he learned from the tape and what he most needs to improve. It's no surprise that he wants to follow in his dad's footsteps and coach college football. The nuances of the sport clearly intrigue him.

"I'm sure it gets old for my brothers and my mom, but we sit around every family dinner going over different things that have happened," Neuheisel said of the father-son football banter. "We talk about strategy possibly more than any other father-son could talk about it. We've watched that Texas game at least 15 different times. We have a very special connection around the game of football."

Not surprisingly, he has a theory about the Bruins 2014 season, which started with talk of a dark horse run to the College Football Playoff, but the Bruins ended up losing the South Division title on the last weekend of the season after being upset by Stanford.

"I think last year we let the hype get to us," he said. "It had been a while since UCLA was talked about like that, being in the top-10, being in the national championship hunt. I think we let it get to us a little bit. But I think that will be valuable to us this year. We want to make sure we don't end up one game short of the Pac-12 championship next year."

Neuheisel seems pretty confident he can be a part of that quest in 2015. To him, the equation is pretty straight-forward: Prepare, compete and then see what the coaches decide.

"The quarterback competition will take are of itself," he said.