Dec 31, 2013; El Paso, TX, USA; UCLA Bruins head coach Jim Mora on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies in the 2013 Sun Bowl at Sun Bowl Stadium. UCLA defeated Virginia Tech 42-12. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Bear And Loving At Spring Showcase: A Journey To The Heart Of Jim Mora's Dream

We were somewhere around Westwood, when the traffic began to build up. My friend and I were on our way to see the UCLA football team participate in their spring game, which has been dubbed the “Spring Showcase”. It was to be a day of player meet-and greets, a live football game and a another reason to wear a UCLA jersey.

We were taking the 405 freeway south to Carson, California where this year’s event was being held at the StubHub Center, home of MLS soccer team the LA Galaxy. It was an interesting location that was not Spaulding Field on the UCLA campus or their normal home, the Rose Bowl. The Bruins have had fall camp in San Bernardino the last two pre-seasons to branch out, so to speak, so why not have it in a new location that allows fans to see the UCLA football team closer to them in the south LA County area?

Head Coach Jim Mora not only wants this team to be great, but he wants to grow the brand. That is what the Spring Showcase was, another chance to grow the brand of UCLA Football.

“How long do we have?”

“The players signing autographs started 30 minutes ago.”

“Can we make it?”

“It is going to be very close.”

In fact it was not close at all. As we rode up Avalon Blvd. on the west side of the stadium, a long car queue had formed on the street. A bad sign for us, but a good sign for UCLA football. All week Mora had been active on Twitter trying to get the UCLA faithful out to preview the team that has a lot of expectations on them for next season. But that season is four months away. This was just a fun day at the soccer stadium.

Getting In

There was a lot of blue in Carson. The letters “UCLA” were on hats, stickers, jerseys, jackets, hoodies all over StubHub Center. It was a good crowd that kept growing well after the game had started.

We had made our way in to the beautiful complex and noticed it was a lot easier to maneuver through than the large monument to sports that is the Rose Bowl. We had met up with Go Joe Bruin writer Ryan Tabb who had secured some seats five rows up on the 40-yard line. Due to the smaller size of the complex, we were also a lot closer to the football team than we would have been if we were at the Rose Bowl.

At one point I yelled out, “MY-LES JA-CK (clap clap clapclapclap)!” Myles Jack turned to the crowd, smiled and gave a thumbs up. We were very close. We were now ready to check out these Bruins.

The Game

Coach Mora had released the roster for the two teams that were going to have a live scrimmage. Team Blue was the offensive heavy team lead by Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone. Team White was headed by Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, which made this team the defensive heavy squad.

As expected, Heisman hopeful Brett Hundley had started the game for Team Blue, yet it turned out to be his only drive of the game. A bit awkward when you realize a lot of this game was built around him, but also a smart move to not put your #1 quarterback in a position to get hurt.

Hundley was only able to get to mid-field before he punted. His day was done.

For Team White, Asiantii Woulard had gotten the start and it was rocky. The potential back-up to Hundley had a less than stellar showing, especially since he is currently in the midst of the biggest position battle on the team with Jerry Neuheisel for back-up QB.

In fact, it was Neuheisel that seemed to have the exceptional day.

Despite two interceptions (he was going against the big Bruin’s defense), Neuheisel had command of the field like no other QB that day. He even looked better than Hundley did on his one drive. As for the running backs that participated, all the scoring was on Team Blue’s side. Jordan James, Steven Manfro and Paul Perkins had all scored on rushing touchdowns. James had two of his own to make t 14-0 and 21-0.

Craig Lee for Team White was not able to score, but he did have some tremendous runs and looked flashy doing it. Some of the moves he put on not only gave him agility over his defenders, but when they did catch him, he would manage to squeeze out a few more yards. It will be interesting to see how he performs next year behind the first string offense (which was mostly on Team Blue).

As for some of the defensive players that stood out, Owamagbe Odighizuwa was one of the most impressive. After missing all of last season to an injury, he had several “sacks” and was running through Team Blue’s offensive line. Ellis McCarthy was also impressive on the D-line.

In the end, the game was called with just over two minutes left and Team Blue coming away victorious, 28-0.

The Experience

It was an overall great day at StubHub Center. It obviously did not have the fervor and atmosphere as a day at the Rose Bowl, but it was great to see so many Bruin fans out to support their team in a mock game.

There was not a lot of Hundley or Jack, but we did see a lot of guys step up and give us a show. There is not a lot you can take away from a game where the players were not going full speed, but to get the Bruin faithful excited for the season was one of Coach Mora’s plans.

The fans got out, they were loud and they took in everything in with a child-like wonder, especially the children. That was the best part of the day. To watch kids in and out of the stadium, excited that they got to meet their UCLA heroes. Clutching their prized possessions that now have autographs on them. Crowding around the first row seats after the game ended to get one last high-five, souvenir or signature from an number of the Bruin players coming over to say “hi”.

Jim Mora wants to make UCLA a national product, but first he first needs it to be a bigger product in the LA area. So far, so good. The team will have a lot of expectations on them in the coming season and with that comes the need for major support by the Bruin faithful. Make no mistake, it IS growing and the Bruin faithful will be loud and ready come August.

Mike W.R.

Twitter: @TheBigDisco

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