UCLA spring showcase at Rose Bowl has players feeling 'like L.A. is Bruin fans again'

A few hours before UCLA players dragged each other to the ground as part of a one-on-one competition and linemen thudded viciously into one another, there were fist bumps and hugs in the revival of a grand Bruins tradition.

Wearing white sweatpants and hoodies adorned with a Bruins logo on the chest, players disembarked from a bus at the Rose Bowl and walked between roped-off lines of family and friends, some cheering and others holding up cellphones to document the moment.

Coach DeShaun Foster, easy to spot in a blue sweatsuit amid the sea of white, paused to interact with a handful of fans on his way into the stadium.

With UCLA holding its first Bruin Walk since the end of the Jim Mora era and staging its first spring showcase at the Rose Bowl since 2015, it was fun to be a Bruin again.

“Coach Foster has L.A. behind us again,” defensive lineman Jay Toia said, “so it feels great.”

A crowd of 11,703 that dwarfed previous turnouts for the spring showcase at Drake Stadium saw the UCLA offense defeat the defense 43-31 in a reversal of fortunes given the defense’s dominance during much of spring practices.

“It was easier for them to score points in my score system,” Foster said with a laugh of the offense, “but the defense did a great job all spring.”

Foster’s system awarded points to the offense for first downs, field goals and touchdowns while granting the defense points for stops and holding the offense to a field goal in red-zone situations.

Quarterback Ethan Garbers continued his late-spring surge, particularly when it came to connecting with wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala. After Garbers found Mokiao-Atimalala over the middle during one team period, the quarterback rolled out on the next play and completed a pass to his new favorite receiver near the sideline.

“Titus is my guy, for sure,” Garbers said of the receiver who sat out last season for unspecified reasons, “and we’re definitely building a good connection going into the season.”

The offensive line featured a different look than it had earlier this spring, with Josh Carlin moving from right guard to center and Bruno Fina from left tackle to right guard. Jaylan Jeffers took Fina’s spot at tackle and Carlin displaced redshirt freshman Sam Yoon, who played second-string center.

Foster said the movement was intended to increase players’ versatility while also allowing them to try new positions should reinforcements arrive from the transfer portal. The Bruins have already received a commitment from former Nevada Las Vegas guard Alani Makihele and are recruiting a handful of other offensive linemen.

“It was just to make sure that guys can play multiple positions,” Foster said of the juggling on the offensive line, “in case there’s multiple injuries or anything crazy that can happen in a game.”

A running game that was missing fullback Anthony Adkins (knee) did not produce many explosive plays except for one memorable touchdown. Joshua Perry, a boy who had undergone a liver transplant at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, took a handoff from Garbers and ran untouched into the end zone before being hoisted into the air by players from both the offense and defense.

It was a daylong celebration featuring notable alumni including Chicago Bulls All-Star guard Zach LaVine and football luminaries Wendell Tyler, Gaston Green, Zach Charbonnet and Laiatu Latu, who was recently selected No. 15 in the NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts.

The spring showcase concluded a whirlwind week for Toia, who withdrew from the transfer portal on Monday — later joking it was a “four-day vacation” — and attended the draft Thursday to support Latu alongside Foster and defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe.

“It’s just culture and development over everything,” Toia said. “That’s ultimately what brought me back.”

The culture shift could be heard long after the showcase ended, fans who lingered for an autograph session with players also ringing the Victory Bell.

“This is my fourth year and this is the first time we’re doing this,” Toia said. “You could just tell it was a whole different type of energy here, so yeah, it was great. … Coach Foster brings this new type of energy. Everyone’s excited, it’s like L.A. is Bruin fans again.”

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