When he was getting offers from college football programs, senior offensive lineman Jon Gaines II kept his studies in mind. He knew that UCLA would be a consistent mix of strong football competition and impactful learning. Gaines II even sat through a class session before he committed to the Bruins.
“I was more interested in the academics and I knew UCLA was playing big-time football,” he said. “My biggest deciding factors were academics first and football second.”
Gaines II was committed to Princeton prior to head coach Chip Kelly showing interest. Kelly would speak to the players about academics. Gaines II also had a plan for his studies, he desired to learn about race, ethnicity, and politics.
“I knew I was going to be a political science major since I was 16. I knew I wanted to graduate in three years,” he said. “The thing I really enjoy about UCLA is a lot of classes overlap too, so I was able to take a lot of African American Studies classes and then that ended up helping me graduate with a major and a minor in three years.”
Prioritizing academics would put Gaines II on the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll for six quarters.
Gaines II is currently enrolled in the Transformative Coaching and Leadership graduate program in the school of Education at UCLA. In December, Gaines II will graduate with his master’s degree.
To Gaines II, the political landscape and football are based on people and connections. A football locker room is “the most ideologically sound version of America” to Gaines II as it is a group of people from various backgrounds and beliefs working together.
“You have a locker room that has people that come from all around the world and all around the country,” he said. “I had to understand how to talk to people who didn’t have the same cultural background as me and understand how I can relate to them best.”
African American studies classes interested Gaines II throughout his time at UCLA. His favorite was a Black Core class.
“I think we went over so many movies I watched and understand the social commentary, especially from directors like Jordan Peele,” Gaines II said. “Everything under that Afro-Am landscape is really interesting to me because understanding that Black history is American history.”
Gaines II has played every position on the offensive line. For two consecutive seasons, he helped UCLA average over 200 rushing yards per game. During the 2021 season, the Bruins were 14th in the nation in rushing offense.
Outside of his studies and football, Gaines II enjoys cooking. He took on cooking responsibilities for the team’s Fourth of July meal. He hopes to recruit younger players to help him cook the team’s Thanksgiving meal later in the season. Gaines II likes to cook homemade pasta and rice dishes.
“I want to make the best dish possible,” Gaines II said. “I think cookies is an expression of love and I want something that somebody just loves.”