The UCLA Bruins football team flaunt experience with 62 letter winners returning to compete for the 2021 season. UCLA can use their football wisdom to help bring younger players up to speed.
“With the returning production that we have coming back, each player knows exactly what to do and where they fit within the scheme,” said grad student defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight. “We’re able to pass it along and give the younger guys exactly what they need to see.”
Among them is senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who is currently 10th in UCLA career passing yards and seventh in all time completed passes. Head coach Chip Kelly admires his inquisitive nature and his toughness in the face of quarterback pressures during games. Kelly recalled times when Thompson-Robinson would approach him with lists of questions.
“The one thing that I love about Dorian is his thirst for knowledge,” Kelly said. “He constantly is working on his game, whether it’s the physical stuff, whether it be the weight room, speed work, film watching.”
Their 4-3 overall record does not properly highlight the talents of the Bruins. In every loss, they were within five points of their opponents. In their wins, they held their opponents to less than 20 points.
Thompson-Robinson has been telling his teammates that they are a “we-not-me” team, success will come when they maintain strong bonds with one another.
“If you hit somebody with your finger, you’re not gonna do much, but if you hit somebody with your fist, you’ll do a whole lot of damage,” Thompson-Robinson said. “That’s what we’re gonna do this year, we’re gonna stay together through thick and thin.”
Last season, the Bruins struggled with keeping possessions. In their 42-48 loss to Colorado, the Bruins committed three fumbles that led to turnovers. Kelly noted how the Bruins “have to do a better job of protecting the football.”
“In the games we lost, we lost the turnover battle,” he said. “We have to not give it up too much on the offensive side of the ball. We were better at that in the spring.”
The team also challenges each other through weekly chess tournaments. Kelly brought in a chess mentor to teach the quarterbacks the game, but he ultimately became a mentor of the entire team.
“We get after it on the chessboard, it’s fun,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We’re always learning something, just like football and it can be applied to all aspects of life.”
During Pac-12 Football Media Day, Thompson-Robinson challenged Oregon defensive back Kayvon Thibodeaux to a game of chess.
Both the offensive and defensive players have been showing high levels of chemistry and commitment. Thompson-Robinson has been putting in extra work with the offensive line while the defensive line spends time with each other on and off the field.
“When we’re out there doing drills, they’re all together, they’re always doing abs together, they’re always doing footwork together,” Thompson-Robinson said about the defensive players. “I think that’s been the biggest improvement, all the guys are rallying to the ball.”
UCLA will battle Hawaii, LSU, and Fresno State before getting into conference play.