UCLA formidable, but still under construction
JUL 24, 2014 7:58p ET
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- A lot of schools wanted Brett Hundley to play football for them. The former five-star quarterback prospect had his pick of some vaunted, historic programs. So at the time, his decision to go with middling UCLA was somewhat confusing.
But now, as he enters his third season with the Bruins in the national championship conversation and himself an early front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, this is what Hundley was looking for all along.
"Everybody can go to an Alabama and just be another player. Everybody can go to a team that's already there and has its foundation built and just be another player," Hundley said. "I wanted to go and be a part of something special. I wanted to go some place where people say things can't be done and then do them."
Football juggernauts aren't built in a season, but it's been a quick ascent since Jim Mora came aboard and named Hundley the No. 1 quarterback over two other starters just two short years ago. Picked to finish first in the Pac-12 South Division and finish second in the conference, UCLA has finally fostered a winning football culture.
"I remember when I first got here my freshman year, there was nothing," Hundley said. "But now, to have those two wins over (USC) is huge. I remember my (redshirt) freshman year, coming off that first win, people crying, even fans were crying.
"Just to see all of that excitement, how much passion there is for that game in this city and state, being a part of it is something special."
The coming out party began at the Rose Bowl in late 2012 when the Bruins finally took back the Victory Bell, an item symbolic of football success in the city of Los Angeles. It was a fun ride, but it almost came to a premature end.
The Bruins could have been at Thursday's Pac-12 Media Day at Paramount Studios under far different circumstances had a few events turned out different. The darlings of media day, they could have been fielding some far tougher questions with their head coach wearing a different color and their quarterback getting ready for rookie camp.
Following the Bruins' win at the Coliseum last November, the Trojans hired a former Pete Carroll assistant in Steve Sarkisian. The hire left a vacancy at Mora's alma mater. A job he once considered a dream in the place he once considered home.
But he stayed, and soon thereafter, a commitment from Hundley to return for a third and final season came.
"(Athletic director) Dan Guerrero went out on a limb when he hired me. Let's not kid anybody. I wasn't the most popular hire in the history of college sports, I can promise you that. He showed a real faith in me, and I appreciate that," Mora said. "I'm committed to our players. We go recruit these kids, go into their homes and talk to their parents and we ask them to commit to us. We see coaches run out on them, and I don't think that's right."
This season, Mora will coach two of the most exciting players in the country in Hundey and linebacker/occasional running back Myles Jack. Next season, the Bruins will have their quarterback of the future in Josh Rosen, a five-star prospect out of nearby St. John Bosco who is considered one of the top quarterback recruits in the country.
So now what? The Bruins are looking more formidable than they ever have, but the juggernaut is still under construction. In the Mora era, UCLA is still 0-3 against Stanford, 0-1 against Oregon and has yet to win a Pac-12 Championship.
"I don't think they're satisfied," he said. "They understand there is a whole lot out there that they still need to accomplish to really confirm that we are who we want to be. But I'm excited about the growth."
UCLA is not quite there yet. But with the leadership in place and the foundation built, the Bruins won't be going away anytime soon.
"We've done something at UCLA, we've helped build something," Hundley said. "But it won't mean nothing if we don't finish what we started."