UCLA’s Devin Fuller and mom Cindy Mizelle keep everything in tune
When UCLA and Texas kick off on Saturday, cheers for the blue and gold won’t just come from the stands at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, or even Southern California. Nope, if you listen closely enough, you’ll also hear a few shrieks from the back of Steely Dan’s tour bus, which will be driving around somewhere in Long Island.
There, one of UCLA’s biggest fans — and one of the most accomplished back-up singers in America — will be cheering every time the Bruins score a touchdown or stop the Longhorns from doing the same.
Her name is Cindy Mizelle, and though her name might not sound familiar, chances are pretty good you’ve heard of some of her high-profile current and former employers. Since beginning her musical career at 17, Mizelle has toured with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross.
As a matter of fact, it was when she was on tour with Vandross that she discovered she was pregnant with her oldest child, someone you’ve also probably heard of. That would be UCLA’s Devin Fuller, one of the Bruins’ most explosive playmakers and the team’s second-leading receiver last season.
That’s right, though Fuller is best known for his athletic exploits, music is also in his blood, literally. Before Fuller even came out of the womb, he’d already gone on a tour that would make most music fans jealous, bouncing to the smooth R&B beats of Vandross himself.
"Luther was totally on board with it," Mizelle told FOXSports.com this week, explaining the moment she told her boss she was pregnant. "He said ‘Let’s get some maternity clothes and keep on rolling!’ "
Keep on rolling might also be the best way to describe Mizelle’s career, which thanks to the generosity of Vandross, never had to stop as her family continued to grow. According to Mizelle, Vandross always encouraged those touring with him to bring their children along for the ride. He went so far as to set up a nursery on the back of tour bus, prior to and following the birth of each of Mizelle’s three children.
And it was on one of those tours that Fuller had one of the first and most vivid memories of his childhood.
"Oh, Luther Vandross was definitely my first concert," Fuller said, after a recent UCLA practice. "She (my mom) brought me out on stage. I didn’t know what was going on."
Regardless of whether Fuller was aware of his surroundings at the time, what’s indisputable, is that he had an upbringing unlike anyone else in college football. In a sport where dozens of players are the sons of former coaches or players (including Fuller, whose father, Bart, played at TCU), it’s safe to say that few (if any) others were on a first name basis with Luther Vandross.
Of course that’s not to say that having a parent with such a high-profile job was always easy. With his mom on tour so much, it meant that Fuller, his younger brother Jordan (a big-time football prospect in his own right) and sister Jasmine spent a lot of time away from mom and with grandparents, aunts and uncles.
"We learned how to use Skype at a young age," an unfazed Fuller said, although it was a different emotional experience altogether for his mother.
"I would miss them dearly," she said. "I’d send for them (any time I could). They’ve always been a part of it. They’d be welcome where I’m touring."
While music consumed the early part of Fuller’s life, sports became his passion as he got older. From the beginning, he was always an athlete — first playing baseball, before transitioning to the football field full-time in high school.
Coincidentally, Mizelle began touring at the same age Fuller first got on the radar of most major colleges.
"It was his junior season," Mizelle said, pausing for emphasis, to describe the moment she realized her son had gifts that most kids his age didn’t. "I see this kid running and I’m like ‘Is that Devin?’ All of a sudden, he just came into his own."
I see this kid running and I’m like ‘Is that Devin?’ All of a sudden, he just came into his own.
When it came time to choose a school, Fuller initially planned on staying at home in New Jersey and playing at Rutgers, but those plans changed right before Signing Day, when Rutgers coach Greg Schiano elected to leave for the NFL.
The doors opened to a new school, and new opportunities across the country, where UCLA had an open scholarship and a need for someone with Fuller’s skill set. He ended up selecting the Bruins after a visit, during which he felt comfortable with both the new coaching staff (including the recently hired Jim Mora) and the city; much of Mizelle’s family was in the Los Angeles area.
It’s also where Fuller used a lesson passed on from his mom to handle his first taste of adversity before eventually finding stardom.
When Fuller arrived on campus, he did so believing he’d have a shot to earn the team’s vacant starting quarterback job. Fuller competed for the gig before it eventually went to a strong-armed redshirt freshman named Brett Hundley.
Rather than mope, Fuller harkened to lessons he’d learned watching his mother’s music career evolve. Back then, he and his siblings learned that sometimes things don’t always go as planned.
Fuller decided to move to wide receiver, realizing — to quote Luther Vandross — sometimes you’ve just got to keep on rolling.
With them watching me, they know it’s not all gravy all the time. It’s about work ethic, it’s about patience and development. Those are very big traits they learned from watching mom.
"With them watching me, they know it’s not all gravy all the time," Mizelle said. "It’s about work ethic, it’s about patience and development. Those are very big traits they learned from watching mom."
And after years of watching mom, the tables have turned and it’s mom who is watching her kids, specifically Fuller who has evolved into an All-Pac-12-caliber wide receiver. He finished last year with 43 catches for 471 yards and four touchdowns. And this year, he’s picked up right where he left off as he sits behind only Jordan Payton for most catches on the team with nine.
It’s those numbers that have made mom proud — and eager to see how the Bruins fare Saturday against Texas (FOX, 7:30 p.m ET).
"I want to see them whip their tails," Mizelle said, when asked to give a prediction on the game.
She then paused before her motherly instinct took over.
"(I want them) to come out without any injuries," she said. "You know, all the normal mommy stuff."
That’s right, Mizelle may be a musician by trade, but she is always a mom first. It’s something her son has never doubted.
"She’s always been just ‘mom’ to me," Fuller said.