UCLA heads back to San Bernardino for training camp

Legendary college football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant took his Texas A&M Aggies out to Texas Hill Country for a brutal training camp that is now infamously referred to as “The March to the Desert” in football circles.

This is the story of the UCLA version: The March to the Inland Empire, which started on Wednesday and continues though Aug. 17.

While second-year coach Jim Mora is still far from legendary, the Bruins’ San Bernardino training camp is fast becoming infamous.

The Bruins first left the confines of Westwood for preseason workouts last year and the results were difficult to argue: The Bruins went 9-5.

UCLA shocked the college football world early in the season with an upset of Top-25 Nebraska and later in the season with an even bigger upset over rival USC.

The culture change ushered in by their new coach began with 10 days of brutal workouts in blistering temperatures. And it brought the team together in ways no one could have ever imagined.

“The success that we had last year is because we came together as a brotherhood there and we became close,” said offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo. “What happened was, Coach Mora took us to a place that where we were out of our comfort zone, demanded a lot of us and we came out a different team.”

As is sometimes the case on every team, cliques formed by class and positions. But the issue had become a pressing one in Westwood in recent seasons and drove wedges in between teammates that needed to work as just that – a team – in order to win.

Mora put a stop to that right away. He assigned roommates for camp grouping offensive players with defensive players and seniors with freshmen. The team stayed in the dorms of Cal State San Bernardino, giving the camp a pro-style feel. Bonds became tighter. Each workout, more intense than the one before, became a badge of honor.

“In San Bernardino, there’s nothing else to do really, for us, than spend time together as a team,” Su’a-Filo said. “Being able to accomplish something like that in a tough training camp like that meant a whole lot to us. And that trust that we had for one another really helped us be a team.”

When Mora first broke it to the team that the first 10 days of training camp would not be on campus at Spaulding Field but 100 miles away at CSUSB’s athletic fields, the news was not well received.

“I didn’t even know where San Bernardino was. All the guys on our team from that area was like, ‘Uh oh, oh gosh. Dude, it’s freaking hot out there,'” Su’a-Filo said. “We didn’t know what to expect so I think that’s why it was tough for us out there.”

This year, there’s a certain anticipation and even an excitement about the camp. The Bruins are looking to build on a breakout season and know that the San Bernardino camp is the first step toward success.

No matter how hot it is.

“I don’t care how hard training camp is, it’s supposed to be hard. It’s a real man-maker,” Su’a-Filo said. “That tone we set in practice and that standard that we set in the beginning of the season, we’ll try to carry it all the way through and will be the key to our success.”