UCLA frosh Hundley wise beyond years
The wattage behind his smile could light up the Rose Bowl on a Saturday night, but it's his arm and legs that could be lighting up the scoreboards in the fall.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley — a true freshman — looks like a leader on the field. He sounds like a leader. In fact, he considers himself a leader. At the ripe old age of 17.
Hundley is so personable, you can't help but smile when you talk to him. He's energetic, optimistic and smart.
He carried a 3.8 GPA at Chandler (Ariz.) High School — from where he graduated early to attend UCLA, and to where he will return next week, to attend his senior prom.
Yet here he is — in the glaring and intruding spotlights of Los Angeles — playing a field general on a team that is hoping to finally turn things around after some pretty dismal times (15-22 in three seasons under Rick Neuheisel).
Hundley had many scholarship offers — including Oregon and Washington — but he chose UCLA because he liked how the team was looking ahead.
“I like the aura around here.” Hundley smiled. “Even though they were coming off a 4-8 season, the team wasn't looking at the season last year. Everybody wanted a change. You could sort of feel a change was going to come.”
There hasn't been any clear indication of who will start at quarterback for the Bruins since Neuheisel declared the competition wide open. Last year, Kevin Prince played in five games but was hampered by injuries while Richard Brehaut had little to be happy about after collecting only one win in the second half of the season.
Wise beyond his years, Hundley makes offensive coordinators drool with all that he brings to a team. He's a serious dual threat, and he displayed his arsenal of weapons at a Friday night practice at Drake Stadium on the UCLA campus.
He's still raw in terms of playbook knowledge and reading blitzes, but he is improving every day. And his confidence is growing.
Hundley looks just as comfortable executing a play-action as he does throwing a fade in the end zone, although “there are definitely some things I'm thinking about when dropping back,” he admitted. “All that stuff will wipe away once I get more experience.”
Hundley has good touch on the ball and throws it with pace down the middle. He also possesses good field vision and awareness — he senses when the pocket is collapsing and uses his 4.65 speed to make positive yardage out of a potential sack, something Bruins fans should be celebrating wildly.
Perhaps his biggest strength, though, is his calmness and ability to dissect things logically and avoid any panic. He's still a teenager trying to transition from high school to a BCS school, yet he's pretty even-keeled.
“Once you know your stuff, the speed is practically the same (as high school),” Hundley said. “It's when you don’t know your stuff, the speed is really fast.”
“He's come a long way,” Neuheisel told FOX Sports West recently. “It's starting to slow down for him, but as he's trying to figure it out he's playing slow, so we got to get him quickened up and play at the speed he's capable so he can go fast; but he took a big step to me in that regard.”
This 6-foot-4, 225-pound quarterback is serious about his role for the Bruins. And very cerebral. He knows there's a lot of angst and frustration in the bleachers.
“I try not to look at the pressure that certain people put on me,” Hundley said. “My dad always tells me, I'm only 17 years old. I'm one of the youngest kids here. I was one of the youngest kids on my high school team.”
So does part of the pressure come from within?
“I do expect the best out of myself,” Hundley admitted. “I always expect for me to do what I can do to be the best I can be.”
With such a young quarterback bearing the weight of Bruin Nation on his shoulders, you'd think UCLA would be playing it a little safe with him.
You would be wrong.
It's pedal to the metal, baby.
“You gotta let it all out,” Hundley laughed.
With the addition of former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Johnson, a question on the pistol offense, somewhat of a dud last year, naturally was brought up.
“There's a pistol formation in our offense,” Hundley explained. “As things progress, there will be plays where I'm under center. Most of it will be out of shotgun, but the running back won't always be behind us. He'll be split or tight. We're going to change it up this year.”
That's probably good news — the Bruins were ranked 100th in total offense last year.
But despite a lot of angst from UCLA's fans last year, the team is excited about its 2011 goal.
“To be the first Pac-12 champions,” Hundley said with a grin. “(We are) actually a really nice team coming together.”
Like his counterpart Matt Barkley, who plays for “that team” across town, this quarterback is blessed with good looks, a media-savvy personality and a highly touted resume — Hundley was Arizona's Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior.
Speaking of that team across town, I asked him a tough question, thinking maybe I could trip him up.
“So, if you go 8-4 but USC isn't one of the teams you beat, is it a winning season?” I asked this teenager, my eyebrow raised.
“That's a tough question,” said Hundley, shaking his head. “It is, but when you get that feeling, that you didn't achieve something you wanted . . . (sigh) we'll be happy, but not beating S.C. . . . that's gonna hurt. That's one of those things that always sticks with you.”
I got schooled by a kid. He didn't bite.
Naturally, I gave him another chance to trash talk USC, but — no surprise here — he had more maturity than most adult college fans when asked what message he had for his team's rival.
“Oh man . . . oh man,” he said, laughing. “They're a good team. We're gonna put up a good match. We'll see who wins.”
Game. Set. Match. The kid.