UCLA QB Hundley is quick study, eager learner
For the past few months, Brett Hundley's football education began daily at 6 a.m. and continued without much of a break until 7 p.m. or so. With classes starting at UCLA on Thursday, Hundley's days will get even longer, and his breaks will evaporate.
The redshirt freshman quarterback claims to love every minute of the grind. In fact, mastering the nuances of the Bruins' new offense and playing against dangerous NCAA defenses aren't even the biggest challenges in the 19-year-old's life right now.
''It is the time management - oh my gosh,'' Hundley said with a shake of his head. ''I thought my time management was good at first, but as soon as I (got the) starting quarterback job, it all shot through the roof. You've really got to know how to manage your time, or you're going to get behind so quick. It's way too easy to get behind here.''
Yet Hundley is far ahead of even the most optimistic schedule in Westwood, where his play for the Bruins' new coaching staff has fans salivating about the next few years. Hundley's new coaches suspected he could handle such a stiff challenge precisely because of his ability to grind.
''He's making tremendous strides every week, and it's because he works really hard at it,'' coach Jim Mora said. ''It's very serious to him. It's important to him.''
Although Hundley sometimes wears a festive knit cap after games, complete with a pom-pom on top, that's about as goofy as he gets in public. In every other aspect of his demeanor, it's clear he's serious about his sport.
And Hundley is off to a somewhat spectacular start in his first four games at UCLA (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12), which visits Colorado on Saturday. After winning the top job in a training camp competition with two former starters, Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, Hundley has been remarkably comfortable at the controls of coordinator Noel Mazzone's offense.
Hundley scored on his first collegiate snap, running 72 yards for a score to start off a blowout win at Rice. After four games, he is the nation's seventh-leading passer with 299.8 yards per game, leading all freshmen.
Two weeks after throwing four touchdown passes in an upset win over Nebraska, Hundley passed for a season-high 372 yards in the Bruins' seven-point loss to No. 18 Oregon State last Saturday. He racked up 404 yards of total offense against the Beavers - the fifth-biggest single-game total in school history.
Hundley is the first UCLA quarterback to pass for 300 yards in three consecutive games, no small feat at a school that produced Troy Aikman, Tommy Maddox, Cade McNown and Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban.
And he did it all in his first four games of college football. No wonder his veteran teammates are impressed - including tailback Johnathan Franklin, who has already been the Pac-12's player of the week twice this season while rushing for 586 yards.
''Brett is the kind of player who makes everybody better, even off the field,'' Franklin said. ''He's a freshman, but it doesn't seem like it when you're working together. He lives for football, and that's what motivates him to get better. He's got that drive.''
This remarkable season might have never happened after coach Rick Neuheisel was fired last fall. Neuheisel tenaciously recruited Hundley to UCLA, persuading the Phoenix-area product to join a rebuilding effort that never really took off, but the veteran coach was dismissed late in Hundley's redshirt season, right before UCLA lost the Pac-12 title game.
Hundley would have had plenty of options as a transfer, but on the night Neuheisel was dismissed, he emphatically reaffirmed his commitment to UCLA. He didn't waver, even while the Bruins' hiring process stretched for several weeks before Mora got the job.
''The one thing me and my dad talked about was that you pick a school,'' Hundley said. ''The football team is one part of it, but it's not all about football. UCLA is a great school in a great place to live. It's a great education. Football or not, being here and going to school is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.''
Hundley already excels in the mature game management that UCLA lacked so regularly in recent years under Neuheisel, and Mora is grateful for the quarterback he inherited from the departed coach. When Mora watched the tape of his first collegiate loss to Oregon State, only a few positives emerged.
''Sometimes when you have a game like that, where we felt a little bit disoriented on offense, you tend to come out of it thinking nothing went right,'' Mora said. ''But I went back and looked at the decisions that Brett made - when to throw it, where to throw it, how to throw it, when not to throw it - and it just signaled another step in his progression.''
Hundley realizes his progress is far from finished. He's still studying daily with Mazzone, who was at Arizona State when the Sun Devils tried to keep Hundley near home.
''He comes up with, his ideas, where he gets them from, I don't know,'' Hundley said. ''But the plays he creates and the things he has us doing with play schemes and stuff are probably the best I've seen. It's crazy how good his plays are. I just want to keep getting better, to bring another piece for him and let my talents shine.''