When stars align: How Mazzone trio landed at UCLA
LOS ANGELES — Growing up, Grayson Mazzone did his best to keep the talk with his football coach dad directed towards anything but football. Golf, baseball, movies and TV – he figured his dad could use the relief.
But now, with Grayson playing in his dad Noel’s offense at UCLA, he can finally talk football.
Except it’s not what he imagined growing up.
“It’s kind of annoying now when we have to talk about it because it’s usually about what I did wrong,” Grayson said.
All three Mazzones are now at UCLA, with Noel serving as the offensive coordinator, his oldest son, Taylor, as the quarterbacks coach and youngest son, Grayson, as a wide receiver.
All three couldn’t have taken more different paths to Westwood.
Noel coached at the collegiate level for over two decades until making the jump to the NFL with the New York Jets. From there, he spent a season at Arizona State before joining Jim Mora’s UCLA staff.
Taylor wasn’t supposed to be a coach. He studied construction management at East Carolina and always intended to work in construction. But during the final game of his college career, he realized he couldn’t leave the game.
“It really took until my last game of my career to say that I wanted to coach football,” Taylor said. “My whole career I was telling my teammates and coaches, ‘I’m not coaching. I know what the lifestyle is. I don’t want to do that.’
“And then sure enough, it was halftime at the Liberty Bowl and we were playing Arkansas, and I was running off the field and I said, ‘this is it.'”
Noel had a spot open on his staff at Arizona State, so Taylor joined his father in the coaching ranks.
“This is where I feel like I live, this is where I want to be,” Taylor said.
His dad’s response?
“Are you sure?” Noel said. “I think his mom tried to talk him out of it because she knows that lifestyle.”
But Noel saw his son fall in love with coaching. He realized Taylor had a talent for working with quarterbacks and fostering their development.
“It would have been the same way if I had owned a pizza parlor, they would have wanted to own a pizza parlor,” Noel said.
Grayson’s road to UCLA took just as many twists and turns as his dad and brother’s paths did.
Grayson started out at Wake Forest as a walk-on. But after Noel was fired from the Jets, the private tuition was too much for the Mazzones. Grayson, who grew up mainly in North Carolina, enrolled at East Carolina.
“A private school like Wake Forest, you always hear about how much money it cost,” Grayson said. “I knew that they would sacrifice anything but I didn’t want them to have to do that just for me. So I figured it would be easier if I just left and went to a different school.”
Forced to sit out due to transfer rules, Grayson was mostly relegated to scout team duties. But when Noel and Taylor came out to L.A., they decided Grayson should too.
“It was sort of like his senior year, he was graduating from East Carolina, we said, ‘Hey, come out here and play with us,'” Taylor said. “The stars all kind of aligned for us.”
Noel made sure his sons were never handed anything, and Grayson was no different.
Grayson came to UCLA as a walk-on but put in the work to earn a scholarship. Through three games, he has five catches for 85 yards, including a 39-yarder in the Bruins’ big win over Nebraska on Sept. 14.
Grayson’s dad and brother couldn’t help but cheer for him on the sidelines.
“He was a scout team guy just working hard trying to get on the field any way he could,” Noel said. “He’s come light years.”
The trio knows that their paths will probably separate them again, but they are enjoying working together at the moment. Noel has seen both of his kids grow and progress in the sport and just hopes that they continue to do so, whether that’s at UCLA or elsewhere.
“What I always told all of my kids is that when you want to do something for a living do something you’ve got a passion for,” Noel said. “Because then you’re going to be good at it.”