LOS ANGELES — The UCLA running game seldom paced the Bruins last year. Trudging through one of the worst rushing seasons in school history, it was almost always the running game that held the Bruins back. Not so during Monday’s practice.
After a sudden rash of injuries knocked out two-thirds of the UCLA running backs, Bolu Olorunfunmi and Josh Kelley, a transfer from UC Davis, carried the entire unit for the three-hour practice at Spaulding Field. Their herculean effort earned each a round of applause during the team’s post-practice huddle and acknowledgement from Coach Jim Mora.
After their rushing attack ranked second-to-last in the nation last year, the Bruins will take any positive sign for a turnaround, even if it comes when Jalen Starks, Nate Starks and Brandon Stephens all miss practice with minor undisclosed injuries and Soso Jamabo was forced to a miss a fourth straight day with back tightness.
“Those guys were in a situation where they had to suck it up and go and they didn’t try to come out for any reps or anything, they just kept going and kept going,” running backs coach DeShaun Foster said of Olorunfunmi and Kelley. “I’m just proud of guys like that. When you build an attitude like that, good things will happen.”
With five running backs returning with playing experience, UCLA’s stable was crowded, but Olorunfunmi has emerged as the starter so far in training camp. The junior, known mostly for a punishing running style last year, promised himself that he would get faster this season. He worked with strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi in the weight room and meticulously watched his diet. When he showed up for camp, he had dropped 10 pounds and about 3 percent body fat since leading the team in rushing touchdowns with four last year. With his new-found burst on the field, Olorunfunmi ripped off several long runs during team periods Monday.
“I’m more agile,” Olorunfunmi said. “I’m able to see things better in a way, and I can move faster. It’s fun.”
Kelley, a Lancaster native, played in 21 games in two years with UC Davis with 1,139 career yards before transferring to UCLA. When he got to Westwood, he relentlessly called Foster and fired off emails for two months before getting his official release from UC Davis and attending a UCLA camp to earn his spot on the team.
“He’s a great back,” Foster said of Kelley, who will redshirt this season because of transfer rules. “He’s fast, runs hard….