UCLA's quarterback is on a trajectory for potential greatness.
Imagine being physically and mentally capable to do anything in this world and being relegated to watching others do it. Some less talented and some more experienced. This is the struggle of the highly touted red-shirt freshman quarterback whose father ran the rock for the University of Arizona and uncle threw it for Wichita State. Brett Hundley knows the stakes and had to wait for his shot.
Sitting out his first year at UCLA, Brett's mind had to be in the schoolbooks and playbooks alike. At the time, Rick Neuheisel, the coach who recruited Hundley and a former Bruin QB himself, was on shaky ground. Neuheisel is the best of teachers because he knows how this game is played inside and away from the packed houses on Saturday. Hundley couldn’t take this time for granted.
He learned valuable lessons last season in the face of defeat in a deafening Los Angeles. This is the UCLA vs. USC rivalry. Hundley can do nothing but watch as the Bruins get blown out. Matt Barkley throws for 4 bills and 6 touchdowns. Marquise Lee has 224 yards. Robert Woods catches 12 footballs. The final score is 50-0. Trojans everywhere rejoice. Ducks everywhere rejoice the next week as Oregon trounces UCLA 49-31 in the first Pac-12 championship game. Hundley knows they'll be better days and can't wait to get on the field.
Just when things seem like they can’t get worse, Rick Neuheisel is fired. The coach made Hundley the first 5-star-QB recruit in Bruin history and Jim Mora Jr. is brought in. Having coached Michael Vick in the NFC Championship, Mora knows how to get the most out of dual threat QB's. The first game of his Bruins career, Hundley goes 21-28, throws for 202 yards, two TDs and a pick. On the first play that he touches the ball, Hundley runs 72 yards for a touchdown. Proud like a father, Neuheisel beams via twitter: "Touchdown for Brett Hundley on his first collegiate play! The recruiting was worth it."
The next week, a 36-30 home win over Nebraska, Hundley puts up a 305 yard, four touchdown effort. Looks like the kid is on his way. Fast forward to that game he had to watch last year – this time UCLA is home in the Rose Bowl. It was Hundley's first taste of the rivalry that will define his college existence. UCLA, before the game, defeated USC once in the last13 years. Hundley showed a poise many thought was great. He amassed 234 passing yards and one TD. He also ran for two more scores. No interceptions.
Expectations go bananas. The next game vs. Stanford does not go as planned and UCLA loses 35-17. Hundley doesn't have a bad game -- 20-38 for 261 with a TD and a pick -- but is sacked seven times. There are whispers he held onto the ball too long and his adulatory poise is now being questioned.
Mora, a player's coach is protective but also objective: "Brett was under a lot of pressure tonight, so we have to do a better job of finding a way to protect Brett. I think that it's a combination - pressuring with four and then they brought five and six. And sometimes we did not get open. Sometimes he didn't find the open guy. Sometimes they beat us. I think it was a combination of all those things."
The good thing for Hundley is he can get back on track simply by defeating Stanford in a rematch in the Pac-12 Championship on Nov. 30. This will be a game he will learn from. He was at the highest of highs after USC and the lowest of lows this past Saturday.
Growth is a necessity for anyone wanting to achieve the most minimal of goals. Hundley is a quarterback that will be watched closely for potentially the next couple of years. He will have to even his temperament moving forward, since he will be the BMOC. As others have before him, he has to know when to run, when to check down – even when he wants to show off his arm – and when to throw the ball away.
His first year under center to this point is nice: 3,234 yards in the air, 26 TDs and 10 picks. He has run for another 282 on the ground with eight to the house. The Bruins are 9-3. He outplayed Barkley – one of the best Pac-12 QBs of the last two decades, who will certainly be a top draft pick – in the biggest game of his life.
The distractions will be ubiquitous, and, being the quarterback for a major institution, his success will depend on how he handles everything good and bad coming his way.
More took Mike Vick to the NFC Championship his first season. On a different, but just as scrutinized path, he's led Brett Hundley to the Pac-12 pinnacle, also in his first campaign. Charmed is he, but the real diamond smile you see will come from No. 17. He will be mentioned alongside Johnny Football, Tajh Boyd, Marcus Mariota and others. How bright will his growing star shine?