LOS ANGELES (AP) - UCLA coach Jim Mora could see quarterback Jerry Neuheisel eventually becoming the Bruins’ head coach, the same position held by his father, Rick, until Mora succeeded him four seasons ago.
The younger Neuheisel’s coaching pedigree is already on display, although it played a role in keeping the redshirt junior from taking the first snap in No. 13 UCLA’s season opener against Virginia.
Freshman Josh Rosen credits Neuheisel with helping bring him up to speed and ultimately getting the starting nod for the Bruins.
“He’s a big part of the reason why I won the job, because he is such a selfless guy and has the team’s best interest in mind, not just his own,” Rosen said.
Rosen will now try to become the first true freshman to lead his team to a national championship after starting in the opener. Jamelle Holieway won a title for Oklahoma in 1985, but he only became the starter after Troy Aikman was injured in the fourth game of the season.
The recent track record of opening-day true freshmen starters in the Pac-12 has been mixed. Matt Barkley went 9-3 during Pete Carroll’s final season at Southern California in 2009, missing one game due to injury, while Jared Goff went 1-11 in Sonny Dykes’ first season at California two years ago.
Even Rosen isn’t sure how steep the learning curve will really be.
“I haven’t done it yet,” Rosen said. “I haven’t played a game.”
What he has done is bring a strong work ethic and unflinching air to spring practice, summer workouts and two weeks of fall camp at Cal State San Bernardino.
When asked about an end-of-practice tirade against him from Mora last week, Rosen shrugged it off, saying it happens all the time in all levels of football. He doesn’t think Mora’s talk would have been noticed if the loudspeakers that blast music during workouts had been turned on.
The Bruins already have noticed that Rosen’s approach to the game is unusual for an 18-year-old.
“He’s very professional,” outside linebacker Aaron Wallace said. “You don’t see a lot of that in freshmen. But he has come in and treated every day like he was going to be the starter.”
That demeanor might have been off-putting to some veterans, but Rosen understands the difference between confidence and arrogance.
“I like to think I can dance that line pretty well,” Rosen said. “If you’re not a confident guy, you are not going to perform well on the field. I’ve been confident I’m capable of leading this team since Day 1. That’s how you have to feel. That’s what a competitor does. That’s why I am playing for UCLA.”
The competition between Rosen and Neuheisel could be simplified down to talent versus experience.
Rosen, the consensus top quarterback recruit in the 2015 recruiting cycle, displayed superior physical tools and potential ever since he enrolled in classes last winter. Neuheisel, the upperclassman, had three years’ worth of understanding of coordinator Noel Mazzone’s up-tempo spread offense.
As Rosen got more comfortable in the system, which he said is similar to what he ran in high school, Mora felt comfortable enough to name him the starter Wednesday.
“He said he just had a gut feeling, and as a player you got to respect it,” Neuheisel said of Mora’s decision. “You don’t have to agree with it but you have to respect it. What the head coach wants the head coach gets.”
That will include Neuheisel helping communicate to Rosen how to identify and attack pass defenses. That is the biggest adjustment for a quarterback moving from high school to college, and Neuheisel said he would be in Rosen’s ear relaying the finer points of those coverages.
“They can’t get rid of me around here. You start to pick up on a few things,” Neuheisel said.
Neuheisel also knows that his dad lost his starting job before regaining it midway through the 1983 season, leading UCLA to a Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl win. It gives him the inspiration to keep fighting on, while his appreciation for UCLA will keep him continuing to coach up Rosen.
“As a quarterback, whether it is the first game or you’re playing SC, all you want is a chance,” Neuheisel said. “I’m going to keep working, make sure that I can be the best quarterback I can be, help Josh be the best he can be, and come out every Saturday with a win.”
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