By Mitch Chortkoff
Nick Pasquale was hit by a car in San Clemente on September 8 and died. He wasn’t a star on the UCLA football team. He didn’t even get into games.
He was a member of the scout team, the guys who work in practice to prepare the players for their next game.
He was also a beloved member of the Bruin football program, a young man who worked hard, earned respect and embraced his role.
His death the week before the Nebraska game left the UCLA football family dazed. And what would happen on Saturday in Lincoln, Nebraska before a hostile crowd of 91,000?
What happened was UCLA’s 21-3 deficit, followed by a comeback that will be remembered for a lot of years. The Bruins scored the final 38 points of the game and won, 41-21.
Afterward the Bruin squad kneeled on the turf and prayed.
Well, now it’s a week later and time for another game.
This one is a lot different. UCLA isn’t going to play another opponent with a reputation of being prominent nationally. It will be playing New Mexico State, which is 0-3 and has been outscored by 93 points.
It’s the coach’s job to worry. Jim Mora Jr., who has revived the UCLA football program since becoming head coach last season, has to consider the possibility of a letdown.
He has the weapons to add another notch to the Bruins’ success. Brett Hundley is emerging as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks. Linebacker Anthony Barr, projected to be a top ten pick in the next NFL draft, had a career high 11 tackles against Nebraska, three causing fumbles
“It’s human nature when you come off something as emotional as we did last week,” Mora said.
Assuming UCLA wins again it will likely hold or improve its national standing which resulted in a climb to No. 13 in this week’s Associated Press poll.
But if the Bruins want to really become elite they’ll have to succeed on October 19 at Stanford and Oct. 26 at Oregon, a pair of conference opponents currently ranked in the top five.
And there will be other tests. The Pac-12 has a lot of capable teams this season.
So UCLA is in the midst of a potentially outstanding season. Whatever happens, it will be remembered as the one inspired by a walk-on named Nick Pasquale.