Safety Dalton Hilliard summed up UCLA’s two-week training camp at Cal State San Bernardino in three words: “Sticky and hot.”
Safety Tevin McDonald had another view: “Brutal and tough.”
Wide receiver Ricky Marvray massaged that thought: “Hard and focused.”
The Conjunction Boys broke camp Thursday after 13 days nestled among the barren hills of the Inland Empire. There were nine consecutive days of triple-digit heat.
“We took this as almost a Bear Bryant-type thing with the ‘Junction Boys,’” Hilliard said. “We were going to beat the elements.”
But this was more than a furnace blast from the past. The steady message ground into the Bruins during their stay was that this is Jim Mora’s program.
The Bruins knew they had a new coach when Mora replaced Rick Neuheisel in December. They now seem to understand what kind of coach he is.
“This is absolutely Coach Mora’s program,” Marvray said. “He made clear what he’s about, and what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.”
What more could Mora have wanted from the San Bernardino experience?
The Bruins, 81-80 since their last Rose Bowl appearance in 1999, were 6-8 last season. Mora wanted to change course, and all roads led east.
He wanted to turn up the heat — or have Mother Nature do it for him — to put leather-skin toughness on the program.
That took its toll. Twenty-one players left practice for heat-related issues, as high temperatures ranged from 102 to 109 for nine days. Some players had multiple visits to cool-down tubs and training room IVs. UCLA was down to seven offensive linemen by the seventh day of practice.
“All these practices in this intense heat, that’s like depositing money in the bank,” Marvray said. “If we hit a bump during a game, where we’re down and things aren’t going our way, we pull a little cash out of the San Bernardino bank.”
Mora wanted players in lockstep, so he had them shoulder to shoulder, four to a room.
The Bruins were mixed and matched. Freshmen lived with seniors. Offensive players with defensive players. McDonald said that “getting a guy up at 6 a.m. or cleaning the room together brings you closer.”
Mora said, “I wanted them to develop a little bit of trust in each other. If you trust a guy off the field, know a little bit about him, it’s easy to trust him on it.”
But a key component of training camp was Mora’s vocal cords. He verbally prodded, pushed players forward, and assistant coaches sometimes as well.
During one practice, after the team was lethargic through the first two drills, he restarted things from the beginning. Another day, when players jogged up the field for the next drill, he sent them back to sprint up the field.