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COLLEGE FOOTBALL DAILY REPORT : UCLA : Bennett's Hopes High After Legal Woes

October 13, 1994|JIM HODGES

He walked on the practice field Wednesday for the first time this season, talked with Coach Terry Donahue and then left. Tommy Bennett is still on the outside looking in--on football, on school, on life--and there is little Donahue can do about it.

Bennett was counted on to start at safety until his arrest in the spring, and his sentence to 300 hours of community service and three years' probation after pleading no-contest to charges of making a false financial statement and grand theft has left him in academic limbo.

His case is in the office of UCLA's dean of students, who will decide if Bennett can re-enter school. If he is allowed to do so, it is then up to the athletic department whether Bennett can return to football.

This season is pretty much out.

He wants next season--badly.

"I went to the Tennessee game (the opener) and watched, and I left," he said. "I couldn't take it. I've played since I was 7 years old, and it feels empty not to be playing."

And then there are the kids. Bennett received a mayor's award for working with children in San Diego, and he relished spending time with young patients at the UCLA Medical Center.

"I'm a big kid myself," he said. "Maybe the hardest thing I've had to do is to tell kids what I did was wrong, and that I am sorry for it."

He needed money, he said, because of family problems at home. "I was having problems with financial aid and I was broke," he said. "But that's not a reason. It's an excuse. I shouldn't have done it."

His scholarship gone, he lives with Teddy Lawrence, a UCLA and San Diego Morse High teammate, and works as a security guard and at odd jobs to keep going.

He said he has learned his lesson. "I'll be working a lot of community hours to think about it," he said.

And he wants to pass a lesson along, one he has learned the hard way. "If there's one thing I would tell the young guys," Bennett said, "it's to take advantage of what you have while you have it."


Basketball Coach Jim Harrick, who has his own practice to worry about beginning Saturday, visited Wednesday's football practice. . . . The Bruins list 10 defensive backs on their depth chart, and eight of them are freshmen or sophomores. Cornerback Lawrence and reserve safety Ted Nwoke are juniors, and there are no seniors. . . . A sign of the times on a 2-4 team: Of the 60 players UCLA took to California to play Saturday, seven were walk-ons. . . . Fullback James Milliner is practicing at full contact again, and another fullback, Greg Ford, expects to be able to play Saturday against Oregon State.

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