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Roques' Road Finally Leads to Starting Position at UCLA

College football: Patience pays off for junior, who made rounds before becoming No. 1 cornerback.

October 02, 1998|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To find his rightful spot on the UCLA football team--to find himself, really--Ryan Roques first had to move from receiver, the position he had been recruited to play, to running back, the position he thought he would play if only given the chance. Once he even took a few snaps at quarterback in fall practice.

To think all it took was something far less exhaustive.

Being still.

"Standing on the sidelines," Roques said, "I had a lot of time to think."

That is why he is now one day away from moving into the opening lineup . . . at cornerback. He's at a starting position with the Bruins, as he had always wanted, but at a position he had never expected.

The move to defense came last season, after one season at tailback as a freshman, worth all of eight carries and 35 yards. He became a cornerback in 1997, while also contributing on special teams, out of a desire to play.

Then he became a better cornerback out of a desire to grow up.

"When I first came in, I was kind of interested in PT [playing time], kind of for myself and just wanted to see what I could do and I didn't really get that much playing time," Roques said. "Now, I just feel like I'll play whatever role the coach feels I need to play for the team to win and to get a national championship. That's what I'm shooting for--a national championship. I'd rather have a national championship than individually to have a good season.

"Plus, you get in here and you become a lot closer with your teammates. You start to bond with your teammates and your coaches, and you start to feel like a unit. As I've become closer with my teammates and comfortable with my coaches, I'd just like to see the team do well."

The team is doing well, 2-0 and No. 4 in the nation heading into its Pacific 10 Conference opener Saturday against Washington State at the Rose Bowl. That isn't the case in the secondary, where the Bruins will have new starters at three of the four positions.

Roques gets his opportunity because of Marques Anderson's demotion at left cornerback, which could match Roques against Cougar receiver Nian Taylor in a return to their high school days when Roques was at Canyon Springs in Moreno Valley and Taylor at Ramona of Riverside.

Soul searching has sparked Roques. Hard work has taken care of the rest, all the way to a promotion he could never have imagined even a year ago, when playing defensive back still seemed so awkward.

And now look:

A 17-yard interception return for a touchdown two weeks ago at Houston in which his tailback instincts took over when he tucked the ball into his ribs and cradled it on the runback.

A spot in the starting lineup.

A new role.

A new man.

"No question," Coach Bob Toledo said. "Maturity. He understands what it takes now, where he didn't really understand what it took prior to probably this year. Even last year, he wasn't ready yet."

Added Nick Aliotti, the secondary coach and defensive coordinator: "I see a new attitude out of him. I see a guy who will come out to work early. I see a guy staying late to work on technique. A see a guy watching a lot of film to try and improve."

Everyone sees it.

"He's much more focused on football now," said linebacker Ramogi Huma, a close friend. "He's not a real serious guy. He's always joking around, playing around. But you can see it in his eyes."

Joking around? Did you hear the one about the guy who showed up all worried about his statistics and by the third game of his junior season had turned into a walking cliche for team play?

True story, or a straight line. No wonder Roques breaks into smile so quickly these days.

"I don't know really what to say," he said, reflecting on his path to a starting position. "I've just been trying to play whatever role it takes for the team to win. When I first got here, I was probably a little selfish and wanted what was best for me. But as I matured, I wanted what was best for the team.

"I think about what I'll say when I get older. 'Yeah, I was a starter for the UCLA Bruins.' Hundreds of guys can say that. But how many guys can say they were an important part of a team that won a national championship?"

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