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Lewis, Miami Back in the Game

UCLA: Tailback is reinstated for Saturday's Pacific 10 showdown against Oregon; canceled contest with Hurricanes rescheduled for Dec. 5.

October 13, 1998|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UCLA resolved two lingering issues Monday, reinstating tailback Jermaine Lewis in time for this week's game against undefeated Oregon at the Rose Bowl and rescheduling the Miami game Dec. 5.

Both decisions--one that strengthened the team, one that went against the wishes of at least part of the team--had been looming for several days.

The announcement about the trip to the Orange Bowl was a slight surprise, since the two athletic directors had been unable to discuss the issue while Miami's Paul Dee dealt with a family matter. But he and Pete Dalis of UCLA spoke Monday morning.

The decision to lift the suspension against Lewis was welcome news to the Bruins, but not a surprise. Coach Bob Toledo, having disciplined the team's leading rusher for his involvement in an early-morning fight Oct. 4, had said he would review Lewis' status before the Oregon game but never gave any indication he was planning to extend the penalty.

"I talked to an awful lot of people," Toledo said. "I talked to the police. I came to the decision that he's suffered enough. A one-game suspension for what he did is enough."

University police are still interviewing witnesses to the scuffle at an apartment just off campus and are expected to send the findings to the Los Angeles city attorney, who will decide whether to file charges against Lewis or the man Lewis claims attacked him.

According to university police, Elonza Malone III said he was struck "multiple times" in the melee and identified Lewis as "one of the people" who hit him. Lewis, in a report of his own the next day, said he was the victim of battery, offering a description but not a name of the alleged assailant.

Authorities say the description, and witness accounts, indicate Malone is the other party.

Some of the UCLA players at the party several hours after the Oct. 3 victory over Washington State at the Rose Bowl said Lewis was provoked and defending himself after being hit first, but the teammates also said they did not see the start of the fight. Asked Monday if that information was supported by his conversations with the police, Toledo said:

"Without getting into a lot of detail, [Lewis] did not throw the first punch. Let's put it that way."

Said Lewis: "I was just a victim of circumstances. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a self-defense matter."

The suspension cost Lewis the chance to play last Saturday in the showdown when third-ranked UCLA defeated 10th-ranked Arizona--and his starting job, at least temporarily. Keith Brown, who had 91 yards and two touchdowns in nine carries against the Wildcats, will remain in the opening lineup when No. 11 Oregon comes to play the No. 2 Bruins in another battle of undefeated teams.

DeShaun Foster, the freshman who gained 118 yards against Arizona, is still listed as the backup. Lewis was third on the depth chart released Monday, which says more about the current strength at tailback than Lewis' actual standing.

"The week felt like a long time," said Lewis, who declined to discuss specifics regarding the incident. "It was just like a slow process, feeling real depressed and stuff, knowing I let the team down and my family and friends. It was the longest week of my life so far.

"It [the Arizona game] was real difficult to watch, with all my friends and teammates down there. I just told them before they left, 'Please don't lose it, please don't lose it.' That would have added to it."

The Miami game was originally scheduled for Sept. 26, before it was scrubbed two days earlier as a precaution against putting the Bruins in the path of Hurricane Georges. The storm ultimately veered away without doing any serious damage to the city. But there was damage to UCLA as the perception emerged that it was ducking a game the home team had already said publicly it wanted to reschedule.

The Bruins hesitated, citing schedule concerns, losing an important weekend during recruiting season and the chance for players to go home for a Thanksgiving break.

In the end, though, Dalis decided to reschedule the trip because UCLA had agreed to it in the first place, making the analogy that he would expect another school to follow through with the commitment if a game here had been prevented by an earthquake.

"I just felt an obligation," he said.

All that remains is for the schools to decide on a starting time at the Orange Bowl.

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* RANDY HARVEY: Page 2

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