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Now He Smiles From Ear to Ear

UCLA: After surviving head injuries from an auto accident two years ago, Nece is beating the odds again as a freshman who's No. 2 in tackles.

October 29, 1998|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Huma went down with a sprained hip, an injury that greatly limited his impact the three games after the opener and kept him out of the next two, Nece moved in. Come the end of October--some 27 months after the car crash, one season after redshirting, about half a year after stepping up in weight class--he is an emerging star. He is first on the Bruins in tackles for a loss, second in tackles and sacks, sixth in passes broken up.

"I think the biggest thing that Ryan had to overcome was confidence within himself to play at the line of scrimmage against big guys," said Marc Dove, the inside linebacker coach. "I think he envisioned himself as a small, defensive-back type, and all of a sudden these coaches come to you and say, 'We think you can be a heck of a linebacker.' We make that move. We're trying to be supportive because we see all those possibilities."

Said Nece: "It just blows your mind when you're playing at this level this young and making plays like that. You look at guys like [USC's Chris] Claiborne and [Ohio State's Andy] Katzenmoyer, prototype linebackers like that, and they made plays when they were young too. I remember watching and saying, 'Wow, those guys are really good.'

"Now people are saying, 'You're making plays.' It's kind of a good feeling. I'm not trying to compare myself to those guys yet or anything, but it's just good to be out there making plays and having fun in front of thousands and thousands of people."

Saturday

Stanford at UCLA

Rose Bowl

3:30 p.m.

FX

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