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Walk-On Will Walk Away With Trunkful of Memories

College football: UCLA defensive tackle Lombard will cap career Saturday by starting against USC.

November 14, 2000|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the last day of training camp this summer, in an otherwise typical meeting, UCLA Coach Bob Toledo gathered his players for an announcement.

Toledo started talking about a player who was an example for the whole team, a model of dedication and hard work, a senior who had endured four years without a single complaint, without starting a game, without even a scholarship. Now, in front of the player's teammates, Toledo wanted to reward him with a scholarship.

Kory Lombard, come on down.

"I think it really surprised him, and it shocked everybody else," linebacker Ryan Nece said. "When he got it, everybody was clapping. Everybody was cheering. They knew he had earned it."

That's a nice little story, and that's how it usually ends. The hard-working kid gets his scholarship, then goes back to the bottom of the depth chart.

Not in this case. Lombard will start at defensive tackle against USC on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, the unlikeliest starter in the biggest game of the season.

"I'll be able to tell my kids and my grandkids and everyone else," Lombard said. "I'll have memories forever from this game."

This is not simply a case of Toledo starting a senior in his final home game. In his first three seasons, Lombard had four tackles. This season, injuries have so decimated the defensive line that Lombard will be starting his third consecutive game Saturday.

"It's amazing," he said. "You feel bad for your friends that are injured, but you're happy for yourself."

Said Nece: "Any time a walk-on sticks it out for four years, you have to have a lot of respect for him. To earn a scholarship shows that he has a passion to play, a love of the game.

"I love to line up with anybody like that. I know he'll give it his all every time."

Lombard was born and grew up in Los Angeles. He remembers watching the UCLA-USC game on television every year, but he never attended a game in person until he joined the Bruins.

The Bruins certainly didn't recruit him. No one did.

He graduated from Daniel Murphy High, as the most valuable player on the football team and an all-league defensive lineman. Some schools wrote, fewer called, none offered a scholarship.

His sister attended UCLA, and he thought he'd like to attend too. So he sent a highlight tape to the UCLA coaching staff. Bob Field, the defensive coordinator, invited him to walk on, but with no promises. You pay your own way, and you might not play.

"Every walk-on approaches it the same way--one day I'll get a scholarship," defensive line coach Don Johnson said. "A lot of times that doesn't happen.

"And it's tough for a walk-on. You work just as hard and you do all the things that people on scholarship are doing. You have to appreciate their dedication."

It pays off in friendships, and in memories. Lombard's parents attend all UCLA home games. To see their son in a Bruin uniform, standing along the sideline, was a thrill in itself.

On Nov. 4, in the next-to-last home game of his career, Lombard started against Stanford.

"It blew my mind, looking up at my parents and knowing I was going to be in there," he said. "My dad was really happy that he got a chance to see me play. I made him real proud."

There are many more Kory Lombard stories than there are DeShaun Foster stories. For every high school player that gets heavily recruited, who knows how many dozens and hundreds more do not get recruited at all?

"There's still an opportunity," Lombard said. "You don't have to give up your dream that fast. If you work hard, you can make it."

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