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Paus: A Year Older, Wiser

College football: Bruin quarterback says he has turned his life around and wants to win back the starting job.

April 03, 2002|ROB FERNAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Things UCLA quarterback Cory Paus will not be doing for his 22nd birthday Thursday:

* Going for a drive. He mostly gets around by bicycle, bus or bumming rides from friends after having his driving privilege revoked for his second alcohol-related conviction.

* Having a beer with his buddies. The senior, required to take part in an alcohol-diversion program, says he hasn't had a drink in nearly two months and has no desire to start again.

* Feeling sorry for himself. If Paus needs someone to blame for his problems, he knows where to look--the mirror. Spending a few days in jail taught him that.

A contrite Paus, addressing the media before UCLA opened spring practice Tuesday, took responsibility for his off-the-field foibles and expressed a desire to win back the respect of teammates, coaches and fans through his rededication to football and learning from his mistakes.

He also made it clear that the starting quarterback job is his, despite Coach Bob Toledo's plans to put off naming a starter until he has time to assess incoming freshmen Matt Moore and Drew Olson in the fall.

"I'm confident in my ability and confident where I stand in this program," said Paus, the only Bruin quarterback who has taken a snap in a college game.

"But I also realize how important it is for [the freshmen] to be ready to play, and I know that I can help them learn this offense faster. And I'm going to [do that] because Cade [McNown] did it for me when I obviously wasn't coming in with any chance of playing over him.

"No disrespect to any of those kids, but I plan on being the starting quarterback. At the same time, [the freshmen] need to be ready to play. I'm still going to take them under my wing, I'm still going to treat them like that."

Paus plans to start being a mentor this week to Moore and Olson, who are expected to observe spring drills. Redshirt freshman John Sciarra is the only other scholarship quarterback aside from Paus participating in spring practice.

Mainly, though, Paus plans to work on his game, which has suffered in the past from inconsistency. He says an injury to his right thumb that contributed to some poor passing performances last season is nearly healed, and he is eager to begin playing and rebuilding his personal reputation.

Paus hid his drunk-driving convictions from Toledo until they came to light two days before the USC game Nov. 17. Toledo allowed him to play, the Bruins lost, 27-0, and Paus was demoted to third string for the season finale against Arizona State.

"I'm happy that I still have the opportunity to play because of the circumstances," he said. "I made a huge mistake twice, and obviously people are not happy about it, which I couldn't blame anybody because it was a big blemish on this university and the football program."

Paus said he has no problem with Toledo making him compete for a starting job that would normally be handed to him.

"I definitely deserve anything that he decides to give me, or how ever he decides to punish me," Paus said. Paus, who needs 134 yards to move into second place behind McNown on UCLA's career passing list, said being jailed in the Twin Towers facility was an "eye-opening experience." He was sentenced to 96 hours but says he was released after being incarcerated for about "55 or 60" hours in January.

"It was definitely somewhere that I'd never been and somewhere where I'd really not care to go back to," he said. "I never felt like I was in danger by any means, but it was probably the biggest learning experience through all this.

"I got a lot of support, believe it or not, from a lot of the guards. I got a lot of encouragement, but at the same time almost a slap too. Like, 'Do you realize what you could lose? You shouldn't be in here.' It was good to hear."

In addition to serving jail time, Paus was required to pay a $1,300 fine, enroll in an 18-month alcohol-diversion program and serve five years' probation. He said he hasn't had a drink since starting the diversion program, which requires him to meet with a counselor a set number of times a month and attend a three-hour alcohol awareness class once a week.

"I don't feel any need to drink," he said. "It's caused me enough of a headache to the point where it's not worth it."

Paus denied he has a drinking problem.

"I think I definitely made some poor judgments," he said. "I don't think I have a drinking problem. But I can understand where anybody would say, 'Well, how do you explain two arrests for alcohol-related incidents?'"

UCLA will hold 14 more spring practices through April 27.

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