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Gone, Not Forgotten

Tulane's Losman, once UCLA's quarterback of the future, looks back on his past

December 24, 2002|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- On Christmas Eve, Tulane quarterback J.P. Losman can think of nothing better than to be still playing football. The Green Wave, the team that he now leads, is playing Christmas Day in the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu against the hometown Hawaii Warriors.

There is a bit of a twist to all of this. UCLA will be also be playing Wednesday, the Bruins facing New Mexico in the Las Vegas Bowl.

For Losman, the scenario works out just right. He has his team in a bowl game in his first season as a starter. And he won't be tempted to look at what might have been.

"I still talk about UCLA sometimes," said the redshirt junior, who transferred three years ago. "But I have no regrets. I'm glad I left and made that decision."

Losman arrived in Westwood the spring of 1999 as a prized recruit out of Venice High. He was part of the strongest quarterback class that Southern California had produced in many years, a class that also yielded Kyle Boller and Chris Lewis.

It appeared to be the ideal situation. Losman had been a Bruin fan as long as he could remember. He had nearly every kind of UCLA apparel and souvenir in his bedroom. Now he was attending the school of his dreams.

As a fresh-faced 17-year-old high school junior, he was so focused on the Bruins that he committed to them after attending their one-day camp for recruits. He graduated early to get ready for spring practice.

"Anybody [offering a scholarship] was a joke to me," he said. "I was just waiting on UCLA. I went to their camp and then they called me into their office.

"I was waiting for it to happen and it did happen. I said yes and that was it."

Losman shocked everyone months later by announcing he was leaving school before fall practice. The decision was made even before he had worked his way into a crowded mix at the position.

Coaches didn't hide their displeasure. They'd lost Boller to California only because they'd targeted Losman and got him. Soon the kid who grew up a short distance from Spaulding Field was labeled a player that wanted everything too fast and couldn't handle competition.

"We picked another quarterback and it was a big mistake on our part," UCLA Coach Bob Toledo told The Times a year ago.

Toledo is no longer the coach, having been fired Dec. 9, largely because of late-season collapses and a string of player transgressions. But instability at quarterback didn't help his situation.

The quarterbacks in that same camp could never quite follow All-American Cade McNown. Cory Paus fared the best but was often injured and kept a drunk-driving conviction hidden from Toledo. Scott McEwan was a career backup. Ryan McCann transferred to Division I-AA Tennessee Chattanooga. Drew Bennett, who is a receiver with the Tennessee Titans, simply wasn't a quarterback.

Losman thought he should have been the guy. "I knew they were going to have quarterback problems," he said. "I've talked with guys on that team and they have been telling me that I was stupid for leaving. I just tell them that wasn't the reason why I left.

"They were always changing offensive coordinators. You could tell that something wasn't right with all those guys. I saw that and I had to get up and move out."

Losman said the competition at quarterback wasn't a problem. But he acknowledges he wasn't as mature then and wished he had done things differently. If he had the same situation over again, he wouldn't be so impatient, would go on other recruiting trips, instead of jumping at the first offer.

"You can't just rely on one thing," he said. "It's like getting married. The first one you meet is not always going to be the one you marry."

But the strong-armed prospect also found he couldn't step right in when he got to Tulane. Ahead of him was Patrick Ramsey, now a rookie starter for the Washington Redskins.

Tulane offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo says the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Losman has the athletic gifts to get him to the NFL. He calls Losman one of the hardest workers on the team and lauds his willingness to find ways to improve himself.

However, Losman also had to learn how to handle a situation that wasn't tailor-made for him.

"We started Patrick Ramsey but J.P. really pushed him," Scelfo said. "He was always knocking on the door but couldn't quite get a starting job. But I think it made him a better player and it made Patrick a better player.

"I can only judge him by the time he's been here. He's done everything that we've asked of him and he was never one to whine or complain."

It has been an uneven season for Losman. He has solid statistics -- 2,228 yards and 19 touchdowns against 10 interceptions -- but the Green Wave hasn't been as explosive as in recent years.

Coach Chris Scelfo said injuries to his top two receivers and an inexperienced offensive line contributed to the quarterback's erratic play. Chris Scelfo said Losman has had to "play above and beyond" himself and that he could be in for a big year next season.

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