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Split Decision

Tulane's Losman still struggles to explain why he left UCLA

October 30, 2003|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — Nothing you might call J.P. Losman would come as much of a surprise. Traitor. Scourge. Pariah.

The young man knows what people back home in Southern California -- at least some people -- think of him. "I would like for them to see things my way," he says.

But four years cannot erase the sting of Losman committing to UCLA as one of the top high school quarterbacks in the nation, the player who would replace Cade McNown, then walking away before he really got started.

When the Bruins struggled, particularly on offense, resentment festered. Losman even got blamed for the firing of Coach Bob Toledo.

Maybe Bruin fans have seen him on television this fall, behind a shaky line at Tulane, still piling up impressive numbers. Maybe they have read he is a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Award as college football's best quarterback. Even with UCLA on a roll, they might wonder.

If only they could understand one thing, he says: "I'm not the kind of guy who turns his back on his team."

All evidence to the contrary, right?

If only people back home could see him now. The way he put everything on the line for Tulane this summer. His ultimate loyalty.

On the other hand, that might only make them angrier.


The name is pronounced LOSS-man. Like what happened to UCLA.

A lifelong Bruin fan, Losman was so excited about committing that he graduated early from Venice High and arrived on campus in the spring of 1999.

Toledo was so excited to have him that he told another quarterback recruit, Kyle Boller, to look elsewhere. That's the same Boller who became a star at California and now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.

The Bruins were set, Toledo figured. Then, shortly after spring practice, before so much as a single day of summer training camp, Losman asked for a transfer.

"It's like a marriage," Toledo said. "You don't think you're going to be divorced. He divorced us."

The spin that came out of Westwood went like this: The freshman expected too much, too soon. He got spooked at having to compete with the other quarterbacks -- Cory Paus, Ryan McCann, Scott McEwan and Drew Bennett.

Four years later, Losman is a far cry from the lanky kid he was then. His 6-foot-3 body has bulked up to 220 pounds, hair falling in unruly black curls across his forehead.

He has no regrets about what transpired at UCLA but concedes he might have handled things better. He struggles to explain his abrupt departure.

"It wasn't the style of offense I wanted to run," he says. "Throw a little swing-out to the running back. Throw a little screen to the receivers. Trick plays and all."

Of course, he should have known that before committing. He mentions feeling claustrophobic during spring workouts, family and friends crowding the sidelines. "I needed to be my own person, but they took it personally when I didn't come home on the weekends," he recalls.

The thing about Losman, he doesn't talk so much as explode, words hurtling in all directions. They fly even faster and more furiously when he addresses a common perception.

"I don't want people to think I left because I couldn't handle the competition," he says. "Or I just had to leave because I wasn't going to start right away."

Arguing against these conclusions, he points to what happened next.


Something people might not know about Losman when he was in high school: Even as he pledged his heart to UCLA, he made a recruiting trip to Tulane.

"I got to spend the whole weekend with him," Coach Chris Scelfo says. "I think he really felt like he fit in here, but maybe he didn't want to disappoint mom or family or friends, the hometown, and he couldn't pull the trigger."

If not for that weekend, Scelfo might have passed on a teenager who had deserted his previous team. The coach trusted his first impression and, besides, he wasn't counting on Losman.

Tulane was coming off the best season in school history, a 12-0 run that culminated with a victory over Brigham Young in the Liberty Bowl. With quarterback Shaun King gone to the NFL, the Green Wave had a promising sophomore in Patrick Ramsey.

Not that Losman saw it that way. After sitting out the 1999 season as a transfer, he expected to move right in as the starter.

"I had this huge ego," he says. "But a guy like Patrick, he said, 'Uh-uh, I'm not going to let you take my job.' "

The quarterbacks rotated during the 2000 season and, even with limited play, Losman was the top freshman passer in Conference USA. Early the next season, however, he injured his knee and missed just enough time for Ramsey to secure the top spot.

"J.P. was frustrated," says receiver James Dunn, his childhood friend and roommate at Tulane. Dunn knew it was serious when "he got a little quiet."

Worse, Losman fell into a habit of trying to outdo Ramsey in practice. If the starter completed a 20-yard pass, the backup tried to force one from 40 yards. His game suffered accordingly.

Here is where Losman makes his point. As tough as things got, he never balked or complained, never thought of quitting.

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