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London Emerges as Surprise Leader

September 03, 2003|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

Defense is expected to be the strength of the UCLA football team, at least until a young offense masters Coach Karl Dorrell's new West Coast attack, and the defense returns numerous veteran starters, including senior linemen Dave Ball and Rodney Leisle, senior linebacker Brandon Chillar and junior cornerback Matt Ware.

But the player who seems to be emerging as the emotional leader of the defense is an inexperienced sophomore who was pretty much limited to special teams last season, a middle linebacker who made only five tackles in 2002: Justin London.

"He's a high-energy guy that players on the defense have really gravitated to," Dorrell said. "His enthusiasm gets them going and permeates to everyone on the defensive side. He wasn't a big contributor last year, but he's made great strides. It's nice to see a guy like him, as young as he is, have such leadership skills. He's a strong-willed player."

London, a speedy 6-foot-1, 240-pounder from Roanoke, Va., said he did not set out to become a team leader; he just evolved into one as camp unfolded this summer.

"That's the type of player I am -- I can't help but wear my emotion on my sleeve," London said. "I hope it infects the rest of the team."

London will be replacing one of the Bruins' top defenders last season, linebacker Marcus Reese, who led the team with 103 tackles and had four sacks and two interceptions. He'll also be playing what has been a marquee position at UCLA, a spot previously held by such talents as Reese, Robert Thomas and Ken Norton.

"There are some big shoes to fill when you play middle linebacker here," London said. "I hope to keep the legacy going."

Senior defensive end Dave Ball likes London's chances.

"He's good, but he's going to be even better in the future," Ball said. "He has a real instinct for the game, a real nose for the ball."


Freshman cornerback Jebiaus Brown, who has been held out of contact drills for a week because of concussion-like symptoms, was not cleared to play Tuesday and is not expected to travel with the Bruins to Colorado for Saturday's game.... Backup fullback J.D. Groves, slowed by a neck injury this week, participated in contact drills Tuesday and is expected to make the trip.... Colorado safety Clyde Surrell will not play in Saturday's game because of the death of his brother last week in Los Angeles.

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