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UCLA vs. ILLINOIS / Saturday at the Rose Bowl, 5 p.m.,
Ch. 7

Bruins' Covering Cousins

Starting cornerbacks Ware and Clark didn't meet until they were both 13, but the relatives have forged a strong friendship

September 11, 2003|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

Matt Ware first encountered Matt Clark seven years ago in a Pop Warner football game at Encino Crespi High, when Ware played for the Los Angeles Westside Bruins and Clark for the North Valley Golden Bears. They were 13.

"He played running back and I played defensive back, and he had a couple of nice runs," Ware said of Clark. "I was trying to hurt him and stuff."

Clark has vivid memories of Ware that day, as well.

"I tackled him hard when he returned a punt," Clark said, a sense of conquest and satisfaction in his grin. "It was a nice little tackle."

The most jarring hit occurred after the game, though. Clark's father, Matthew Clark Sr., happened to notice his second cousin, Bernard Ware -- Matt's father -- on the other sideline, so he went over to renew acquaintances.

When their sons were done pounding on each other, the fathers got the kids together and introduced them as cousins.

"I was like, 'Really?' " Ware said. "I was surprised."

Both were practically speechless.

"They didn't have much to say to each other that first day," Matthew Clark said. "But the next time they played each other, they exchanged phone numbers. Then one thing led to another.... "

And, next thing you know, the cousins, both juniors, are starting cornerbacks at UCLA, their friendship having budded while Ware starred at Los Angeles Loyola High and Clark at Reseda Cleveland, now blossoming in Westwood, where their bond runs far deeper than the powder-blue and gold uniforms they wear.

"He's family, he's blood, he's someone I can count on," Clark said, the happy-go-lucky one turning serious in his admiration of Ware. "I know he'll be there for me, regardless. He's real easy to talk to, and if we have problems, we talk about them. We're cool."

Said Ware of Clark, "He's family, man.... I love him to death. He'll always be there for me."

Clark will probably need the support, at least until he establishes himself as the solid cornerback Bruin coaches expect him to be, a process that began with his first college start Saturday at Colorado.

The Buffaloes went right at Clark in the first half, throwing the majority of their passes to the receiver on his side, and the strategy worked to a degree, generating two early penalties on Clark, one of which figured in a touchdown drive.

On the first call, Clark ran stride for stride with receiver Jeremy Bloom on a long pass down the middle and was cited for a facemask penalty for putting his hands on Bloom's helmet as the ball arrived.

On Colorado's next possession, on third and 10 from the Bruin 14-yard line, quarterback Joel Klatt threw over the middle to D.J. Hackett. Clark had inside position and broke up the pass, but there was contact.

That drew an interference penalty and gave Colorado first and goal at the two. Two plays later, Bobby Purify scored for a 7-0 lead, and the Buffaloes went on to a 16-14 victory. Had Clark's play been ruled clean, Colorado would have had to settle for a field-goal attempt.

"They were picking on me early -- I knew that would happen going into the game," Clark said. "I thought those calls were questionable. [On the interference] I kept inside position, and the receiver ran into me. If it was a good ball, a catchable ball, I would have picked it off. When the ball is in the air, I have a right to it."

Outside of the two penalties, Clark had a creditable game, helping to limit a potent Colorado offense to 157 yards passing. Clark had eight tackles, seven unassisted, and missed only one tackle.

"I thought he held his own," Ware said of Clark, who has the daunting task of replacing honorable mention All-American cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. "He played really well. Usually in your first game, you don't make too many plays, because you get caught up in what's happening. But he was out there like a veteran."

Ware is a veteran, having started every UCLA game in his first two seasons, and Colorado afforded him that respect Saturday, rarely challenging him.

A standout baseball player who has played in the Seattle Mariner organization the last two summers, Ware added about 20 pounds of muscle this year in his quest to become one of the top defensive backs in UCLA history, a short list that is headed by former safety Kenny Easley.

"If you ever talk to any of the old-timers, the guys 30 and older, they're always talking about Kenny Easley," Ware said. "That's the person you have to try to match. I've never met him, but I've seen some highlights, all the interceptions, the big hits. Man, he was good."

Ware's paternal grandfather and Clark's paternal grandfather are first cousins, but you'd hardly know Ware and Clark were related by looking at them.

Ware, at 6 feet 3 and 213 pounds, is the more physically imposing and matches up well with big receivers. What the 5-9, 170-pound Clark lacks in size, though, he makes up for in quickness, closing speed and technique.

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