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UCLA FOOTBALL

Kevin Prince ready for his wake-up call at UCLA

With the Bruins coming off a 4-8 season, the battle for the starting quarterback job is wide open, and the redshirt freshman from Crespi High is looking to fill the void.

April 01, 2009|Chris Foster

Warning bells have gone off in Kevin Prince's apartment daily, jolting the UCLA quarterback and his roommate, punter Jeff Locke, from sleep.

"We have, like, five alarm clocks," said Prince, who redshirted as a freshman last season. "We set them on 'extra static loud' to make sure we get up every day at 5:30. We don't want to be late for team workouts."

For Prince, there is a lot at stake as UCLA prepares to open spring practice Thursday.

While across town USC is trying to determine which quarterback will try to extend the Trojans' monopoly on college football success in Los Angeles, UCLA is trying to find someone who will at least put them in the game.

The Bruins' search has produced a fresh Prince of Westwood story line.

Prince, who starred at Encino Crespi High, will get a long look over the next couple of weeks along with freshman Richard Brehaut, who enrolled early to participate in spring practice.

"A lot of the meaningful snaps will go to the young guys early," second-year Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "We want to submerge them."

It's a sink-or-swim plan that wouldn't normally be necessary for a team that returns a senior starter at quarterback. Kevin Craft started all 12 games last season, but the Bruins went 4-8 -- their worst finish since a 3-7-1 1989 season -- and much of the blame was laid at the quarterback's cleats.

Whether the criticism Craft faced was fair is debatable. Playing behind a run-for-your-life offensive line, he did lead UCLA to victory over Stanford and engineered an overtime win over Tennessee -- both featuring last-minute drives. But he also had 20 passes intercepted, a dubious school record, and completed only one pass for more than 40 yards.

So now the door is open, the welcome mat out, and Prince is set to walk in -- an opportunity that led him to postpone a two-year Mormon mission.

"Kevin and I are real close; I feel we've become good friends," Prince said. "So this is a little awkward in that sense. But the competition will make us both better. He has worked extremely hard and that pushes me to do the same. We both want what's best for the team."

Prince was a high-end recruit at Crespi, but he hasn't appeared in a game in nearly two years. His right knee was injured in the first quarter of the first game of his senior year at Crespi, requiring surgery and sidelining him for the season.

At UCLA, he spent half of last season preparing for games and was listed No. 2 on the depth chart one week. But once Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow decided they didn't want him to burn a year of eligibility, he was assigned to run the scout team.

Prince saw benefits to both roles.

"Competing for the second-string spot, I got a feel of the offense," he said. "Then, running the scout team, I got a chance to play football. I was running the other team's plays, but I was getting my football instincts back and got used to game speed."

Prince often stayed late after practice to work on his game. His coaches liked what they saw.

"He has the strongest arm and I think he got a good grasp of the offense, given the relatively short time he has been here," Neuheisel said. "He has a nice grasp on what we're trying to get accomplished. There is a lot to like about him. He just hasn't had the chance to get it done."

As for Craft, it's clear where he needs to show improvement.

"Consistency," Neuheisel said. "Not just in the standpoint of results, but from the standpoint of decision making. He has to throw to the right place on the field and know why he should be throwing to that spot.

"We know how tough he is, and we saw him perform well in clutch situations. We need to count on his decisions."

At some point this spring or shortly thereafter, though, it will be UCLA's coaches making a key decision about who will start at quarterback. And for now, Prince is happy just to be part of the process.

"What 'SC has been doing is bringing in top-caliber players at every position and making them compete," Prince said. "We want the best guys to win the jobs. In the end, the best guys are the ones who help you win more games."

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

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