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UCLA FOOTBALL

At 5-8, Courtney Viney stands out as a big target

The UCLA cornerback can expect to see plenty of passes thrown his way on Saturday at Tennessee. But although people talk about his height, what he's accomplished on the field is no small feat.

September 11, 2009|Chris Foster

Courtney Viney is 5 feet 8. Deal with it. He has.

"I love being 5-8," Viney said. "I love that teams will come after me. It gives me the chance to show I can play."

Tennessee will be happy to oblige on Saturday.

Viney may get lost in a football crowd at his height, but the Volunteers are almost certain to do a Where's-Waldo-type search for him. The redshirt sophomore will make his first start at cornerback in place of Aaron Hester, who suffered a fractured right fibula in the season opener against San Diego State.

With lock-down corner Alterraun Verner on the other side, Viney can expect the Volunteers to send waves of 6-feet-and-up receivers his way.

Losing Hester is a hit. "The dude is 6-1, 205 and can run," free safety Rahim Moore said.

But, Moore added, "We got Viney. He's not the biggest guy, but that dude has enough heart to march with Martin Luther King."

Viney was chosen best defensive player on the UCLA scout team his first season, 2007, when he redshirted. Last year, he was a nickel back and backup cornerback but saw his playing time decrease as the season lurched along.

Hester, a redshirt freshman, leapfrogged him in the spring. UCLA also brought in freshmen Sheldon Price, Marlon Pollard and Brandon Sermons this year -- Price has already been bumped up to a backup role on the depth chart.

So Viney got old fast. The trick was to not become obsolete.

"Bringing [the freshmen] in or not, it would have been the same thing to me," Viney said. "Whenever I step on the field, I have something to prove."

Mostly that he can play at his size.

There is hardly a week that Viney isn't asked about his size, officially listed as 5-8, 160 pounds in the UCLA media guide.

Yet the other side of the coin is that Viney is 5-8 and several Pacific 10 Conference teams still wanted him: Arizona, California, Washington and Washington State offered him a scholarship, as did Nebraska.

Viney was another in a long line of defensive backs produced by a fertile program at Fresno Edison High, where he got an early start on technique.

"There have been a lot of guys who haven't been gigantic but have played very well," said UCLA secondary coach Tim Hundley, who has 18 years as a college defensive coordinator on his resume. "He's a really competitive guy who has great feet and can change gears quickly. Those are important traits playing in the back end."

Tennessee will test him. The Volunteers have a talented group of freshmen receivers and are expected to get junior Gerald Jones back from an ankle injury this week.

For Viney, getting a start also means another photo op -- hopefully replacing a shot taken last season of Fresno State's Ryan Mathews hurdling him on the way to a touchdown.

"I turned around and there he was," Viney said. "It happened so fast and then I left my feet early. . . ." He added, "No one play defines me."

Said UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel, "He's not the biggest guy in the world, but you can't tell him that. That's why small players can play this game. They won't buy into the fact that they are small."

There's truth there.

"I tell everyone, 'You've never seen a 5-8 giant before?' " Viney said. "Here I am."

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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