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UCLA FOOTBALL

UCLA freshman quarterback Richard Brehaut has short wait time

The 18-year-old, who enrolled early at UCLA so he could take part in spring practice, is expected to get the start against Kansas State as Kevin Prince is sidelined because of a fractured jaw.

September 16, 2009|Chris Foster

Richard Brehaut stood in the Rose Bowl tunnel with the rest of the UCLA team, waiting to take the field against San Diego State two weeks ago. Up to the moment, it had been business as usual.

Then it hit him. This was his first college game.

"I realized this was all I had worked for," said Brehaut, a freshman, who a year ago was playing for Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos High. "This feeling came over me that I can't even describe. I was proud and anxious and ready to get on with it."

The 18-year-old Brehaut may do just that Saturday, coming out of that same tunnel. He is expected to make his first collegiate start against Kansas State, replacing Kevin Prince, who suffered a fractured jaw last weekend against Tennessee.

The Bruins' hierarchy was left with a quarterback decision to make after Prince was injured late in the game. Brehaut, who completed two of two passes in mop-up duty against San Diego State, and Kevin Craft, who started 12 games last season, are the options.

Brehaut was with the first team during practice most of Tuesday. He spent 45 plays with the first team in 11-on-11 drills, including the last 12 against the first-team defense. Craft, who threw a school record 20 interceptions in 2008, had 18 plays with the first team.

"I came in early so I could get this opportunity," said Brehaut, who enrolled at UCLA last April to participate in spring practice. "I'm prepared to go out and have some fun."

He would be another talented freshman quarterback who is insisting that youth be served. Matt Barkley drove USC to a winning touchdown against Ohio State at Columbus on Saturday. On the same day, Tate Forcier engineered Michigan's upset of Notre Dame that propelled the Wolverines back into the top 25.

The three have followed similar paths, taking advantage of private quarterback coaches and camps, even enrolling early in college to participate in spring practice.

"I came here early for this opportunity," Brehaut said. "I know Matt and Tate pretty well. They've proved themselves, I'm hoping it's my turn to prove myself."

There are a handful of freshman quarterbacks who walked off their high school campus and into the lineup this year. Louisiana State Coach Les Miles is looking for ways to put Russell Shepard on the field, playing him at quarterback and wide receiver against Vanderbilt last week. Even at Texas, where Colt McCoy is the man, Coach Mack Brown is finding playing time for wunderkind Garrett Gilbert.

"A lot more quarterbacks are getting more year-round training in terms of mechanics and reading defenses," Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh said. "When I was in high school, you played basketball and then baseball and in the summer you worked at a summer job and did some passing camps."

Brehaut was a talented catcher whose focus was baseball, but that changed his junior year in high school. After losing a baseball playoff game, Brehaut and his father drove straight to Berkeley so he could participate in a Nike camp the next day. He won the Elite 11 competition despite being one of the few sophomores in attendance.

"We walked in there with nothing but the shirts on our back and Richard won the whole thing," Daniel Brehaut said. "I knew then that baseball might take a back seat."

Brehaut polished his skills working with noted quarterback coaching guru Steve Clarkson, one of the pioneers in tutoring young quarterbacks.

"These kids are playing quarterback year-round," said Coach Rick Neuheisel, who played quarterback at UCLA. "They are learning all sorts of different things and talking schemes. They are clearly further along than we were in my day."

Still, it wasn't long ago that a freshman quarterback was the last thing a coach -- especially one with a short-term contract -- wanted on the field. The jump from high school to college was too great.

Asked whether he would have been ready to play as a freshman quarterback at UCLA, Neuheisel said, "I could barely play as a senior."

But former UCLA Coach Terry Donahue took a chance with Cade McNown in 1995. He started nine games, winning five, including a victory over USC.

"He had that certain leadership capacity and he had mental maturity," Donahue said. "And he believed he was ready to play, just like Matt Barkley believed this year. That's a huge part of the equation."

There is little doubt Brehaut has that confidence. For example, Daniel Brehaut said that board games are no longer played when the family is together.

"Wild things happen, we're all too competitive," Brehaut said. "Monopoly got crazy. That's how I knew Richard would be fine competing in practice. He not only was going to end up with Boardwalk, he was going to have Park Place too."

Brehaut didn't wait to jump into the game, enrolling early at UCLA -- and forgoing his last season of baseball at Los Osos -- so he could participate in spring practice.

"That thing that is different from when I was in school is the midyear transfer," Neuheisel said. "Both Barkley and Forcier joined their programs in time for spring football, as did Richard Brehaut here. Now you've accelerated the development of freshmen."

Brehaut said he wasn't sure whether he would be ready for this opportunity if he waited to enroll, but said, "Coming to spring definitely made me 100% ready for this."

Now, are the Bruins' coaches 100% ready to hand it over to a freshman?

"It seems all the rage," Neuheisel said, "and there are a lot of kids doing very well."

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chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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