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Four players get a do-over at UCLA

Shaquelle Evans and Joseph Fauria came from Notre Dame, and Kai Maiava and Josh Smith from Colorado. Coach Rick Neuheisel says academics, needs on field and circumstances of departure all play part.

August 18, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • Receiver Josh Smith had to file an appeal before being given a partial release from Colorado, enabling him to transfer to UCLA.
Receiver Josh Smith had to file an appeal before being given a partial release… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Shaquelle Evans, unhappy at Notre Dame, called UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel a year ago and said he was transferring.

Summary of Neuheisel's reply: "What do we need to do to get it done?"

Neuheisel had failed to land Evans once before, when the wide receiver was a senior at Inglewood High. With Evans back in play, Neuheisel was determined not to lose him again.

Two or three times each year, Neuheisel receives calls from players looking for a do-over. Four are currently on the UCLA roster: Evans and tight end Joseph Fauria from Notre Dame and center Kai Maiava and wide receiver Josh Smith from Colorado.

"You always like to have one scholarship available in the event that a Shaq calls you," Neuheisel said.

Deciding which players to take and which ones to avoid can be difficult for coaches. Deciding when to leave — or if one should — and where to go is often just as stressful for players.

There can be academic hurdles and restrictions put in place by the former schools to deal with. At best, a year without football awaits most players who transfer.

"It's not an easy process," Smith said. "You actually have to quit your job before you can shop for a new one."

Evans was the latest UCLA pickup. He, Smith, Fauria and Maiava all boosted positions in which depth was an issue. Evans has been the Bruins' best receiver in training camp. Smith has impressive speed. Maiava anchors the offensive line. Fauria is 6 feet 8 and sure-handed.

In taking all four, Neuheisel said, "I had to map out what the world would look like in 12 months and then go back to Recruiting 101. Were they going to fit in perfect?"

Of course, this kind of thing has been going on for years. Terry Donahue, who was UCLA's head coach from 1976 to 1995, was once contacted by a quarterback who had left Oklahoma. Troy Aikman went 20-4 in two seasons at UCLA before a Hall of Fame career in the NFL.

Donahue said the payoff is "a kid going to that second school is going to really work at making it work. A younger player starts thinking about transferring rather than solving problems."

Evans is a prime example.

Brian Kelly replaced Charlie Weis as coach at Notre Dame after the 2009 season. Evans, who played in six games as a freshman, tried to stick it out but was being moved around the offense.

There was a final meeting with Kelly.

"He told me, 'You're going to play.' I kept asking, 'Where?' " Evans said. "There was no evidence that I would. I decide to get out of there."

That type of decision changes more than life on the field.

Fauria walked away from Notre Dame — "my dream school" — in 2009, leaving "all the buddies I came in with as a freshman."

"You have to do the recruiting yourself," Fauria said. "It's like, 'Remember me from two years ago?' There were a lot of sleepless nights."

Fauria left after being suspended a semester for an undisclosed disciplinary violation. He said it was a minor incident.

Neuheisel said he has passed on players after investigating the reasons for their departure. The vetting includes academic performance.

Willie Mobley left Ohio State before the 2009 season and seemed on track to get into UCLA, where he was expected to replace Brian Price at defensive tackle. But Mobley was denied enrollment at the last moment and is now at Arizona.

With Fauria, Neuheisel said he felt comfortable "Joe had learned and was the kind of kid who was going to be a benefit to our program."

The coach added: "He's a good guy to have on the field."

The potential to land a good bounce back is the reason "you never get angry with a kid when he tells you he is going to another school," Neuheisel said.

When Evans bounced back, he looked at California and Oregon. He also remembered that Neuheisel was there at his first game as a senior at Inglewood.

"He was on the sideline when I scored my first touchdown that season," Evans said.

Evans had it easy. Notre Dame gave him a general release, which is required before another coach can talk with the player. Same with Maiava, who was a freshman All-American guard in 2007. He left Colorado when coaches wanted him to move to fullback.

Others weren't as lucky.

Fauria's choices were limited. Notre Dame would not allow him to go to any school the Fighting Irish played during his eligibility period.

Smith had it worse in 2009. Colorado Coach Dan Hawkins refused to grant him a release. Smith, who returned kickoffs and caught 52 passes in two seasons at Colorado, filed an appeal with the school and was eventually given a partial release.

"I couldn't go to Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, Arizona State and a number of other schools," Smith said.

But UCLA was always on Smith's list, so he made the call.

"You have to be sure," Smith said. "It's more important than when you first choose a school. At this level, it's easy to get left behind."

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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