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Prince shows plenty of bite

Quarterback has been injured and booed, but he has kept UCLA in line for a Pac-12 title.

November 12, 2011|Chris Foster
  • UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince has had to deal with his fair share of adversity, but that hasn't stopped him from leading the Bruins to victories in three of their last four games.
UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince has had to deal with his fair share of adversity,… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Kevin Prince's strong recent play as UCLA's quarterback is beginning to affect his father's work.

"When Kevin wasn't playing, none of my patients wanted to talk about him," said Stephen Prince, a dentist. "Now, I can't get any work done. I have to tell them, 'I can't do my job if you're talking.' "

Prince has led the Bruins to three victories in four games and a share of the lead in the Pac-12 Conference's South Division heading into Saturday afternoon's game at Utah. He did so with gusto, rushing for 163 yards in a 31-14 victory over California. And he did so with nerve, taking the Bruins 79 yards in the final minutes for the winning touchdown in a 29-28 victory over Arizona State.

After the Bruins defeated the nationally ranked Sun Devils, UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel, a self-described "harsh" critic of quarterbacks, said, "I'm thrilled with Kevin."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, November 18, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
UCLA football: An article in the Nov. 12 Sports section about UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince identified Prince as a senior. He is a redshirt junior.

Neuheisel, UCLA and its senior quarterback have all enjoyed a dramatic rise from the subterranean moment that was a 48-12 loss to Arizona on Oct. 20.

"Guys saw all the adversity he went through," wide receiver Taylor Embree said of Prince. "They buy into him as a player and a person. You need a leader who shows no mercy on himself."

Neuheisel sees "maturation" in Prince's passing skills. Prince completed 11 of 17 passes for 196 yards against Arizona State, one for 33 yards on a third-and-29 play during the winning drive.

Teammates see a harder edge. "Guys want to fight for him, seeing how much he fights for us," tight end Joseph Fauria said.

Prince feels a change after being beaten down physically and mentally earlier this season.

"I was worried I would never get a chance again, he said.

Prince suffered a separated shoulder and concussion against Houston in the season opener and another separated shoulder against Texas. He also had three of his first seven passes intercepted against Texas, prompting a large number of Bruins fans to turn on him.

Stephen Prince endured those struggles right along with his son.

"The guys behind us at the Texas game were mouthing off," he recalled. "I turned around and said, 'You know, I agree with a lot of what you are saying, but I just want you to know I'm his dad.' They were quieter after that."

Richard Brehaut came on in relief in that Texas game and then took over as starter. Prince said he responded by "wallowing in self-pity."

"But I realized my football career was not over," he added, "the season was not over and the team could need me."

Three weeks later, during a home game against Washington State, Brehaut suffered a broken leg. When Prince jogged onto the field, boos rained down on him.

But they fell on deaf ears. There was work to do.

"The people who I really care about are the people who were there for me after the Texas game -- guys on the team, my family, my girlfriend, close friends," Prince said.

When Prince completed a 41-yard pass to Nelson Rosario on the third play, Stephen Prince said, "there was a little sweet redemption" listening to fans cheer.

Of course, there will always be concerns because Prince's medical history could fill a season of "House" episodes.

"I think we're a better blocking team now because no one wants to be the guy to miss a block and get him hurt," Embree said.

Embree added that offensive coordinator Mike Johnson reminds the team each day: "That guy is the last piece of gold we got. Protect him."

Prince just plows ahead.

Before the California game, Neuheisel told Prince he needed to gain 100 yards rushing.

"Getting the green light was freeing," Prince said. "Instead of racing for the sideline, I was trying to get upfield. I was lowering my shoulder and being the guy giving the hit, not taking it."

--

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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