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UCLA FOOTBALL

UCLA's Brandon Willis is making up for lost time

Nose tackle who served on the scout team last year — and has impressed coaches — finally has a game to prepare for, even if it is months away.

April 26, 2012|By Chris Foster

UCLA was working on goal-line plays during practice Thursday when, suddenly, the wrong guy was in the backfield.

Nose tackle Brandon Willis shed a block, then wrapped up running back Johnathan Franklin as he got the handoff.

"He's an anvil, he's a piece of metal in there," defensive line coach Angus McClure said. "He's hard to move."

Willis is done moving. He crisscrossed the nation three times the last two years, from North Carolina to UCLA and UCLA to North Carolina. He returned to Westwood last summer.

It cost him two years of eligibility. Now he finally has a game to prepare for, even if it is four months off.

"Aug. 30, we open at Rice," Willis said.

There is an urgency in Willis' approach. He spent last season on the scout team and is making up for lost time, earning a spot with the first-team unit.

"Man, it has been a loooong time," the 6-foot-3, 275-pound Willis said. "When you're on scout team, you're not part of the plan, you're development for the plan. To be back in the scheme, to be one of those guys they are trying to teach, is exciting."

Willis' ability to hold the point of attack has impressed coaches.

"He plays with great leverage," McClure said.

Willis does not regret his journey, or journeys. He returned to North Carolina to be near his grandmother, who is battling kidney problems.

"My family comes first," Willis said. "I wanted to be there for her like she has always been there for me. I went through my trials and now I'm reaping the benefits of that."

Hundley shines

Brett Hundley has emerged from the pack the last two practices in the competition to be the Bruins' starting quarterback. A strong performance in a mini-scrimmage Saturday could strengthen his position considerably.

Hundley had another quality day throwing the ball Thursday. His running skills also turned potential sacks into big gains twice.

But his most impressive moment came on an incomplete pass during goal-line drills. Hundley checked off three receivers before ditching the ball out of the end zone. He threw a touchdown pass on the next play.

Tag-team bout

A multiplayer brawl nearly broke out Thursday. It started when guard Alberto Cid and linebacker Eric Kendricks exchanged punches. Nearly the entire offensive line — Jeff Baca, Brett Downey and Greg Capella — took turns going after Kendricks.

Coach Jim Mora made his feelings known quickly, shouting, "That embarrasses the university. You cost us 15 yards and were thrown out of the game." He continued to berate the team, particularly Cid, while making them run sideline-to-sideline sprints. Offensive line and linebacker units had extra running after practice.

"Part of being a disciplined football team is knowing when to step back from those situations," Mora said.

UCLA was involved in a multiplayer brawl against Arizona last season.

Everyone was coy on the matter of who started things Thursday.

Kendricks said, "Everyone is just trying to compete out there."

Cid said, "It was nothing, just the heat of the moment."

Asked why he got involved, Baca said, "You know, um, we're a unit. Alberto was in it, so we were all in it."

Kendricks was not allowed in team drills the remainder of practice.

Quick hits

Linebacker Isaiah Bowens left the field on crutches after injuring his right knee. He was expected to undergo an MRI exam.… Wide receiver Damien Thigpen aggravated his hamstring injury during practice.… Wide receiver Shaquelle Evans and tackle Torian White sat out because of groin injuries.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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