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UCLA's Jerry Neuheisel takes on opponent Matt Barkley

As a member of the Bruins scout team, he imitates opposing quarterbacks at practices. This week it's USC's Barkley, whose touchdowns expedited dad Rick Neuheisel's firing.

November 15, 2012|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA quarterback Jerry Neuheisel throws on the sideline during the second half of a 43-17 loss at Cal.
UCLA quarterback Jerry Neuheisel throws on the sideline during the second… (Jason O. Watson / Getty Images )

Jerry Barkley walked onto UCLA's practice field Wednesday and went to work.

Facing the Bruins defense, Barkley threw those quick slants he's famous for, plus a few out patterns, and even lofted a couple of deep passes.

When practice was over, Barkley walked off the field and was Jerry Neuheisel again.

Someday, Neuheisel may get to show UCLA fans what kind of quarterback he is. For now, the freshman plays like someone else each week as a member of the Bruins scout team.

This week, that person is USC's Matt Barkley.

"I don't know if he'll be an actor or a coach," cornerback Sheldon Price said. "I think he can be the best at both."

Neuheisel's season has not gone entirely as scripted. Rick Neuheisel, his father, was fired as UCLA's coach after a 50-0 loss to USC last season. Jim Mora was hired, but Jerry decided to stay.

So now he's imitating the guy who expedited his father's firing — Barkley threw six touchdown passes in the Trojans' 50-0 victory.

But the show must go on.

"It was a little weird at the start of the year, taking the field without my dad," Neuheisel said. "It has gotten easier as the season has gone on. Coach Mora was very supportive, as was the entire coaching staff. It got more and more normal. Winning helps."

The Bruins are 8-2 and need to beat USC on Saturday to win the Pac-12 South Division and go to the conference championship game. If they do, Neuheisel will have had a hand — or arm — in it.

"It stops when we walk off the field and Jerry comes back," Neuheisel said. "But as soon as we walk on, I've got to adopt it."

Said Mora: "Jerry does a great job of watching guys. He studies those players and learns their mannerisms." For example, Neuheisel knows Barkley puts the ball on the "upfield" shoulder off Marqise Lee on the out pattern.

"He morphs into a replicant pretty fast," Price said.

Some teammates suggested he buzz-cut his mop of blond hair to look more like Barkley. He has tried to convert just about everything else into Barkley, right down to mannerisms.

"You know what, you've got to have a little bit of a smirk all the time," Neuheisel said. "He always seems to have that, infamously last year, when he had that little grin on his face. You know, he has had our number the last couple years, so we owe him some payback."

It's not personal, though it would be understandable for Neuheisel to have hard feelings given Barkley's hand in ending his father's UCLA coaching career.

Father and son had planned to spend years together at UCLA. They were together less than one. Jerry Neuheisel attended UCLA last fall and went on scholarship after the winter quarter. By then, his dad was gone.

Mora understood Jerry's pain. Mora was on the New Orleans Saints' staff when his father, Jim E. Mora, was fired.

"I told Jerry, 'You and I are the same guy,'" Mora said. "We're both coaches' kids. I know how personal it can become when your father is asked to leave a place or loses his dream job."

The talk helped.

"You'd rather it would happen to you than your dad," Neuheisel said. "I know my dad is the biggest supporter of UCLA football, even today."

The relationship between coach and the son of the ex-coach has grown. Mora has been impressed with how players gravitate to Neuheisel.

"When the guys were throwing the ball around on Saturdays in the spring, I could go watch," Mora said. "When they put music on, it would be Jerry's, stuff like Fleetwood Mac, and all of them liked it. Most of those guys don't listen to Fleetwood Mac."

Whether Neuheisel will ever get to be himself on the field remains to be seen. Brett Hundley, the starter, is a redshirt freshman.

Neuheisel sounds as if he has already decided to stick it out. "When Coach Mora told me I would get a shot, I knew I was going to be here the rest of my life," he said. "I love being a Bruin. I love everything about this school and couldn't imagine being anywhere else."

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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