UCLA receiver Shaquelle Evans, right, celebrates with teammate Sheldon… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Shaquelle Evans, a junior receiver at UCLA, was pondering the question of how much he gets for child care these days.
Freshman Jordan Payton, sitting nearby, chimed right in with "not enough."
Indeed, UCLA receivers seem to be getting younger by the day, and Evans has taken responsibility for guiding them.
The Bruins are expected to play three first-year freshmen at receiver Saturday against Utah at the Rose Bowl. Kenneth Walker has been in the lineup since the opener at Rice. Jordan Payton debuted against Oregon State two weeks ago. Devin Fuller was shifted from quarterback to receiver before last week's game against California.
"I feel like I have to show them the way," Evans said.
It seems like only yesterday that Evans was running around with his own peer group. In fact, it was just a couple of weeks ago. Then attrition set in.
Senior Jerry Johnson played only briefly against California because of sore ribs. Redshirt junior Ricky Marvray is still trying work back into the lineup after off-season back surgery. Senior Darius Bell is out at least two weeks because of a broken rib. Devin Lucien, a redshirt freshman who had 10 receptions, suffered a broken collarbone.
"The cupboard is not bare," Coach Jim Mora said. "It's just inexperienced."
Which is where Evans comes in handy.
"Shaq is a security blanket for those guys," said Eric Yarber, UCLA's receivers coach. "He shows them how to practice. He shows them how to work in the film room. He knows the offense inside and outside."
"He can run a route and catch a pass," Yarber said.
Evans has 24 receptions for 322 yards. He is both a solid possession receiver and a deep threat. His seven catches against Oregon State included a 65-yard touchdown reception.
The bonus feature is Evans' ability to get younger receivers up to speed.
Walker was ticketed for playing time since wowing coaches in August. Payton worked himself into the rotation the fourth week of the season. Fuller was given a new role last week, as slot receiver. All have had, shall we say, freshman moments.
Walker hesitated on a cut while running a deep pass route in the end zone and the ball dropped just out of his reach against Oregon State. Payton wasn't able to toe the sideline while catching a long ball against Colorado. Fuller couldn't corral a lateral against California, a fumble that was charged to quarterback Brett Hundley.
"When you're a freshman, everything is coming at you 2,000 mph," Payton said. "You know what you're doing, but you really don't. You get with Shaq and he teaches you things that slow it all down."
Evans went through a rough freshman season at Notre Dame in 2009, then transferred to UCLA. He understands growing pains and leads by example.
"I run hard, block downfield, whatever is needed," Evans said. "People see that and they know what they have to do if they want to play."
It's not always so tacit.
"He gets mad at me almost every day," said Payton, who has five receptions for 53 yards.
Against California, Payton was confused about a play signaled in from the sideline. He said, "I yelled, 'Shaq what route do I have?' He turned and signaled it to me."
When Lucien missed a block downfield that, Evans said, "got Jordan killed, I said something to him on the sideline."
Said Payton: "He's a second coach."
The need for growth is paramount. UCLA's offense spreads the ball around. Eleven different Bruins caught passes against California, including defensive end Cassius Marsh, who had a four-yard touchdown reception.
It was the norm, not the exception. The Bruins have had 11 players with receptions in each of the last three games.
The injuries have had the Bruins mining the depth chart. Walk-on Jerry Rice Jr. has made solid contributions. Even Logan Sweet, a non-scholarship player, has logged time.
"Everyone is involved in the offense," Evans said. "You have to run your route to win because you never know when you're going to get the ball. We're eighth in the nation in total yards. That comes from unselfishness."
Evans practices what he preaches. Running back Johnathan Franklin said it was Evans' downfield blocking that sprung him for touchdown runs of 74 and 78 yards against Rice.
Said Payton: "You got to link up with someone like Shaq to learn the game."