UCLA Coach Jim Mora and freshman star linebacker Myles Jack, both from Bellevue,… (Christina House / For The…)
Bellevue, the tech-savvy bedroom community across Lake Washington from Seattle, has had a tremendous impact on UCLA football.
The city is just a short drive over the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge from the University of Washington, but two of its favorite sons drifted south to Westwood.
Jim Mora, the pre-Starbucks kid who played at Bellevue Interlake High, has created a football renaissance at UCLA. He has the Bruins back in the rankings at No. 13 and also in the Rose Bowl race.
Myles Jack, the post-Microsoft sensation from Bellevue High, was turning heads as a freshmen linebacker. Then, last week, he was given a chance at running back and rambled for 120 yards and a touchdown against Arizona.
With the Bruins set to play Washington on Friday night at the Rose Bow, they have been reminded of their roots.
The Huskies are Mora's past; he played for Washington from 1980-83. The Huskies could have been Jack's present and future; he was enamored of Washington before choosing UCLA.
Both claim there is nothing special about the matchup.
"It's just a game," Mora said.
"It's just another game," Jack echoed.
You want to believe them.
Coaching was in Mora's DNA. His father, also named Jim, was head coach of the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts.
The elder Mora also was a Huskies assistant from 1975-77. Young Jim spent his teens devouring Led Zeppelin music and playing football for Interlake, a high school power in those pre-grunge days.
"I was a receiver, defensive back, linebacker, running back, long snapper," Mora said. "Anything they wanted me to do."
These days Interlake is not what it was. Bellevue, with Jack starring, beat Interlake, 70-7, last season. "They have been in a rebuilding phase for a decade," Jack said.
But Interlake made the state quarterfinals back-to-back seasons in 1978 and 1979, and Mora was a vital cog. Quarterback Steve Pelluer, Interlake's star, went to Washington on scholarship, and Mora as a walk-on.
Mora was recruited by Montana, Eastern Montana and Eastern Washington. Colorado, he said, "recruited me for a minute, then backed off."
Washington was his hometown school, and some of Mora's good friends were going there. Plus, the late Don James, then the Huskies' football coach, was a role model. "I wanted to have a chance to play for him," Mora said.
Washington was good for Mora. He met his wife, Shannon, who was a cheerleader. He experienced Rose Bowl games during the 1980 and 1981 seasons. And he absorbed coaching lessons from James and his staff.
"Every minute you spent around Don James was a great opportunity to learn something," Mora said.
Mora spent the 1984 season as a graduate assistant at Washington, but that's now ancient history.
Asked whether he would be thinking about James before Friday's game, Mora said, "If he knew I was thinking about him when I should be coaching, he'd kick my butt."
Jack is thought to be the first linebacker ever to be acknowledged by the Pac-12 Conference as offensive player of the week. He had a couple of strong runs Saturday against Arizona, one a 66-yard touchdown.
Those were his first carries of the season.
Jack said it was merely Mora keeping his word. "He promised me opportunities," Jack said.
Jack started attending Washington games as a high school sophomore. "I'd watch games and go, 'That's going to be me on defense. That's me playing in front of this crowd,'" Jack said. "Washington jumped on me early. I was itching for some type of contact from a school."
Washington was first at the door, but Mora had an in. Jahlen Jack, Myles' younger brother, played on a youth football team with Jim's son, Ryder.
"Myles would come to his brother's games and I got to see a couple of his youth games," said Mora, who was head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 2009. "I saw a lot of his high school stuff. He was a special kid."
Mora's recruiting pitch lacked any kind of common Bellevue angle. Heck, Bellevue High was merely cannon fodder in his Interlake days.
"We used to whup Bellevue in every sport," Mora said. However, that was a generation ago.
Jack was part of the new era.
"He didn't sell me on being a Bellevue guy," Jack said. "He was more about, 'We want you and we think you can contribute.' That's all I wanted to hear."
Jack has contributed. He clinched a 34-27 victory over Utah by making an interception at the five-yard line with 16 seconds left. Then came that spectacular offensive cameo against Arizona.
"This week is definitely going to be a homecoming," Jack said.