From football to track and back

Football coach Rick Neuheisel has said it over and over since he arrived in Westwood two springs ago: UCLA needs to get faster, stronger, quicker, bigger, better.

Sometimes that means stepping away from the gridiron and thinking beyond Spaulding Field.

Receivers Nelson Rosario and Randall Carroll and cornerback Sheldon Price looked to hone their skills by joining the men’s track and field team after UCLA beat Temple in the EagleBank Bowl last December. But ever since Spring Practice kicked off at the start of April, it’s been all football all the time.

"I'm glad our guys can help another sport, I'm excited about it," Neuheisel said. "But I'm also the football coach, so it's important that they're here for football practice because that's the scholarship that they signed. All are very talented guys who can score for the track team. If that’s the case, then we’d like them to do it."

Rising junior receiver Nelson Rosario (jumps)

Three years ago, Rosario was the California State runner-up in the long jump. He joined the track team as a freshman and nabbed third place in the Pac-10 Conference championships with a lifetime best of 25 feet in the long jump. He decided to do it again this season.

Tiffany Cheng/Daily Bruin

Nelson Rosario (83) looks to become a top target for Kevin Prince (14) next season.

"I’m getting better by working on my explosiveness," Rosario said.

As a receiver, Rosario needs that. The straight-line sprint at the start of the long jump helps improve speed. He also competes in the high jump to build his vertical leap – which is crucial for wideouts like Rosario, who battle for balls in crowded situations inside the red zone.

Rosario was second on the team with 42 catches and two touchdowns last season and has the potential to become quarterback Kevin Prince’s No. 1 target. That’s his primary focus this spring, meaning Neuheisel can breathe a sigh of relief.

"Track is just helping me get better," Rosario said. "But I can’t be missing football for it."

Rising sophomore receiver Randall Carroll (sprints)

When Carroll first arrived on campus, the football coaching staff told him to focus on his gifts.

"Everyone recognizes that my gift is speed," Carroll said. "I was given the opportunity to get faster by joining track this offseason. I took that opportunity and ran with it."

On the Sunday before the start of Spring Practice, Carroll took first place in the 200m dash and second place in the 100m at the Cal/Nevada Championships. He also anchored the first-place 4X100m relay team.

Carroll is an experienced track athlete who capped his high school career with back-to-back state titles in the 100m and clocked the fastest time (10.30) in the state in 17 years. It was also the fastest time in the country in 2009.

"I'm still getting faster,” Carroll said. “For football we do speed training, but I feel like I get faster on the track."

Carroll was originally committed to play football at USC, but switched sides on signing day. He saw limited action in 10 games as a freshman, making three catches for 21 yards. But Carroll has been a bright spot this spring and his speed should help him vie for more reps next season.

Carroll also credits track for helping him correct a flaw in his running technique.

"I used to run with my arms down," Carroll said. "It slowed me down getting in and out of my breaks. I got my arms where they're supposed to be after doing track."

For Carroll, the 100m dash is about sheer speed, while the 200m helps improve stamina. He believes that running both events will transform him into a more versatile receiver.

"I was lifting with football in the morning and running track in the afternoons," he said. "I was getting stronger and still running so I could remain mobile. The weight that I put on, I can still move with it."

Rising sophomore cornerback Sheldon Price (sprints)

Price thought about not running track at UCLA. In high school – where he finished second in the 100m behind Carroll – Price ran track mostly for fun.

"I did well, but I’m a football player," Price said.

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Sheldon Price was picked on quite a bit last season.

In the end, he decided that track would help him on the football field. The transition from football to track was easy.

"In track they’re precious with your body – you do a rep and you get a nice eight to 10 minutes to rest," Price said. "You’re strictly running in a straight line."

The transition from track to football has been a bit more challenging.

"In football you do a drill and you’re going on to the next drill as soon as possible," Price said. "There are no breaks. Coming back to football I had to get my legs back under me. Changing direction, stopping and starting on a dime – those were tough but I’ve worked through it."

Last season, opposing quarterbacks stayed away from cornerback Alterraun Verner, which meant that Price -- who became the starter after Aaron Hester broke his leg -- was the easy target. Price has used track to boost his competitiveness.

"I imagine it like I’m still on the football field and trying to catch up to someone who just broke for a big run," he said. "That’s how I see it."