UCLA defensive lineman Cassius Marsh and tight end Joe Fauria added some spark to an otherwise sleepy spring practice when the two got into an on-field altercation, resulting in Marsh stripping off his helmet and shoulder pads, throwing them to the ground and storming out of practice Monday at Spaulding field.
Marsh, a freshman, went to the UCLA locker room for about half an hour where former UCLA player and current FSN broadcaster James Washington and injured UCLA safety Dalton Hilliard calmed him down. He returned to the field and put his helmet and pads back on, but mostly sat on the sidelines.
"It’s just the game of football is violent and your emotions can get worked up and you make mistakes and that’s what happened," Marsh said. "I made a mistake."
Marsh got tangled up with an offensive lineman during a running play about midway through practice and Fauria stepped in to try to break them up. Marsh then went after Fauria before offensive lineman Stan Hasiak intervened and separated the two. As Marsh walked off the field in a huff, running back Johnathan Franklin tried to stop him, but Marsh said he thought he had been kicked out of practice by defensive coordinator Joe Tresey.
"Coach told me I was done for the day and to get off the field," Marsh said. "I mistook that for leave the field as in go into the locker room. Me and coach Tresey, we talked about it and we’re all past it."
The original scuffle, Marsh said, started because he thought he was getting held.
"You get frustrated if you’re not making the plays you want to and sometimes you show that frustration, sometimes in the wrong way," he said. "Holding is part of the game whether defensive linemen like it or not. I shouldn’t react that way. Like I said it was a mistake."
Fauria said he was simply coming to the aid of a fellow offensive player by trying to pull Marsh off.
"Cassius was playing some hard physical football and he got into it with one of the offensive players and I tried to hold him back," Fauria said. "He didn’t like that and emotions get a hold of you sometimes."
He said he hopes Marsh can learn from the incident.
"He’s young and he’s growing and he’s going to learn from this and harness it and use it to become a better player and use that aggression for the next play," Fauria said. "That’s just a one-time deal. That’s not going to happen again. He’s a frickin’ great player so he’s going to be fine."
Coach Rick Neuheisel was watching over a different drill on the other side of the practice field and said he would need to review the film of the incident. He said any disciplinary action would be handled internally.
"I just know there was a lot of frustration and it’s just growing pains," Neuheisel said.
Part of those frustrations could stem from Marsh getting moved down the depth chart. He worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman for the latter part of last season, but was working with the second team Monday.
"It’s always kind of in the back of your mind when they move you down," Marsh said. "You think about it a little bit, but you just have to trust your coaches and trust your teammates and work hard."
It was a busy day for scuffles involving Fauria. He was involved in at least three, first tangling with linebacker Eric Kendricks on a play where Fauria was blocking Kendricks and neither let go, then getting into it with Marsh and finally a minor shoving match with safety Alex Mascarenas.
"Sometimes it just happens in football," Fauria said. "You get scrappy and emotions get a hold of you, but sometimes it just happens. It’s a physical sport."
Fauria, who tore his groin last spring and played through nagging injuries all last season, said he is playing hard this spring trying to make up for lost time and that's why he seems to be in the middle of these altercations.
"That’s how I always play," he said. "I was tamed by injuries last year so this is the real me and I’m just glad to be back and I’m glad nobody is backing away from a challenge."
He said it's simply the nature of spring practice for the emotions to run high because everyone is fighting for playing time.
"If it snowballs, it's a good thing," Fauria said. "Not necessarily the fighting, but the energy. Sometimes that happens where you get guys scrapping a little bit, you got guys who really want it on the field trying to show the coaches and other teammates what is going on."
And this was a practice Neuheisel complained had a lack of intensity when compared with other spring practices, and said it seemed as if the team was merely trying to survive the practice rather than trying to get better.
"There are days where you feel more like playing than others but you have to have the mental fortitude to get through that and really get yourself going, Neuheisel said.