LOS ANGELES -- When Brett Hundley announced in January that he would be returning to UCLA for another season, there was little fanfare compared to how the guy across town did it a couple of years ago.
In a snappy sports coat and reading a prepared statement, former USC quarterback Matt Barkley made his famous “unfinished business” declaration. The band was struck, the song girls bounced, and there was joy across Troy. It was grand and opulent. Regal, even.
Hundley wore a simple UCLA polo shirt. There was no prepared statement. He riffed for about minute then announced his return. There was applause above a smattering, but no band or cheerleaders. He sat at a table made for four, making the 6-foot-3, 227-pound quarterback look smaller than the moment.
There’s nothing wrong with either announcement. In fact, Barkley gets extra credit for taking a shot at the NCAA when he referenced the “negativity and unfairness that was sought to bring down our football program.”
But the clash in styles speaks to the contrast of programs. USC is grandiose and makes no apologies for it. For decades, the Trojans have been the closest thing to West Coast college football royalty. UCLA is more understated. The Bruins had a good run over the Trojans in the '90s. But before and after, they’ve mostly played in USC’s shadow.
Hundley is looking to change that image. It’s one of the reasons he passed up being a possible top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
“We’ve started something really great here,” Hundley said. “I couldn’t run away from that. Not yet. I really wanted to leave the money out of [the decision], which was hard to do. For a while, my head was going crazy. But I came back, and I’m happy with the decision. I have my priorities: bring UCLA back to national prominence and get my degree.”
Over 27 career starts in two seasons, Hundley has helped the Bruins to a 19-8 record. Along the way, the Bruins won the Pac-12 South in 2012 and might very well have usurped the Trojans as team the to beat in L.A., having won back-to-back games against USC for first time since 1997-98.
From an X's and O's standpoint, there isn’t much left for Hundley to learn. It will be his third year in the offense, and his grasp of the concepts is as strong as it has ever been. Now his tutelage focuses on the details on the field and how to be a better leader off it.
For help, Hundley enlisted offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to call in a stable of quarterbacks he has worked with throughout his career -- including Philip Rivers, Brock Osweiler, Tim Tebow and Jeff Garcia. Each spent a day with Hundley, watching film and going over what it means to be an NFL quarterback.
“I wanted to know how to be a better quarterback,” said Hundley, who already holds several UCLA records. “I want to be a complete quarterback. Not just on the field, but off it. Those guys have all done big things. I asked them about the stuff you wouldn’t think to ask, and it really helped me.
“Philip and I watched his game film, and we went back and forth on concepts and situations. Tim Tebow talked to me about the intangibles so in those critical situations your teammates will look to you and trust you and follow your lead. Jeff Garcia and I spent an entire day together. Each week was different, and it was amazing to learn from them.”
As the Bruins prepare to wrap their spring session, Hundley is putting those lessons to work. Already a strong leader, Mazzone and coach Jim Mora said they can see the influence paying off during practices.
“I think he’s got room to improve,” Mazzone said. “But what we’ve really focused on this spring is not so much the X's and O's, but how the great ones handle situations -- on the field and off the field. How they study. How they prepare for games. How they watch film. All of those little things. … He kept asking me, ‘What does it take to be successful at the next level?’ A lot of guys go to the next level. But the key is going there and being successful. That’s why we had those guys work with him.”
With the kind of dual-threat numbers Hundley is capable of, he is going to get plenty of preseason Heisman buzz. As far as he’s concerned, that will take care of itself.
“It doesn’t cross my mind as much as I thought it would,” Hundley said. “Sure, you grow up wanting to win the Heisman. But I’m at a point where if I take care of my business, all that stuff will be there. I just want to work and let the dominoes fall. It’s OK to think about it, because it’s a blessing and you have to enjoy your opportunities. But not so much to the point where it becomes a distraction.”