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UCLA LB Jayon Brown looks forward to game against high school teammate

UCLA linebacker Jayon Brown, who leads the Pac-12 in tackles, will be facing former high school teammate Gerard Wicks on Saturday. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

LOS ANGELES -- UCLA linebacker Jayon Brown vividly remembers a conversation he had with Washington State running back Gerard Wicks nearly three years ago.

Then high school teammates at Southern California high school power Long Beach Poly, they got to talking about playing against each other in college.

"He was like, ‘Yeah, I'm going to run you over,'" Brown said. "We're finally about to play each other, it's going to be fun."

UCLA (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) continues its pursuit of the Pac-12 South title when it hosts bowl-eligible Washington State (6-3, 4-2) Saturday in what will be WSU coach Mike Leach's first time coaching at the Rose Bowl.

Wicks and Brown, both redshirt sophomores, have quietly emerged as key players in important roles.

Wicks leads the Cougars with 415 yards rushing to go along with 27 receptions for 127 yards. His physical, yet elusive, running style and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield has allowed him to become the most productive running back the Cougars have had since Leach took over in 2012.

"The few times they run it, he's getting the ball," Brown said. "He's a hard runner. I remember going against him in practice back in the day in high school. He's a hard guy to bring down. He runs mean."

Brown, UCLA's leading tackler with 59, said they're both a part of a group text-message chat that included a lot of good-natured trash talk earlier in the season. This week, though, he's going dark.

"I'm ignoring him," Brown said.

With three games left, UCLA controls its destiny in the Pac-12 South, but none of them are gimmes. The Cougars, who sit in second place in the Pac-12 North, are perhaps the surprise of the conference having won six of eight games since their opening-week loss to FCS Portland State. Quarterback Luke Falk leads the nation with 3,736 passing yards and Monday, for the third time this year, was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 497 yards and five touchdowns in WSU's 38-24 win against Arizona State.

The Bruins have South-leading Utah the following week before their rivalry game with USC, which is tied with UCLA, a game back of the Utes.