UCLA football players free to have fun, show off at Friday Night Lights

Lines of high school recruits stood outside Wasserman Football Center on Friday night, waiting for the wristbands that would grant them access to one of L.A.’s most in-demand, one-night-only shows: a night practice for the UCLA football team.

They spilled into the practice facility at 7 p.m. under bright stadium lights and in front of UCLA fans and supporters – an atmosphere reminiscent of what they’re immersed in during their own Friday night football games.

New UCLA head coach DeShaun Foster turned a scripted football practice into a dazzling show with his relentless pack of Bruins as the headliners at Friday Night Lights.

“It looks fun, right? And that’s what they’re doing, they’re having fun playing football,” Foster said. “I just want to keep this going. This looks like something that people want to be involved in. If we win this city over, I think we can do really well.”

Foster told reporters after the practice that a couple hundred recruits had come out – 25 of whom he defined as top recruits. Multiple high school coaches in attendance for the event said Friday Night Lights was unlike any other practice experience they’ve had.

Current recruit situation outside of Wasserman ahead of UCLA football’s Friday Night Lights practice: pic.twitter.com/wewAAjKUMX

— Haley Sawyer (@haleymsawyer) April 20, 2024

It was difficult to count the number of spectators in attendance as they populated the parking deck, Wasserman Center and the space between the two practice fields.

Alumni like Laiatu Latu, Cassius Marsh, Quentin Lake, Josh Kelly, Alex Johnson and Josiah Norwood were also roaming the fields.

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“Guys are (telling) me, ‘I wish I had another year. I wish we did this when I was here,’” Foster said. “I’m just trying to make it fun. Football’s a fun sport, it’s an awesome game. It changes people’s lives.”

The players appeared to respond to the masses with heightened intensity. Logan Loya caught a long pass from quarterback Ethan Garbers in a one-on-one drill against defensive back Kanye Clark and after running it in for a touchdown, forcefully traced the numbers on his jersey in celebration as if he was in a game.

Assistant coach Kodi Whitfield had his cornerbacks hauling in one-handed catches during individual drills and Clark, a former walk-on who recently earned a scholarship, executed perfectly in front of the onlookers.

Kanye Clark with the one-handed catch pic.twitter.com/z4DvLKBW7o

— Haley Sawyer (@haleymsawyer) April 20, 2024

The practice opened with one-on-one competition – something Foster has done in previous practices – and a big screen stationed at the side of the practice fields gave viewers an up-close look at players who rushed at each other in a toned-down Oklahoma drill.

Foster doesn’t have to look far to come up with ideas to keep his players competitive while having some fun, either.

“I just tell the guys that I’m just the older version of you guys,” Foster said. “That’s how it is. I just do things that I would want.”

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UCLA has set the bar high in terms of fun and enthusiasm ahead of the Spring Showcase, which is slated for next Saturday (April 27) at the Rose Bowl.

“I’m just making it fun for the fans, for the guys,” Foster said. “And the players like it just as much as the fans do, so I’m just excited that my vision actually turned out to be pretty good – I was just missing the ferris wheel.”

UCLA IN CONTACT WITH JAY TOIA

Defensive lineman Jay Toia announced on Thursday that he was entering the transfer portal, which further depleted the Bruins’ defensive front.

Foster confirmed that UCLA is in contact with Toia, but he did not give any further details.

“I think (he’s) maybe just seeing what’s out there,” Foster said. “I don’t have a problem with him seeing what’s out there and, hopefully, Monday will be a good day.”

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