Brett Hundley didn't get his quarterback shot right away, but the wait was worth it—and as one of the country's best dual threats, he's made UCLA a must-see again
A PERIODIC LOOK AT SOME OF THE MOST INTRIGUING RISING STARS
Meet Brett Hundley, the world's worst telemarketer. Or maybe the world's best.
August 19, 2013
A few months ago Hundley, UCLA's sophomore quarterback, was handed a list of 40 Bruins season-ticket holders and given 90 minutes to call and thank them for their loyalty to the program. If quantity is your barometer of success, the gregarious Hundley failed miserably at his task. "I'm the type of person who'll sit here and have a conversation," Hundley says. "I'm not going to rush anybody off the phone. I made like 15 calls."
After introducing himself, Hundley, who has thighs like redwood trunks and the voice of a Quiet Storm deejay, usually heard a slight gasp on the other end of the line. Then the questions came. How does the team look? How can you replace Johnathan Franklin's 1,734 rushing yards? Can you beat USC again? Can you make a third consecutive Pac-12 title game? How will you avoid a slide like the last three games of 2012? Hundley answered every one, and afterward he calculated the opportunity cost of providing top-notch customer service to a small group rather than lousy service to a large group. "You'd rather have 15 satisfied people," the quarterback says, "than 40 that you just blew through."
Hundley has thought all summer about consumer satisfaction and its effect on demand. To prepare for his major in economics, Hundley took Statistics for Economists (Econ 41) and Microeconomic Theory (Econ 11). He studied consumer behavior one indifference curve at a time—and realized that he has been taking part in a grand consumer-satisfaction experiment since early last year. Between January and August 2012, UCLA upgraded its football product. First came a new coaching staff led by Jim Mora. Then came a position switch that turned teammate Anthony Barr from an average H-back into an offense-wrecking linebacker. Then, in August, UCLA coaches chose redshirt freshman Hundley over two seniors to lead the offense. By last November the sharp increase in demand for UCLA football was obvious. All Hundley had to do was look around the Rose Bowl. The student section that wasn't even at half capacity in September? It overflowed.
In an age when quarterbacks at every level transfer at the drop of a helmet if they don't win the starting job as a freshman or a sophomore, Hundley is an anomaly. He played on the junior varsity at Chandler (Ariz.) High as a freshman and sophomore. He played so well on the JV and during a late-season varsity call-up in his second year that Colorado offered him a scholarship as a quarterback. But while the Buffaloes wanted Hundley running the offense eventually, Hundley's high school coach, Jim Ewan, didn't want him doing so immediately. Chandler had an all-region quarterback named Kyle Yount returning for his senior year in 2009. In the off-season before his junior year Hundley did not do enough to unseat him.
"This is b.s.," Hundley remembers telling his father, Brett Sr., after he learned he hadn't won the job. The younger Hundley wanted to transfer to a school that would let him start. Brett Sr., a former Arizona running back and receiver, worked with the Chandler receivers in his spare time, and he had been involved in the coaches' meetings that determined who the Wolves' quarterback would be. He knew his son was the best option, but he bit his tongue. When his son wanted to flee the school, Brett Sr. said no. "Be patient," he remembers telling his son. "Keep working on your craft. You're not going to transfer anywhere."
Brett Sr. knew his son would succeed eventually. He had recognized Brett Jr.'s inner drive as early as the sixth grade. Back then, the elder Hundley woke up every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday morning at 4 a.m. for push-ups, sit-ups and running. "That's my cup of coffee," he says. One day Brett Jr. asked if he might tag along. Brett Sr. agreed, on one condition. "Whenever you make up your mind, then you'll get up," Brett Sr. told his son. "I'm not going to wake you up." Sure enough, Brett Jr. hauled his preadolescent self out of bed.
Brett Sr. told his son that what he did in the dark would show in the light. The Hundleys spent the next six years running together before the sun came up, even in the cold and the rain, always pushing each other to go faster. So when Brett Jr.'s football career hit a speed bump, Brett Sr. knew it wouldn't slow his son—even if his son didn't.
The younger Hundley moved to receiver for his junior year, and Brett Sr. even tried to persuade his fellow coaches to use his son on defense. All along the elder Hundley knew that Brett Jr. would get his chance. The opportunity came the second week of the season, when Peoria Centennial raced to a 34--6 lead over the Wolves. At halftime Ewan told Hundley he'd play quarterback in the second half. There was no miracle comeback—Chandler wound up losing 62--38—but Hundley completed 14 of 18 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 83 yards. He started every game for the rest of his high school career.
Before Brett's senior season at Chandler he and his father visited Arizona State, where Noel Mazzone had just been hired as the offensive coordinator. The Hundleys adored Mazzone, but he had arrived in Tempe too late in the college-selection process. Though Hundley didn't commit to UCLA until September 2010, that summer he had narrowed his options to the Bruins and Washington. Still, Mazzone tried to pitch the state's best quarterback on the idea of staying close to home. "I saw a great upside for him," Mazzone says. "I thought he needed some work on his throwing mechanics. [But] he had the ability to run and use his feet. He was a good athlete, a good-sized kid. I saw him as kind of a project. When I watched him on film, I thought, This is a guy who two or three years down the road could be a really good football player."
Despite arriving on campus in January 2011 (after graduating early from high school), Hundley redshirted his first season with the Bruins. UCLA went 6--8 and made the Pac-12 title game but only because NCAA sanctions barred crosstown rival USC—which had beaten UCLA 50--0—from playing. By the time the Bruins took the field against Oregon in the title game, coach Rick Neuheisel had been fired, and UCLA eventually hired former Falcons and Seahawks coach Jim Mora Jr. to replace him. While Mora was building his staff, Mazzone was looking for work after missing out on the top job at Arizona State. Mora hired him, much to the Hundleys' delight. "When Coach Mora announced that his offensive coordinator was going to be Noel Mazzone," Brett Sr. says, "Brett and I probably did the Riverdance together."
Going into the 2012 season, Mazzone and Mora wanted there to be an open competition between Hundley and seniors Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut for the starting quarterback job. When the coaches chose a starter last August, the elder Hundley was visiting his son in California. He had just returned to his hotel when the phone rang. "He was crying his eyes out," Brett Sr. says. The younger Hundley couldn't speak at first. Finally Brett Jr. choked out the news: He had been named UCLA's starting quarterback. "What does his tough dad do?" Brett Sr. says. "Starts crying with him."
Based in part on his work ethic and distinct lack of ego, the younger Hundley's teammates voted him a captain before he'd taken a collegiate snap, but Mora overruled them: Hundley would have to earn the title. He began doing that immediately, breaking two tackles and racing away from the Rice defense for a 72-yard touchdown on his first play. With the senior running back Franklin carrying much of the load, Hundley and the young offense—at one point as many as seven starters were freshmen—helped the Bruins to a Pac-12 South title. Hundley set a school record for passing yards in a season (3,740) and threw for 29 touchdowns while running for nine more.
With Franklin gone this year, Hundley is the unquestioned leader of the offense. "Johnathan was our security blanket last year," Mazzone says. "If we couldn't complete a pass, couldn't make a first down, we'd just give it to Jonathan and he'd make things happen. I kind of see Brett taking on that role this year. I'm not saying as a runner, but in our passing game and being the go-to guy in the offense."
The 6'3", 222-pound Hundley wouldn't mind adding a few rushing yards to his 2012 total of 355; he says last year "was not my complete package." Mora, meanwhile, wants Hundley to be smart as he tries to match his Tim-Tebow-at-Florida frame with Tim-Tebow-at-Florida stats. "For Brett it's about having a feel for what's happening around him in the pocket and knowing when it's time to tuck the ball and run," Mora says. "And then when he runs, he needs to learn when to slide. He's got to get down so he doesn't take all those hits."
Fortunately for Mora and Mazzone, Hundley's economics classes probably have him calculating the opportunity cost of dump-trucking a linebacker versus standing in the pocket and throwing. If he figures correctly, Hundley could produce sensational numbers and, more importantly, lead the Bruins to wins that could send demand for UCLA Football Inc. soaring. "I'm like everybody else," Mazzone says. "I'm kind of anxious to see. What are you going to do next, Brett?"
With Franklin gone this year, Hundley is now the clear leader of the UCLA offense.
Here are four under-the-radar signal-callers who might have the best yardage-to-hype ratio in the country this fall.
After coach Doc Holliday installed an up-tempo offensive scheme in 2012, the 6-foot, 188-pound Cato led the nation in passing yards per game (350.1).
n Kline, who redshirted last season, is the favorite to be the Bears' starter, but 6'4", 205-pound true freshman Jared Goff also has a shot. Whoever wins the starting job should put up big numbers in coach Sonny Dykes's high-octane spread offense.
Coach Chris Ault is gone to the NFL (he's now a consultant for the Chiefs), but the 6'2", 215-pound Fajardo remains—as does Ault's pistol offense. Fajardo could improve on last fall's 1,121 rushing and 2,786 passing yards.
In 2011, Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III led the Big 12 in total offense with 384 yards a game. His successor, Nick Florence, led the league in that category in '12 (375.2). The strong-armed 6'3", 230-pound Petty, who can also run, is next in line.
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