They arrived with hopes of completing one final college football season, worried it might get yanked away, never imagining they might be granted a bonus slate of games.
Come for a season, stay for the 2-for-1 special?
That’s a possibility for UCLA’s four graduate transfers, who could go from short-timers to needing to renew their apartment leases.
The NCAA has provided an additional year of eligibility for every player amid the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that graduate transfers could play in whatever form the delayed, abbreviated 2020 season takes and then stick around for a full 2021 season. The extra games may be especially beneficial for such players as offensive lineman Paul Grattan Jr., a graduate transfer from Villanova who coveted higher-level competition with the Bruins before heading to the NFL.
“If I’ve got it, I’m going to take it,” Grattan said. “It can’t hurt to take another year to get bigger, stronger, faster, more experienced.”
Running back Brittain Brown and defensive backs Obi Eboh and Qwuantrezz Knight said they would also assess the situation before deciding whether to return for a 2021 season that’s scheduled to include seven home games, including a game against 2019 national champion Louisiana State.
“I think there’s a scenario, for sure,” Eboh said. “I mean, I’d have to weigh my options, but my goal is to ultimately play in the NFL and have a long career there, so I’m going to do what’s best for me in that regard.”
It’s a similar story for Brown, who’s eager to show NFL scouts that he’s fully recovered from the shoulder injury that has forced him to miss a season’s worth of games over the last two years while playing for Duke. The hope is that he can do so in just a handful of games before making the jump to the professional level prior to the 2021 season.
Knight, who previously played at Maryland and Kent State, said he hasn’t thought much about a second season with the Bruins, taking an approach that would please famously in-the-moment coach Chip Kelly: He’s just focusing on what he can control. That involves making improvements in backpedaling, eye movement and man-to-man coverage techniques that could make him more attractive to NFL teams.
Of course, it’s hard to enhance your footwork when you can’t practice. Already limited to groups of no more than 12 players by social distancing protocols related to the coronavirus, the Bruins canceled some workouts last week because of poor air quality.
“I didn’t think that was actually real, but I’m learning,” Grattan said of practice being halted because of nearby wildfires that had turned the sky a surreal yellow-orange. “The o-line guys were like, ‘Yep, welcome to California.’ ”
Grattan had not been cleared to practice at the time because he was stuck in a week-long quarantine after flying in from his home in Pittsburgh, making it the first time he had ventured west of the Mississippi River.
His journey may have seemed like a walk around the block compared to Eboh’s epic road trip that brought him to Westwood. The former Stanford cornerback had driven from Palo Alto to Los Angeles to watch a few spring practices in March before the pandemic shut sports down. That forced a return to the Bay Area to collect some belongings before Eboh headed home to Southlake, Texas, to complete his undergraduate degree online while awaiting clearance to come to UCLA.
“As soon as they gave us the go-ahead,” Eboh said, “I was like, ‘Sorry, mom, I’m out of here.’ ”
Eboh drove to Los Angeles to drop off his possessions before heading back to Palo Alto to pick up his bicycle and a few other things he had left behind. By the time he made it back to Los Angeles, Eboh had logged more than 30 hours in his car.
Introductions weren’t necessary when Eboh moved into the apartment he shares with Brown; they had gotten to know one another while being recruited by Duke, where Brown spent his first four college seasons. Eboh, Brown and Knight strengthened their bond when they were placed in the same workout group, giving them a chance to grouse about complications related to the pandemic.
Brown said it was difficult to watch Duke play Notre Dame last weekend with UCLA’s season on pause, though daily rapid testing that’s expected to arrive on Pac-12 campuses before the end of this month could accelerate the Bruins’ return to play.
“There’s obviously frustration but no hate toward anybody else playing,” Brown said. “I’m glad they get to play because now we probably can play earlier too.”
The graduate transfers’ decision whether to stick around for a second season with the Bruins could hinge on several factors. Will the NFL push back its draft? Might they suffer an injury or contract COVID-19, forcing them to miss the games they need to elevate their pro stock? Could a virus outbreak lead to canceled games or a shortened season?
If everything works out, it will be see you next season … and maybe the season after that.
“If it works out that I can come back and play next year and it helps everybody out,” Grattan said, “then yeah, without a doubt I’d come back.”