MANHATTAN — When fall football practices began at UCLA, Rick Neuheisel was expecting to build his offense around one of the best front lines in the Pac-10.
All five starters from last season's line were set to return, and the Bruins' coach was excited about their potential. But a combination of injuries, suspensions and bad luck wiped out that plan.
The offensive line that takes the field at 2:30 p.m. today at Snyder Family Stadium against Kansas State will look nothing like it did a year ago when the Wildcats faced the Bruins in Pasadena, Calif.
Kai Maiava and Jeff Baca are out with injuries, Xavier Su'a-Filo left the team in favor of a Mormon mission and Mike Harris has been suspended for the opener. Only senior right guard Eddie Williams started last year and made it through training camp unscathed.
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Neuheisel would complain, but he is used to bad personnel news by now.
"Unfortunately, we have had the taste of injury around our place for a while," he told reporters last week. "The players not only understand it, they believe in the next guy who gets the opportunity."
Against the Wildcats, UCLA will surround Williams with Micah Kia, Ryan Taylor, Darius Savage and Sean Sheller. While they may not have experience playing together, they are experienced. All are seniors.
"It's kind of a neat story," Neuheisel said. "Hopefully it will be one that's told for years and years after because of the success they have. We have five seniors who've gotten here in kind of a round-about sort of way. Each has their own unique road they traveled to get here."
Neuheisel hopes that attitude spreads across the roster. Injuries have not been limited to the offensive line. Defensive end Datone Jones, the lone returning starter on the Bruins' defensive line, will miss the K-State game with a broken foot.
All-America kicker Kai Forbath is battling a knee injury and may not play. Starting quarterback Kevin Prince is expected to take the first snap, but he has been battling a tear in one of his back muscles.
"I try not to pay too much attention to that," sophomore fullback Braden Wilson said. "I try to come out with the same attitude and same mindset, ready to get the job done, regardless of who we're playing against. UCLA is still a good team."