There is getting ready for football and there is keeping yourself and your teammates safe from the COVID-19 virus. It is new world order for every college program. UCLA’s Shea Pitts says the extra effort is worth it.
One is a sacrifice of time and body that college football players undertake every day. The other is something new for everyone across the country and it accounts for some big adjustments in everyday life.
UCLA’s Shea Pitts: It Is Worth The Sacrifice
UCLA’s Shea Pitts is spending the camp/practice period in an adjustment phase. The linebacker is also learning to play the coverage game on defense. There are hybrid-caliber players that head coach Chip Kelly is working as a “striker” or nickel back. Pitts says it is an opportunity to get himself on the field more. “I’m trying to get on the field any way I can. It doesn’t really matter what position it is.”
It is a compressed schedule for everyone in the Pac 12 with the season not starting until November 7th. The schedule does not allow for real training camp time as camp and practice become one in the limited hours allowed each week. Pitts says it works because everyone in the conference is on the same calendar. “At the end of the day, everyone has the same opportunity. It may be unfair to us, but it is unfair to everyone, too. So, we all have the same opportunity. So, who is going to distinguish themselves from the rest.”
The UCLA Ecosystem
UCLA has taken to calling their athlete’s world their “Ecosystem.” It essentially keeps the football players in their own bubble, with at least most of them living in the same building. It can be a challenge to eat, sleep, practice, and do on-line classes all with the same guys all day, every day.
Pitts says it is worth it. “At the end of the day, it is what you are willing to sacrifice to be successful as a team. If that means not seeing anybody else for this six, eight, nine, ten-week period, I’ll for sure do that. Because we are trying to play games and we’re trying to win,” Pitts said. “So, we’ll definitely be able to sacrifice seeing people in order to keep practicing and keep this ecosystem safe. Because this team is way more important than anyone on the outside. You’ve got friends and family you really want to see, but you’ve just got to take a little part and sacrifice it for something bigger. It is difficult, but it is going to be worth it in the long run if we keep this ecosystem safe and keep playing games.”
From the football standpoint, Pitts credits some of the new faces on the UCLA team with injecting a new energy. “You’ve got Q-Knight, (Qwuantrezz Knight). He is bringing energy every day. I walk in the building, and Q-Knight is just firing me up. I see him playing fast and I want to play fast too. You’ve got Obi (Obi Eboh). He is in law school, so he is pretty smart. He is really a coach on the field. We’re lining up and he is over here calling stuff out before it even happens.”
There is also the influence of former UCLA defensive back Adarius Pickett. He is working with the staff and the players as a volunteer defensive analyst. Pitts says he has been working with Pickett a lot after practice on technique.
There is also the influence of his older brother Lee Pitts, a defensive back at Azusa Pacific. And of course, there is the UCLA legacy with his dad, Ron Pitts. The elder Pitts played defensive back for Terry Donahue at UCLA from 1981-1984. He then went on to fulfill his own family legacy, playing in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers. His father, Elijah, played for the Packers in the 1960’s and again in 1971.
Ron’s UCLA teams had more success than have Shea’s. Ron’s Bruins beat Michigan in the 1983 Rose Bowl, Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl, and Vinny Testaverde’s Miami Hurricanes in the 1985 Fiesta Bowl. The younger Pitts says his dad does not add any pressure to the Bruins’ 7-17 record of the last two seasons. “His biggest concern is keeping me healthy. It’s just me, personally. It’s like I walk home and see two Rose Bowl rings and a Fiesta ring. I can’t not at least bring home a bowl game, so I put that pressure on myself. He’s too nice of a guy to say anything. But I feel it for him. I’ve got to start winning some games.”
The record of the Chip Kelly era at UCLA has been very well chronicled here and in other spaces. Pitts says there is a hunger that comes from that. “This is my opinion. We’re tired of losing. Since I got here, we have not won a lot of games. These new guys see that and it’s like we’re changing it right now. We’ve got guys that are very tired of losing and we are here to change it right now.”