The Bruins were supposed to return four of their five starting offensive linemen from 2019.
Then, Christaphany Murray transferred to Oklahoma in April and Jake Burton went to Baylor four months later, leaving the right side of UCLA football’s offensive line up in the air. The starting center job was vacated by Boss Tagaloa when he graduated, and there isn’t an experienced center left on the roster to replace him.
Redshirt junior Sam Marrazzo hasn’t started a game in his three years with the Bruins, but as the new most experienced lineman on the team, he said he is trying to take on a leadership role early in fall camp.
“I’ve always had older guys to kind of look up to, like (Tagaloa) and (Burton) and even Andre (James) a couple of years ago,” Marrazzo said. “It took a couple of young guys to be like, ‘You’re the leader now,’ so I’m just trying to be more vocal and fill that role, trying to help the younger guys along.”
Marrazzo has been taking snaps at center and guard, as he said the coaching staff has yet to decide on a regular starting group at the moment. Redshirt sophomore Jon Gaines II, sophomore Duke Clemens, redshirt sophomore Baraka Beckett, graduate transfer Paul Grattan and junior Atonio Mafi have also been moving around on the interior line.
Redshirt sophomore Alec Anderson has been taking most of the snaps at right tackle, according to Marrazzo, and sophomore Sean Rhyan is back at left tackle after starting all 12 games there last season.
Rhyan has made more starts for the Bruins than anyone else on the line despite spending just one year with the program, but he said he hasn’t been thinking of himself as a veteran leader for the volatile position group.
“I guess I would be considered a veteran now, but the O-line as a whole, we’re all in together,” Rhyan said. “If (Marrazzo’s) over getting water, either me, (Anderson) – really anyone – we pick each other up, there’s really no leader. We’re all just flowing together as one.”
The depth chart and leadership questions have a little over three weeks to work themselves out, with UCLA opening its season against Colorado on the road Nov. 7.
Until then, the Bruin linemen will have to get back into game shape after an offseason of conditioning limitations and food that’s too good to pass up.
“Going home for three months, four months and having our moms cook us dinner every night, it was good,” Marrazzo said. “A lot of people gained some good weight and are looking good.”
Rhyan said he got up to 338 pounds during quarantine after being listed at 323 pounds in 2019. He also attributed that to some home-cooked meal weight, as well as the unavailability of fields due to mandated shutdowns.
“The cardio aspect kind of fell down a little bit in the beginning, because they were being so strict about the field usage and whatnot,” Rhyan said. “But a couple weeks in, we figured out that the beaches weren’t closed, so me and my dad headed up, going down to the beach in the mornings, going to run on the sand and doing my speed work in the sand.”
It took some time to get used to cleats and turf again, Rhyan said, but he is back in game shape with time to spare.
Off the field, things haven’t exactly gotten back to normal for Rhyan and his teammates.
Every player is tested for COVID-19 10 times a week, including daily nose swab tests at 6:45 a.m. before practice. When they leave Wasserman Football Center after practice and meetings, Rhyan said social interactions have been kept to an absolute minimum.
“We’re definitely restricted because we’re trying to give each other the best chance to play this season, so we’re being really smart,” Rhyan said. “If we don’t really live with the guy, it’s kind of hard to go and see him because you want to be safe. You want to minimize the spread if something were to happen.”
Marrazzo’s new roommate, Grattan, transferred from Villanova in August. He had never been west of the Mississippi River before, so Marrazzo said he took him to the beach to try and acclimate him to the Southern California lifestyle.
Rhyan hasn’t been able to spend as much time with Grattan outside of team facilities, however.
“We’re still not going out crazy because we’re trying to play this season, so we’re being smart” Rhyan said. “But I’m sure once this gets handled and hopefully (COVID-19) is dealt with, I will definitely show him a couple West Coast things (to) help him enjoy it.”