UCLA counts on boost from Qwuantrezz Knight, Brittain Brown

UCLA counts on boost from Qwuantrezz Knight Brittain Brown
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When Qwuantrezz Knight and Brittain Brown were born on Oct. 10, 1997, the UCLA football team was on its way to a No. 5 final ranking in the polls.

Nearly a quarter-century later, the Bruins have not returned to that level of success and national respect. That fact is not lost on Knight and Brown, brothers in a cosmic sense who became roommates and fast friends last year upon arriving in Westwood as graduate transfers.

“Nobody knows that me and Brittain have the same birthday,” Knight confided to reporters last week as UCLA began spring practice.

UCLA running back Brittain Brown stiff-arms Stanford safety Malik Antoine on Dec. 19, 2020.

(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

It was only natural that Knight, a starting cornerback and emotional spark plug last year, and Brown, a backup running back who tantalized Bruins fans when his number was called, announced they were coming back for a sixth season of college football on the same day in late December.

“I just felt like we had unfinished business at UCLA,” Knight said. “We’ve got a lot to prove not only to people around the country but ourselves. We know what we can do.”

Knight, who previously played at Maryland and Kent State, revealed that UCLA has had a sign hanging in the locker room that features the number 15. It signifies the total points that the Bruins were defeated by in their four losses to Colorado (6), Oregon (3), USC (5) and Stanford (1).

“15 points from being undefeated,” Knight said. “That’s our drive, our motivation to be great.”

Brown, a Duke transfer who broke out with 219 yards in the season finale against Stanford, will have every chance to win the starting job and show what he can do out of the shadow of Demetric Felton. But UCLA’s four grad transfers who decided to return — cornerback Obi Eboh and guard Paul Grattan also came back — did so with team aspirations as the priority.

“We want to win. We want to win the Rose Bowl. We want to win championships,” Brown said.

That is exactly what was supposed to happen when UCLA hired Chip Kelly, who led Oregon to a 46-7 record (33-3 in the Pac-12) from 2009-2012. During three years in Westwood, Kelly is just 10-21, which makes the coming season a crucial one for the Bruins to show that they’re on a trajectory more aligned with 1997 than 2017, Jim Mora’s last at UCLA.

The Bruins showed some progress in a COVID-shortened 2020, nearly upsetting Oregon in Kelly’s return to Eugene and putting USC on the ropes before wilting down the stretch. Those two played for the Pac-12 title, so there’s logic to backup hopes of a UCLA breakout 2021.

One good thing the Bruins got out of the pandemic year was the NCAA’s decision to gift all players who competed an extra year of eligibility. Without that allowance, Knight and Brown would currently be on eggshells awaiting the NFL draft and post-draft free agency signing period. Instead, they’re back for one more as “super seniors,” as Kelly put it.

UCLA's Qwuantrezz Knight looks at California's Chase Garbers during a game

UCLA’s Qwuantrezz Knight (24), who is entering his sixth college football season thanks to a COVID-19 eligibility rule, is a key leader for the Bruins.

(Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)

“It’s really been a boon for us,” Kelly said. “The cool part for them is not only do they get another year of football to help prepare them if they want to play after college, they get another year in our grad program. All of them will walk out of here with their master degrees.

“There’s a maturity to all of them. They really understand what they’re doing now, just investing in themselves so that their future is going to be bright.”

In 2020, Kelly and his staff could not coach the players until mid-September due to COVID regulations. The grad transfers were thrown into the fire quickly but now get a full spring and fall camp to further find their footing at UCLA.

“Those guys feel like they’re real Bruins now,” UCLA linebacker Bo Calvert said.

Said Knight, “I just want to come in this season and give my team everything … experience, accountability, everything they need. We’re harping on competitive greatness. We want to be great when times get hard.”

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