UCLA Struggling with the Death of WR Nick Pasquale
When the UCLA football team steps onto the Memorial Stadium turf Saturday for a Top 25 matchup with Nebraska, the Bruins do so without a teammate. Without a friend. Without a brother-in-arms.
Wide receiver Nick Pasquale was killed on Sunday after he was hit by a car. Pasquale was just 20 years old.
What the members of the UCLA football program faced this week was far more arduous than any scheme Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini and his staff might concoct for Saturday's game. The long-term impact far transcends this weekend's outcome and its bearing on the BCS.
"Football pales in comparison to what they're going through," head coach Jim Mora said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.
Both teams will wear Pasquale's No. 36 on their helmets and jerseys Saturday. Pasquale's Bruin teammates will do so while playing in his honor,
"[The game] is also an outlet for their emotions, their grief, the things they're feeling," Mora said.
Pelini's Cornhuskers will try to return the favor of last year's loss in the Rose Bowl, but in Saturday's opponent, the Bruins have support.
Pelini touted Mora as "a heck of a football coach and even better person" on Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference. The Nebraska coach reached out to Mora on Monday, Chris Foster of The Los Angeles Times reported.
Another member of the coaching fraternity who understands the gravity of what UCLA faces is Oregon State head coach Mike Riley. Beaver defensive lineman Fred Thompson died unexpectedly of cardiac arrhythmia in December 2011.
"When something like this happens in a program...it's devastating," Riley said during Tuesday's teleconference.
Talk of revenue, injuries, oversigning and more have instilled a certain cynicism in college football fans. Often overlooked, if not outright forgotten, is the kinship fostered through preseason two-a-days, nights at study tables and road trips spent together.
Teams develop a bond, which Riley detailed.
"You don’t take these kids on just as football players, you take them on as family," Riley said. "You get a connection that’s way bigger than football...[and] when something hits, it affects everybody."
Just how many lives Pasquale touched was evident Monday, as Foster and Hailey Branson-Potts of The Los Angeles Times detailed. "Hundreds" paid their respects at a memorial service at his high school alma mater, San Clemente (Calif.).
More still in the south Orange County coastal community honored Pasquale with a surf paddle-out.
Those Pasquale's life touched who will don Bruin blue and gold Saturday honor him in the same pursuit in which they sweated, sacrificed and stood together as teammates. As friends. As extended family.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.
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