For a moment, think about what it would take to say no to enough money to last for the rest of your life. What would that what have to be? Does such a what even exist for you?
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was put in this situation only a few months ago, and he chose the what. With millions of guaranteed dollars within arm’s reach, Hundley decided to return to the Bruins for another season—forgoing the NFL draft and the fortune that comes with it.
The what, in this instance, is a chance at a national championship. It’s an opportunity to win a Heisman. It’s the possibility at even greater fortune, all while playing for a coach on a meteoric rise and playing with a group of wide receivers Hundley views as “scary.”
“We’re breeding excellence at UCLA,” Hundley said. “The sky’s the limit for us right now.”
Long before the Bruins superstar became one of the most intriguing and coveted quarterbacks in the nation, however, he was an unseasoned, terrified redshirt freshman playing on a team with no real expectations.
Playing against Rice in his very first game, Hundley touched the ball for the first time with just a shade under 13 minutes remaining in the first quarter. With his nerves anything but in check—just as you would expect them to be—UCLA called a designed run to gets its quarterback a little contact to settle him down.
A few missed arm tackles and 72 yards later, he was anything but. Only this was an unusual kind of unnerving.
“I remember all of it, but it’s still crazy to think about,” Hundley said. “Not many people can say that the first time they stepped on the field, they got the ball on their first play ever and scored a touchdown.”
Since that play, many touchdowns—73 to be exact—have followed. In that time, UCLA’s roster has been stockpiled with talent and the program has more momentum than just about any other school in the nation.
On a personal level, Hundley has watched his stock soar from a raw, athletic QB with size and a good arm to a potential top-15 pick in the NFL draft. If all goes according to plan, you won’t have a shot at landing him with the No. 15 pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
Hundley had the chance to leave for the draft after this past season, but he chose to stay.
“You come to college to get your degree and have the opportunity to go to that next level,” Hundley said. “To have the opportunity to be that first-round draft pick or even a top-15 pick was hard to pass up. But I’m happy I came back to UCLA for another year.”
Unlike most young prospects facing this difficult decision—trying to weigh the money, the possibility of more money and the underappreciated joys of college football—Hundley was open about this personal tug of war.
As soon as UCLA cruised past Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl—a game in which the UCLA QB threw for 226 yards, ran for 161 yards and had four total touchdowns—he left knowing that one of the biggest decisions of his life needed an answer in short order.
“I went home, sort of relaxed, tried to get my mind off of everything,” Hundley said. “It was almost impossible to do.”
The timing between the end of the college football season and a draft decision gives players only a moment to breathe. Then it’s time to decide. For Hundley, he had to weigh the pros and cons of making the move.
Although the 2014 NFL draft quarterback class was already crowded near the top—featuring the likes of Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and other established college quarterbacks—Hundley nearly made a captivating group that much more intriguing.
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report's NFL Draft Lead Writer, viewed Hundley as a potential top-10 pick shortly after his season ended.
I don’t view Brett Hundley (UCLA) as pro-ready, but his upside and existing talent are top 10 caliber in this year’s class.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 30, 2013
“It was a lot harder than most people would think,” Hundley said on deciding to return to college. “After I made my decision, I was very comfortable with it. But in the moment of actually making it, it was incredibly difficult.”
Returning to college hasn’t stopped the quarterback from studying up on the process ahead. The exhaustive, extensive and remarkably unfair scrutiny that draft-eligible quarterbacks receive from the scouts and media alike has been on display this season, and eventually he’ll receive the same treatment.
It’s rough out there—just ask Teddy Bridgewater—and the extra two weeks of draft prep has created a circus of sorts. Hundley’s time will come—perhaps as early as next year—although for now he’s taking it all in.
“I’m keeping up with all of it right now,” Hundley said on monitoring the draft. “It’s crazy how in-depth they go and how they start breaking down these guys from day one. But when you have that much money invested in somebody, you would want to know everything.”
Having a front-row seat to this dissection is allowing Hundley to focus on his areas of improvement this spring. For him, it’s not a matter of the measurables. It’s not a matter of speed, strength or size for the 6'3", 227-pound quarterback.
It simply boils down to “growing up.”
It’s a phrase he used to describe his mindset and focus in spring, and it has absolutely zero to do with maturity or demeanor. In fact, one year from right now—or whenever Hundley makes the jump to the NFL—scouts will be falling in love with the quarterback after only a 10-minute conversation.
Hundley’s growing up will come in other areas: reading defenses, being more consistent as a passer and having a better grasp of an offense he already has firmly grasped.
“It’s the mental side and getting into knowing where you’re going to throw the ball while having a plan,” Hundley said when talking about his focus this spring. “It’s all just a chess game out there. Knowing that and really diving into the game has helped me.”
Also helping him is a group of wide receivers that has received rave reviews this spring. Although Shaquelle Evans—the team’s leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns from last season—is gone, Hundley will have plenty of options.
“We have fast, we have tall, we have strong,” Hundley said on the deep group of wide receivers. “We have the whole line of wideouts that you would want in an offense. It’s special.”
Hundley went on to highlight 6’3” redshirt freshman Eldridge Massington, who has turned heads all spring. A track star with size, Massington will likely push Pac-12 defenses out of the gate.
“He is going to be a monster,” Hundley said. “I’m telling you, write the name down. He’s going to be an absolute monster.”
Because of the team’s recent run in recruiting, the term “monster” will likely be thrown around at plenty of other positions.
Linebacker-turned-running-back-turned-linebacker-again Myles Jack certainly fits that profile. After a fantastic freshman season filled with tackles and touchdowns, Jack—along with a solid group of experienced youth on the defensive side of the ball—is poised to take that next step this season.
If the defense can, and if Hundley can elevate his already elevated game, UCLA could go from trendy playoff pick to Pac-12 wrecking ball. If that’s the case, the quarterback leading the charge will likely find himself in the Heisman discussion come November.
“I’ve always been the type of person to believe that once success comes on the team side, the individual goals will follow,” Hundley said. “That’s the one thing I’ve always focused on. If we’re solid as a team, everything else will fall into place.”
The money won’t disappear. The opportunity to live out his dream in the NFL will be realized at some point, perhaps after the season ahead. Just not now.
There’s something special brewing in Los Angeles, which is exactly why Hundley decided to come back for more.
Suddenly, the what makes perfect sense.
Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.