UCLA Football: Rough Fall Camp Setting Strengthens Bruins for Pac-12 Title Run

Kyle Kensing@kensing45Contributor IJuly 29, 2014

Jul 24, 2014; Hollywood, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins head coach Jim Mora talks to the media during the Pac-12 Media Day at the Studios at Paramount. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback Brett Hundley calls UCLA football's connection with San Bernardino, California, "a love-hate relationship." 

Since head coach Jim Mora arrived before the 2012 season, UCLA has held its preseason camp some 80 miles east of its Westwood campus at Cal State San Bernardino. In doing so, the Bruins trade the luxuries of home for the sweltering heat of the Inland Empire. 

"I hope it's hot," Mora said. "I would just like us to be in the triple digits. As long as we're in triple digits, I'll be happy."

Mora should get his wish. The average August temperature in San Bernardino is 96 degrees, but Weather.com predicts a string of 100-degree days, just in time for the opening of fall camp. It's easy to see from where the "hate" part of the relationship comes. 

San Bernardino camp is something of a modern-day twist on the fabled camp Paul "Bear" Bryant held in Junction while he was head coach at Texas A&M.

At UCLA, the arduous conditions are not about breaking down the Bruins. According to Mora, it's about building them up. 

"The reason we go there is not because of the heat," he explained. "It gives us the chance to get into an environment where there are fewer distractions, where we're isolated and we can focus on each other and get to know each other better." 

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And that's from where the "love" side of the relationship Hundley described comes. The adversity UCLA faces on the field during preseason camp, as well as the bonds built off it, manifests on game days in the fall. 

"It's been important for this team to build a different mindset," Hundley said. "Our first time there, we were dreading it. But it's one [thing] that we needed because it's something you don't want to do, but have to." 

The camp has paid dividends via a 19-8 record through Mora's first two seasons as head coach, a Pac-12 South championship and very realistic aspirations for more in his third year. It's a much different role than two years ago, when Mora first took training east. 

UCLA was coming off a 6-8 finish in the 2011 campaign and had not been legitimate conference contenders since 2005. 

After finishing 2013 with back-to-back routs of USC and Virginia Tech, and returning the most veteran starting rotation in the conference, UCLA is a likely preseason Top 10 team. 

But Hundley said the goal in his third trek to the Inland Empire for camp is maintaining the drive that motivated the Bruins there two years ago. 

"We've done something at UCLA, but it will be nothing if we don't finish what we started," Hundley said. "This year, we have to bring the same mindset as we had when Coach Mora first came here." 

Maintaining the same desire to prove itself means the UCLA football team must block out months of outside praise. Since Hundley announced his decision to return for his redshirt junior season, the Bruins have garnered plenty of attention from the national media. 

Some, like Fox Sports' Tim Brando, have gone so far as to tab the Bruins College Football Playoff favorites. 

Whether it's the expectations of this season, or the criticism leveled against the program two years ago, Mora has a message for UCLA that is spelled out on a sign in the team's locker room: "Tune out the noise." 

Practicing in San Bernardino is an integral part of the Bruins setting a foundation free from distractions and other buzz out of the team's control.   

"For us, it's always about narrowing the focus down to what we can control," Mora said. 

Just like the offseason hype, the Bruins can't control San Bernardino's 100-degree temperatures. But they can control how they react, and facing that kind of adversity is just how Mora likes it. 

"I like it hot. I think it's good for us," he said.  

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited.