LOS ANGELES – Jerry Neuheisel has professed that he would eventually take over the office that once belonged to his father, Rick, by becoming head coach for the UCLA football team.
After a year serving as a graduate assistant as Texas A&M last year, the 25-year-old former Bruins quarterback has taken the first step toward achieving that goal by returning to his alma mater as an offensive graduate assistant this year.
Rick Neuheisel, himself a former UCLA quarterback, was the Bruins’ head coach from 2008-2011.
Before he began chasing his current objective, the younger Neuheisel spent one year in Japan playing for the Obic Seagulls in the semi-professional X League, in 2016.
It’s uncertain how much the experience of competing on foreign soil will help him be a better coach, but Neuheisel certainly cherishes the time he spent here.
“I miss it,” Neuheisel told The Japan Times after the UCLA pro day in mid-March. “Part of me wishes I would’ve stayed (in Japan). I loved my time in Japan.”
Neuheisel said that he was “trying to help (the Seagulls) in any way” he could.
“I learned more about the passion for the game,” he said of his time across the Pacific. “And also, how cool it is that, in both languages, football translates the same. Cover Three is Cover Three. Cover Two is Cover Two. And I called plays in Japanese. And there is a way that it brought both cultures together. That was amazing to me. It made me fall back in love with the game.”
Meanwhile, regardless of what he has publicly said, Neuheisel had a different experience playing football in Japan, where he would be under center mostly in front of crowds of 1,000 or 2,000 fans instead of the 90,000 that can fit into the Rose Bowl.
The 185-cm, 90-kg Neuheisel was the starting quarterback for the Seagulls, one of the X League’s powerhouse clubs, in nine out of the 10 games he played, including the spring season and playoff contests. But in the majority of his games, he would split time with other signal-callers.
The Los Angeles native completed 67.2 percent of his pass attempts, amassing 1,456 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in 10 games. An Oct. 23 game against the IBM Big Blue, which is led by another former UCLA quarterback in Kevin Craft, was one of the few in which Neuheisel “went the distance,” and he threw for 350 yards with three TDs to guide Obic to a 24-23 victory.
He took the job at Texas A&M the following year in order to building up his coaching experience. There, he was reunited with his former UCLA offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, (who has since moved on to the same position at the University of Arizona).
On the field, Neuheisel’s stint in Japan may not have gone as well as he would’ve hoped, but he didn’t have a single negative thing to say about the experience.
“It was too hard to turn down (the Texas A&M offer) because my dream was always being the head coach,” said Neuheisel, who was mostly a backup quarterback at UCLA. “So part of me always regrets because I don’t think I played my best football ever in Japan.
“First game we played, I hurt my rib and just never really recovered from that. And we had unbelievable teammates, who would make it all the way to the Japan X Bowl (X League championship game). And I didn’t produce enough in the game, didn’t help my teammates enough out there to win the game.
“So to be in the championship game and not win it, and walk away without winning the championship is definitely a disappointment in my mind.”
Neuheisel said he “was blown away by the amount of support we had” and the fact that the team “had die-hard fans.”
“We played in the X Bowl and all of a sudden, there were 40,000 fans (the attendance was officially announced at 25,455),” Neuheisel said in the 2016 X League title game, where the Seagulls fell 16-3 to the Fujitsu Frontiers. “So for people that say it’s not an international sport, I would argue against it.”
Neuheisel, who is studying education in graduate school, added he was excited to see the growing popularity of the game in Japan.
“I want to go back to Japan pretty soon to go see what’s changed since I’ve been there,” he said.
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