Prince and Fauria reconnect at UCLA

Forgive UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince if he looks for Joseph Fauria down the field often during the 2010 season. At this point, it’s just second nature for the oft-criticized signal-caller to default to his longtime tight end.

Fauria, the Bruins’ 6-7 redshirt sophomore transfer from Notre Dame, will be one of Prince’s top targets on offense throughout next season as the former high school teammates made a habit of connecting on big plays since their freshman year at Encino Crespi High in San Fernando Valley.

But both Prince and Fauria have seen their football careers veer off track since their high school glory days.

Sure, Prince found himself starting in a BCS conference as a redshirt freshman in ‘09, but he was seldom impressive in his team’s biggest games against Oregon, Arizona and USC. And even when he threw for 300 yards in contests against Cal and Oregon State, the Bruins fell short on the scoreboard. He finished the up-and-down season 173-of-308 through the air (56.2 percent) for 2,050 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Despite being the eighth-rated passer in the conference in ‘09, Prince is coming off an impressive practice season, one in which he seemed to display better arm strength, improved accuracy and a little more mobility. But just when it looked as if he had turned a corner, he ended spring drills with a forgettable performance in the spring game. While it was only one scrimmage, the performance did nothing to ease the concerns of UCLA coaches, fans and alumni about Prince’s ability to play consistent enough to make the Bruins legitimate Pac-10 contenders next season.

Can he establish himself as an efficient major-conference quarterback? He doesn’t have to be Jake Locker or Andrew Luck. Rather, he just needs to be able to efficiently run coordinator and quarterback guru Norm Chow’s offense and utilize the talent around him — such as his buddy Fauria.

After playing one season with the Fighting Irish, Fauria took the Bruins up on their original scholarship offer and transferred to Westwood in July 2009. His departure from South Bend came amid unspecified circumstances, as the university’s Office of Residential Life and Housing gave him a semester-long suspension shortly before he decided to return to the West Coast.

However, now the focus is entirely on football. No matter the reason for his leaving the Midwest, Fauria is ready to embrace his future with the Bruins. While he is known to be a jokester and likes to have a good time off the field, he is all business on it — unless he is cracking jokes, of course.

All kidding aside, Fauria will be a major matchup problem for opposing defenses — faster than the average linebacker and bigger than any defender in the secondary. Not since Marcedes Lewis five seasons ago has UCLA had a weapon as dangerous at the tight end position.

The biggest threat to Fauria not increasing the productivity of the Bruins offense is the tight end’s health, as a groin injury and an injured finger on his right hand sidelined him for part of spring practice. If he can put aside his nagging injuries during the fall, he will join fellow transfer Josh Smith and receivers Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree as legitimate threats for Prince, who battled a rash of injuries himself that forced him in and out of the Bruins’ lineup in ’09. If Prince is able to put his spring game performance behind him and continue to improve into the fall season, the Bruins will have a nice array of skill position players to score points — if the offensive line can be consistently steady.

Much of the talk surrounding the offense this spring has been about the unit employing, at times, a variation of Nevada's “pistol” offense — dubbed “the revolver,” which will feature the shotgun formation with a single running back and elements of the spread-option. It had its peaks and valleys during spring practice, but so have the careers of good buddies Prince and Fauria.

Opponents have all too frequently been able to stack the box and dare UCLA quarterbacks to beat them down the field. Expectations are different this season, but we won’t find out how good this offense can be until September.

Until then? A couple of high school friends and reconnected teammates can only dream of brighter days ahead, filled with shades of their California high school glory days.

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