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Jack Wang | Los Angeles Daily News | September 17, 2015

UCLA's line of freshman quarterbacks began with Steve Bukich

  Josh Rosen is one of seven UCLA quarterbacks to start a game as a freshman for the Bruins since 1974.

Steve Bukich wouldn't blame you for not recognizing his name. He is nearing 60 years old, a longtime Orange County construction project manager who would disappear among the thousands of other fans streaming into the Rose Bowl.

But for those looking for a good bit of trivia, UCLA's first-ever true freshman starter at quarterback isn't a bad place to begin.

This story starts on Nov. 2, 1974. That was the day Bukich made his career debut, stepping into Husky Stadium in Seattle before a crowd of more than 59,000.

MORE: Was Josh Rosen's debut the best by a true freshman?

In some ways, it was a dream come true. Bukich, who had just turned 18, had dreamed of becoming a quarterback ever since he was 10 years old. He was the son of Rudy Bukich, the USC and Rose Bowl Hall of Famer. Steve was in elementary school when his dad became an All-Pro quarterback for the Chicago Bears. He remembers being in a locker room next to the greats -- Gale Sayers, Mike Ditka, Dick Butkus. It was Rudy's tutelage, Steve says, that prepared him for his own football career.

If only he could have waited a bit longer.

Because on Nov. 2, 1974, Bukich was in no way ready to start as a college quarterback. This was just two years after the NCAA had approved freshman eligibility in football and basketball, and no coach in his right mind would have thrown a first-year player into the fire without extenuating circumstances. A decade later, North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith wrote an editorial in the New York Times, calling for an end to the practice.

Bukich only started against Washington because both players ahead of him were injured: John Sciarra was out with a broken leg, Jeff Dankworth with a sprained ankle. The scout-team quarterback was the only one left.

With just four days of practice on the first-string offense, he completed five of 14 passes for 78 yards. He threw five interceptions. The Bruins lost to the Huskies, 31-9.

No one blamed him for the outcome. They understood that he was making the best of a bad situation, entering a hostile stadium on less than a week of work with the rest of the Bruins' starters. He was disappointed in himself more than anything else, but still hoped for a shot at redemption.

Versus: BYU's Tanner Mangum vs. UCLA's Josh Rosen
Looking back, however, that game may have changed the course of his career.

"I think a few of the coaches lost a bit of confidence in what I could do," he said.

Dick Vermeil's departure as coach likely didn't help. In 1976, the coach who had recruited Bukich left to coach the Philadelphia Eagles. The next spring, when Bukich expected to win the starting job, he was sidelined with broken ribs. A few months later, head coach Terry Donahue picked Rick Bashore.

Bukich only started two more games: a 48-18 win against Oregon State in 1977 when Bashore was injured, and a 10-10 tie against Arkansas in the 1978 Fiesta Bowl on Christmas Day.

It's the latter that stands out as one of Bukich's favorite memories in uniform. With 8:32 left, he ran in the game-tying touchdown.

"The reasons for starting Steve were multifaceted," Donahue said after the game. "He is a five-year player and has had a lot of disappointments at UCLA. I felt I owed it to him to start."

"I think Terry wanted to show his thanks for everything I did while I was there," Bukich says now. "He tried to do me a favor."

He still considers Donahue a friend. The two play golf together occasionally, and recently reminisced about that Fiesta Bowl. Bukich had a chance to throw a go-ahead touchdown pass on a flea flicker, but the field was still wet from the Christmas Eve drizzle. He slipped, and the ball fell short.

He says all this matter of factly, his bumpy experience under center having not soured his Westwood experience. He got to play on the rugby team. He made lifelong friends. And he still tries to watch as many UCLA games as he can.

"All in all, I don't regret a thing," Bukich said.

UCLA's true freshman starters at QB

2015: Josh Rosen v. Virginia, W 34-16 -- 28/35, 351 yards, 3 TD

2002: Drew Olson @ Washington, W 34-24 -- 13/27, 189 yards

2002: Matt Moore v. Stanford, W 28-18 -- 7/19, 142 yards, 1 TD

1995: Cade McNown v. Oregon, L 38-31 -- 12/24, 183 yards, 1 INT

1992: Ryan Fien v. Arizona State, L 20-0 -- 4/7, 18 yards

1979: Tom Ramsey @ Oregon, W 35-0 -- 4/6, 64 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT

1974: Steve Bukich @ Washington, L 31-9 -- 5/14, 78 yards, 5 INT

This article was written by Jack Wang from Los Angeles Daily News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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