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Published Apr 1, 2017 8:00 AM
Jerry Neuheisel’s quarterback career got a second life in Japan.
Jerry Neuheisel's career as a UCLA quarterback didn’t go exactly as planned.
Originally recruited by his father, Rick ’85 — who started at QB for the Bruins in the 1980s and later returned as head coach — Neuheisel ended up playing three seasons under Jim Mora. He mostly held for field goals and backed up current NFL QB Brett Hundley ’14 and future pro Josh Rosen. His singular highlight was going 23 for 30 with two TDs in a win over the Texas Longhorns.
“As far as one-game careers go,” he says, “I had probably one of the coolest ones ever.” It got cooler.
After graduating in 2015, Neuheisel planned to coach. But an opportunity to keep playing — in Tokyo — came along. Tokyo?
“[Former UCLA QB coach] Taylor Mazzone texted me and asked if I would ever be interested in playing in Japan,” Neuheisel says.
That text led to a meeting with representatives of the Obic Seagulls of Japan’s X League. A month later, Neuheisel was in Japan. “It was a chance to be the starting quarterback,” he says. “I was excited not to have to wear the headset on the sidelines anymore.”
Japanese football, which Neuheisel says is similar to lower-Division 1/upper-Division 2 college football, has two seasons. In the spring Pearl Bowl tournament, all Tokyo teams compete for the Pearl Bowl Championship. The regular season starts in summer and ends with January’s Rice Bowl, matching X League champs with the top college team. Neuheisel’s Seagulls lost in the X League Championship game.
He says all things UCLA are big in Japan. “To be embraced in that culture, with other UCLA guys there, like [former UCLA quarterback] Kevin Craft ’09 and [former UCLA lineman] Kai Maiava ’11, was like going to a satellite campus.”
But now he says his playing days are done. “I’m coming home to start coaching,” he says. “Most kids dream about playing in Super Bowls. I dreamed about coaching Rose Bowls. There’s something magical about UCLA. I’m going to try to figure out a way to be head coach. I don’t know how long Jim [Mora]’s going to be there, but as soon as he’s done, I’m ready to go.”