Six Bruins from the UCLA Football Team – who were graduate students in the Transformative Coaching and Leadership Program of the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies, have been selected by NFL teams as either free agents or part of the 2022 NFL Draft. These six student-athletes are the majority of the eight Bruins overall who found themselves on NFL rosters.
UCLA defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia has been drafted by the Los Angeles Chargers. Courtesy of UCLA Athletics
Three students were drafted: defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia was picked in the 5th round by the Los Angeles Chargers, defensive back Quentin Lake was selected in the 6th round by the Los Angeles Rams and running back Brittain Brown was selected in the 7th round. by the Las Vegas Raiders.
Signing on as undrafted free agents is running back and special teams player Ethan Fernea, who joins the Indianapolis Colts; Linebacker Jordan Genmark-Heath, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs and defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight joins the San Francisco 49ers.
Brown, who graduated in the fall of 2021, says that hearing he’s been drafted to an NFL team has been a dream of his since he started playing at age five.
“Ever since, I’ve dreamed of the moment my name was called and getting drafted, so when it actually did happen, I was glad to be surrounded by all my loved ones – it was just kind of a surreal moment,” recalls Brown. “My father played at West Point, and he was a big part of helping me and my brother, who plays football as well, in building our careers up for a moment like this.”
UCLA Football’s running back Brittain Brown was drafted in the 7th round by the Las Vegas Raiders, Courtesy of UCLA Athletics
Fernea says that as a former walk-on player, he never expected an opportunity to play in the NFL.
“Getting a call from the Indianapolis Colts was such an incredible feeling for me, because it meant that somebody recognized the hard work I was putting in and they saw enough talent to give me an opportunity,” he says. “An opportunity was all I ever hoped for. I still have an extremely long way to go in order to make the team, but my crazy childhood dreams are starting to seem not as unrealistic as I thought. “
Knight, another member of UCLA’s Class of ’21, says being signed to a team of the 49ers’ caliber is also a dream come true.
“I’ve been wanting to be in the NFL since I was five years old,” he says. “It actually seems surreal. I was relieved in a way that I wasn’t drafted. After I was signed, I felt I made it and that I have an equal chance to be on the team as anyone else. It felt amazing. “
UCLA linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath has signed on as an undrafted free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs. Courtesy of UCLA Athletics
Last fall, Brown and Knight mentored student-athletes at Crenshaw High School through the rigors of training and schoolwork amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Brown says it felt “natural” to empathize with younger student-athletes and to share with them the benefits he and his teammates experience, both on the field and in the classroom.
“I felt like … That’s how I was when I was younger,” Brown says. “Coming up, I didn’t have a mentor. Nobody really pushed me except my Pops. Everybody does not have a father like that who is involved in their sports lives. So, we were doing the same thing for them as my father did for me, keeping them focused and letting them know what are the most important things at that stage in their life and also trying to help them understand what they need to do. Recruit and go to the next level, if that is what they want to do. A couple of guys actually did get offers, and they are rated on these [player] sites, so I think the UCLA-Crenshaw [mentorship] actually helped them a lot. “
The Transformative Coaching and Leadership Program is informed by an ethic of social justice, where teaching and coaching in various contexts, including collegiate sports, professional sports, K-12 schools, boys and girls clubs and other community sports programs, are analyzed through the lens. of equity, access, diversity, and human dignity.
Defensive back Quentin Lake was drafted in the 6th round to the Los Angeles Rams. Courtesy of UCLA Athletics
The program is inspired, in part, by the teachings of legendary Bruin basketball coach John Wooden and addresses a holistic vision of student-athletes and the excellence of their goals, both in the classroom and on the field. Faculty in the program are specialists and practitioners in sports including coaches and renowned UCLA education faculty. Among the instructors in the program are former women’s softball head coach and sports entrepreneur Sue Enquist, and former women’s gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos-Field. Members of the Bruin sports leadership have also served as guest speakers including UCLA’s Alice and Nahum Lainer Family Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond.
“I definitely think the Transformative Coaching and Leadership program has influenced my performance in the field,” says Knight. “I was able to study coaches like Nick Saban, Sue Enquist, John Wooden, Bobby Knight and Miss Val. John Wooden’s ‘Pyramid of Success’ and Bobby Knight’s view of being prepared for the negatives were especially influential. All of them provided for a blueprint of how I could be the best I could be and become a leader on my team. “
UCLA running back and special teams player Ethan Fernea joins the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. Courtesy of UCLA Athletics
Brown says the teachings of the Transformative Coaching and Leadership program are focused on the idea that, “… you practice what you preach.”
“We’re really diligent about the leadership aspects of the classroom and taking things on a step-by-step basis,” says Brown. “Some of the really influential teachers that I had were Arif (Amlani, SEIS director of program development), Sue Enquist, and Miss (Julia) Pelikhova. It was getting your goals and everything that you’re striving for and having in them. They taught us to stay focused on that, and it helps a lot on the field as well. “
“The Transformative Coaching and Leadership Program has given me the opportunity to think critically about the mental side of sport,” says Fernea, who has also been selected for the Hampshire Honor Society. “I’ve been able to learn about mental health within sports. I’ve also been fortunate enough to learn about the mentalities and philosophies of many great coaches. This has forced me to take an introspective look at my own mentality and my mental state while competing. TCL also shows how effective sports can be, and I hope to continue to use sports as a means to positively influence those around me. “
The Bruins’ defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight joins the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent. Courtesy of UCLA Athletics
“Knowing what I know now about coaching and leadership, I can definitely take this to my NFL career, but I can also apply it to life in general,” adds Knight. “Although Miss Val is not a football coach, she urged us to embrace our inner self. By being your true self, you are able to move forward in life without being scared and doing so that you can reach new heights. As she says, it is much better to have the best version of yourself than a second-rate version of someone else. “
For more information on the Transformative Coaching and Leadership program, visit this link.
Special thanks to Arif Amlani, Paolo Cantos and UCLA Athletics