By Hunter Hermanson
UCI has a proud and illustrious career as a chronically underrated sports school. However, during the summer there is one team on campus that can’t be ignored. That team plays the one sport no serious sports school can be without: football. Unfortunately, UCI is not getting a D1 football team for the regular season and probably never will. However, during the summer preseason, there is a team calling UCI home. The Los Angeles Rams have again graced UCI’s campus with their presence, running their annual training camp from July 26 through August 16. Before moving to LA the Rams had not had a winning season since 2003. Their premier season in LA, 2016, also did not exceed expectations as they finished 4-12. Last season the Rams, led by QB Jared Goff and head coach Sean McVay, managed to turn a few heads as the team began to establish themselves as a competitive, playoff worthy team. Though they took a first-round playoff loss, the Rams proved with their 11-5 record that they could no longer be ignored. UCI sports often deals with some similar problems, not getting the attention that some schools in the PAC 12 conference might get, but that’s okay because this year could spell big interest in several UCI sports and the Rams. With the Rams 4-0 start to the season, the Rams really are establishing themselves as a threat.
So as the Rams continue their season after leaving UCI’s campus, it is almost compulsory that the ‘Eaters adopt the Rams as the representation of UCI in the sport of football, especially seeing as they have trained in the same facilities as our athletes, and are perceived in a similar way to UCI Athletes.
The men’s basketball team at UCI have a particularly Ram’s-esque arc. They are a young team, who were not expected to have a deep playoff run or even be in contention for a spot in the NCAA tournament last year. But the team who wasn’t expected to be a contender made it to the final round of the Big West Conference championships, one win away from an NCAA berth. The Anteaters lost to CSU Fullerton, but gained valuable experience and are coming back this year having maintained their core with a few notable additions, one such addition being graduate transfer Robert Cartwright, who joined the team over the summer. Though basketball season is a ways off, UCI is already attempting to turn heads. They managed to win their first four games (just like the Rams) when they traveled to South Korea for Asia Pacific University Basketball Challenge. After beating teams from South Korea 92-90, Japan 104-58, Philippines 102- 58 and Chinese Taipei 81 -72, the ‘Eaters took their only loss of the Tournament to the Russian team by the slimmest of margins 91-92. Part of the reason UCI was able to succeed in offseason play was the addition of Robert Cartwright. For the Rams Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib join forces after offseason trades, giving the Rams a defensive boost despite their already deep secondary. This has made a huge difference, as the Rams get the ball more for their highly productive offense.
The Rams, like UCI’s Basketball team, got a long sought after glimpse into the playoffs last year but had their dreams cut short by the Atlanta Falcons. The similarities don’t stop there, the 2016 draft year was big for the Rams and the ‘Eaters had a strong recruiting year. The Rams, of course, added with their first-round pick Jared Goff who has been a force for change in the team, the rest of the draft was average for the Rams, picking up Tyler Higbee in the fourth round to passable results as he continues to mature reaching 295 yds on 25 receptions last season. 2016 brought the ‘Eaters Pg Eyassu Worku who has a team-leading 3.7 assists per game, and a respectable 11.3 points per game. The ‘Eaters also picked up Pg Evan Leonard, who led the team in points per game last season with 13.6. A third big pick up was made in 2016: Tommy Rutherfurd, who lead the team last season with 5.7 rebounds per game and .583 FG%. After a hugely impactful year for both teams, the choices made then are now showing their worth, as both teams see players maturing. The taste of playoff glory both teams saw last season will surely fuel them to new heights this season. The question is, how far can each team take themselves?
Last year, Rams duo of Goff and then rookie Cooper Kupp, lead the team with 869 yds on 62 receptions. They will have to play numbers of equal impressiveness this year for the Rams to perform at the level they hope to. That considered, they have been off to a respectable start as Kupp has 348 yards on 24 receptions through the first four games. Running back Todd Gurley has been a threat to defenses as much as Goff and Kupp. He has 338 yards on 79 carries. It appears that the Rams are not only determined to make the playoffs again, but to prove they are the best team in the nation. UCI’s offseason indicates a similar goal as the ‘Eaters proved they can compete, and are only getting better.
UCI may never have a No. 1 ranked college football team, or one at all for that matter. But to have a football team that trained on the same campus as all of the other athletes at UCI is an exciting prospect on its own. The Rams seem to have an opportunity to have a better season than they have had in some time. 4-0 is the start the Rams hoped for. The last time the Rams started a season with three wins was 2003. This season many people will realize the Rams cannot be overlooked. The maturity they have gained is evident, and hopefully Eyassu Worku, Evan Leonard and Tommy Rutherfurd, can follow in the footsteps of their draft-mate Jared Goff and use that maturity to turn heads and establish their team as a contender for a national championship. As the NFL’s season continues, the ‘Eaters can take pride knowing that not only the students who study here, but also the athletes who train here are of the highest caliber.