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WATCH: Laiatu Latu on Breakout Game, Coming to UCLA Post-Injury

The defensive lineman from Washington was forced into medical retirement, but joined the Bruins as a transfer and was finally cleared to play again.

UCLA football defensive lineman Laiatu Latu spoke with the media following Tuesday morning’s practice session. Latu talked about returning to football

What’s it like to be back out there making plays?

Really, I just feel like I got my heart back. Like, I love the game so much and it really just feels good to be out there and playing with these guys. You know, I love these guys and wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else.

What’d you see on the forced fumble play?

Kind of just did a move, I got free and kept running and I saw Gabe was there first and you know, coaches teach us at practice every day—run to the ball, run to the ball, don’t stop—and that’s what I did and I got there, caused that fumble and everybody flocked to the ball, I just wish we could have got the point, but it’s all right.

Give him a hard time about the illegal forward pass?

No, we were all living it up, having a good time, like, laughing at each other, telling each other, ‘Good job,’ yeah.

Darius’ touchdown against Bowling Green get called off because of your block in the back?

I immediately went up to him and told him I was sorry [laughs].

Response when you apologized?

It was just like, ‘I won’t let that happen again.’ That’s what I told him, I told coach Kelly that. It wasn’t my intention to totally cause that penalty, but I should have just left it alone and knew that he was way ahead of me, but yeah.

Low point when you were ruled medically ineligible?

Yeah, so that low point happened when COVID happened, so it was the end of 2020 and it was right before our season and I took a hit during practice and you know, my body was still good, I didn’t lose any strength or anything like that but I got a neck injury and ever since then, I haven’t stopped working out, I haven’t stopped preparing like I have a game that week. For two years I’ve been doing that and it led me up until this point and I’ve really got to thank God and I’ve got to thank my mom too because without them I really wouldn’t be here and without coach Malloe and coach Kelly too, giving me this opportunity.

Confident you could get medically cleared to play?

It’s not that I was thinking that, it was more so that I love the game so much and I can’t see myself not playing and I’ve got to play to my full potential – that’s what really kept me going.

What wet into the mindet to leave Washington and transfer to UCLA?

Really, start new and coach Malloe came over here too and told me that I was somebody that he would want to bring and I said, ‘Yeah. Let’s do it.’ And I found a doctor out here that would clear me and the trainers out here have been loving, always taking care of me and looking out for me.

Extra precautions or tests to make sure your neck is OK?

Um, you know, I do a lot more neck workouts just to strengthen it, keep it loose, but yeah, it’s business as normal.

What was spring like getting back to football activities, even it was only individual drills?

It was crazy to have those pads on and that helmet on again but I treated it as I was getting mentally strong instead of being out on the field, so I took that time to make sure I knew what everybody else was doing on the field and knew my assignments. That helped me have a good fall camp.

Do any additional work over the summer?

Oh, definitely, me and all the homies in my group and the D-line got together almost every day and definitely every weekend to do extra work and all that just to prepare for the season.

Picked Washington over UCLA?

Exactly.

How key was that recruitment in you deciding to come to UCLA out of the portal?

So, really, it was coach Pete that brought me to U Dub, all his philosophies and what he preached to me when I was being recruited really captured me and I don’t regret going to U-Dub at all because I learned a lot of good things there and good things from coach Pete that I still bring with me today.

But did coach Kelly recruiting you out of high school help bring you here?

Oh, because coach Kelly knew me. When he was recruiting me after I got hurt, he was telling me, ‘You know, you should have listened to me back in 2019’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I know coach, but I’m here now.’

Still rusty? A lot of upside?

I definitely can get better as a player and definitely after those two years, I don’t really feel a difference. I get on the field and I do my thing. I had fall camp and spring ball and all the off-season—and the whole two years—to prepare my body and prepare my mental for this, so I feel like I’m in a good place.

How did that first sack feel?

It felt good, but there’s definitely more on the way.

Biggest thing you learned about yourself during the two years you were away from the game?

It was really, you know, something happened to me in my middle school year and I had surgery and not once did I thank God. You know, not a lot of people have God in their life or they look to something else, but I’m on a spiritual journey right now to where I’m thanking God for everything that I’ve been through and everything that I get. I get to wake up every day and all that and I’m not perfect, but I’m still trying to trying to remind myself of that every day.

What was that injury in middle school?

It was appendicitis.

Keep you from playing football?

No, no, not at all. But it was just something that I had to deal with.

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