Everything Brett Hundley wanted at UCLA remains a possibility for Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
A Pac-12 championship. A Rose Bowl. Maybe even something better.
“It’s awesome to see,” Hundley said over the phone, “because I love UCLA to death.”
Hundley never reached those heights while leading his teams to two mid-tier bowl victories and a 3-0 record against those repugnant rivals across town.
Almost as soon as the dual-threat quarterback departed for the NFL in 2015, the Bruins ran a reverse into irrelevance. They posted losing seasons in five of the next six years while USC regained supremacy in the cross-town rivalry.
It was excruciating to watch, even from afar. Hundley had to stop making bets with teammates about UCLA games because he always ended up having to wear another team’s jersey after the losses.
Now the Bruins are back to winning, and Hundley’s name was in the news again. During UCLA’s victory over Utah earlier this month, Thompson-Robinson threw for touchdown No. 76 of his career, surpassing Hundley’s school record.
“All records are meant to be broken,” Hundley said, “so it was just fun opportunity to see him succeed and I’m happy for him.”
Thompson-Robinson said Monday that Hundley was the UCLA quarterback he had watched the closest before his arrival on campus. In some ways, it was like seeing an older version of himself given Hundley’s ability to dissect defenses with his throws and beat them with his legs.
“He’s the guy that I always thought of when it comes to UCLA quarterbacks,” Thompson-Robinson said, “and so definitely a guy I look up to and a guy I model after.”
Text messages between Hundley and his old college offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, reminded Hundley of where he had taken the Bruins as well as where Thompson-Robinson’s version that’s ranked No. 9 nationally might be headed after winning its first six games.
“All records are meant to be broken, so it was just fun opportunity to see him succeed and I’m happy for him.”
— Former UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley on Dorian Thompson-Robinson
Every time Hundley contemplates his successor, he sees similarities that go beyond being a dual threat.
“First off, it’s good seeing another brother at quarterback,” Hundley said with a laugh, alluding to the lack of Black players at his position. “Second, being mobile, the way he’s able to escape the pocket and run around … in those similar ways as far as him being able to make plays with his legs and his arm and throw the ball, absolutely, you know?
“I would say that’s one of the highlights that I was very proud to bring to UCLA as a quarterback, but to see DTR be able to bring those same type of traits to UCLA and lead them to what he’s doing right now, there’s a huge amount of resemblance there.”
Having accounted for nine touchdowns — seven passing, two rushing — in his last two games, Thompson-Robinson has surged into Heisman Trophy consideration alongside Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, USC’s Caleb Williams, Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker and Alabama’s Bryce Young. He was selected the Pac-12’s offensive player of the week two consecutive weeks and landed a five-minute interview on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
More UCLA records could fall soon. Thompson-Robinson needs 402 rushing yards to break John Sciarra’s school record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,813) and 1,658 passing yards to break Cade McNown’s record of 10,708.
“He’s the guy that I always thought of when it comes to UCLA quarterbacks, and so definitely a guy I look up to and a guy I model after.”
— UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson on Brett Hundley
Thompson-Robinson’s hurdling may have already set an unofficial school record, given his memorable leaps against USC and Washington. A gifted athlete himself, Hundley recalled having cleared two defenders in similar fashion while also being mindful of the need to protect himself from injury.
Among the things that impress Hundley about Thompson-Robinson are his improved decision-making and poise. The fifth-year senior is completing 74.8% of his passes for 9.3 yard per completion with a 7.5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, all career highs.
“He just seems a lot calmer,” Hundley said, “and I was just watching him, especially these past two games he’s been killing it and especially as a quarterback, it’s not getting too high and it’s not getting too low and it just seems like even in those moments where things might get a little shaky that he’s been very consistent.”
Hundley, who spent seven seasons in the NFL, earning playing time with the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals, said Thompson-Robinson has what it takes to play at football’s highest level.
“It’s hard to guess or pick which quarterback is going to work and it’s not about just the quarterback, it’s about what’s around him,” Hundley said, “so I think Dorian has the tools and hopefully he gets put in the right position to succeed.”
It’s certainly happening in his final college season, Thompson-Robinson leading the Bruins to their best start since they won their first eight games in 2005.
Hundley, who’s been training in Florida with hopes of getting another shot at the NFL, said he might be able to attend UCLA’s game against USC on Nov. 19 at the Rose Bowl. It would be Hundley’s first rivalry game since he starred in a 38-20 victory over the Trojans in 2014, the Bruins celebrating by sprinting over to the student section.
“It’s going to be epic,” Hundley said of the latest rivalry showdown. “If I’m not somewhere [with another team], I’m for sure going to make it to that game.”
In the meantime, he’ll be rooting for Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins to knock off No. 10 Oregon on Saturday. It would be one more way for Hundley’s successor to build upon a new legacy.
“It’s really great to see,” Hundley said, “the program back where it is and I’m so happy for DTR.”