A knee injury did not stop Sam Handler from marching out onto the Rose Bowl field to protect the UCLA logo. The controversy of the Trojan mascot stabbing the UCLA’s logo at mid-field of the Rose Bowl. The Bruins wanted to prevent the Trojans from carrying out their “tradition.” In turn, UCLA said that they would disallow the Trojan band to perform at half time if the mascot went through with his actions.
Handler walked out to the logo when the USC band started their pre-game ritual. What he did will be remembered for years to come, and because of that has instantly become a UCLA football legend.
In the recruiting process, UCLA stood out to me as opposed to other schools I had visited because it was the complete package in regards to the perfect combination of top-notch academics, excellent coaching staff with tons of NFL experience, great facilities and a second to none location being in Los Angeles. UCLA is a nationally recognized school and is the most applied to school in the country, so when I received the call from Coach Mora (our head coach), I had no hesitation in committing. I was a part of Coach Mora’s first recruiting class when he took the head coaching job in 2012 and viewed the program as a whole as a stock on the rise. Most importantly, my parents told me when picking my school to chose a school if football were to be taken away from you that you would still enjoy being a regular student at and UCLA fit that criteria to an extreme as Los Angeles has so much to offer.
When did you know you wanted to play football for UCLA?
I first knew I wanted to play football at UCLA when I came to their one day camp for high school football players in 2010. I was blown away by the campus, facilities, and overall city of Los Angeles. I was born and raised in Illinois, so coming to Los Angeles for that camp was such a culture shock, and I knew from that moment on that UCLA was where I wanted to go.
What was your recruiting experience like?
My recruiting process was a roller coaster of emotions. Certain things went the way I planned, while others didn’t, but in the end, it all worked out for the best. It was frustrating and confusing at times, but it is a very educational experience in that you learn a lot about yourself and how college football is a business.
Did you feel like you had enough information going through the process?
I was very fortunate in that I had an older brother, Gus Handler, who played at the University of Colorado and had previously gone through the recruiting process, so for myself and my family; it was nothing new. We learned how to read coaches and see who was genuinely interested and who was playing the part.
How important was your official visit? Why or why not?
My official visit was the icing on the cake in that you get to see a day in the life of a student-athlete, and my visit to UCLA gave me more confidence in my decision to commit there. Any unanswered recruiting questions and concerns about the school should be answered during an official visit as you are that much closer to making your decision to commit or not.
If you had to advise an upcoming college football player, what would it be?
Advice that I would give to any high school football player going through the recruiting process is to work your tail off on the field, in the classroom, and when no one is watching. If you genuinely want to play college football, then subconsciously you should always be making smart decisions and decisions that will help achieve that goal of playing NCAA football. There is a high level of responsibility needed to play college sports, and you can never start too early in making smart decisions as a football player, student, and with friends/family. At times recruiting may be frustrating, but if anything, let it motivate you to work harder and don’t let it get to you too much. If you can honestly look in the mirror and say you gave it your all, then it’ll all work out.
What was the biggest challenge for you going from high school football to college football?
The hardest transition from high school football to college football was obviously the increased speed and size of the players, but also how to balance school, football, and your social life. At times it can be tough, but it’ll all benefit you greatly in the long run because these time-management skills you attain from being a student-athlete will help you later in life when athletics comes to an end.
How meaningful was your relationship with your position, coach?
My relationship with my position coach was great as we saw eye to eye on several things. We were also both honest and open with each other. As a college football player, the strength and conditioning coaches, at times, feel like your position coaches also because you spend the majority of your time through the season and in the offseason with them.
Last one – if you were stranded in a locker room for three years with one team (pro, college, high school, different sport, etc.) what team would it be?
If I were stranded with any level football team, I’ve been apart of it’d be my college team at UCLA as my friends from UCLA will be my close friends forever. Also, the team is so culturally diverse that you truly hear & see everything and get a taste of different people.