The program is definitely different," Su'a-Filo said. "I don't really know Coach Mora, but I have always been blessed with being able to adjust to coaches. Whatever Coach Mora has planned, I'm excited. —Xavier Su'a-Filo
This is not how Xavier Su'a-Filo left the UCLA football program.
The offensive tackle went off to his Mormon mission in 2009 leaving behind a team that finished with a 7-6 record after winning the EagleBank Bowl. Coach Rick Neuheisel appeared to have the program pointed in the right direction.
Su'a-Filo returned to find Neuheisel fired and the future in the hands of Coach Jim Mora, who met with the team on the first day of classes Monday.
"It's a little sad," said Su'a-Filo, who started 13 games as a freshman in 2009. "Guys I came in with and I was close to are gone."
Su'a-Filo's first day back in Los Angeles was Saturday, and he was already reconnecting with those who are still at UCLA.
"The program is definitely different," Su'a-Filo said. "I don't really know Coach Mora, but I have always been blessed with being able to adjust to coaches. Whatever Coach Mora has planned, I'm excited."
What Mora has planned started Monday, when it was announced that tight end Raymond Nelson and defensive tackle Wesley Flowers were dismissed for violating team rules and that defensive back Randall Carroll was academically ineligible and had left school.
Of the 21 players in UCLA's 2009 recruiting class, Carroll is the eighth who is no longer a Bruin.1 comment on this story
Su'a-Filo is so important to UCLA that Mora and assistant coaches Adrian Klemm and Angus McClure traveled to his home in Utah for a visit on Dec. 20 — the day after he returned from his mission.
Su'a-Filo spent two years in Tallahassee (Fla.) and in southern Alabama, "attending to people's needs and helping them find the Gospel, sharing the message." He had up to an hour of workout time each day, but even though he still weighs about 310 pounds he said, "I have lost some strength."
But Su'a-Filo also said the time away helped him "be more focused and really diligent in my work. That'll help me in football, where some days it's a grind, especially in practice."