Jacob Tuioti-Mariner took off his blue and gold UCLA jersey for a final time Tuesday. Immediately after the loss that ended his collegiate career, the defensive lineman wasn’t ready to let the No. 91 jersey go just yet. He clutched it in his hand while speaking to reporters one last time as a Bruin.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I’m excited to move on, but at the same time I’m leaving a lot of the guys I love and grew to love over the past four years.”
Many of the seniors will now try to grab a shot at a pro career. Tuitoti-Mariner is one of three UCLA seniors who have already accepted invitations to pre-draft all-star games, joining linebacker Kenny Young and safety Jaleel Wadood.
Young will play in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 20 in St. Petersburg, Fla., while Tuioti-Mariner and Wadood will play one more game in the Rose Bowl in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl the same afternoon.
The games are two of three major senior showcase events for NFL hopefuls, along with the Senior Bowl on Jan. 27 in Mobile, Ala.
The three seniors were leaders on UCLA’s defense this year, trying to pull the young Bruins through one of the worst defensive seasons in school history. Despite improvement over the last three regular-season games, the defense reverted to its old ways during the Cactus Bowl and allowed 28 consecutive points in the second half of the 35-17 loss.
It was a disappointing way to end a disappointing two-year stretch in Westwood, but the seniors want their careers defined by more than just wins and losses.
“Just the way the guys responded to the adversity that we faced and the challenges and the opportunities that we had in front of us, that’s what I’m most proud of,” said Young, who earned his first All-Pac-12 first-team selection this year. “It’s really not about me; it’s about seeing the impact of the guys around me. That’s where I sleep good at night, when I can see guys are happy and they’re energized about the next…