Zach Charbonnet emerging as leader for UCLA

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet quietly emerged as one of the top running backs in the Pac-12 last season after transferring from Michigan.

With the Bruins expected to possibly contend in the conference this year, the junior is looking to establish himself as one of the team leaders.

“That was one of my main points coming into this offseason was working on my leadership skills and just working on my vocal skills too,” Charbonnet said. “I have to take on that role, especially this year and trying to lead those running backs.”

Last season, Charbonnet led the Pac-12 with seven 100-yard rushing games and was second in average rushing yards per game (94.75). But it wasn’t until the offseason and spring practices that the junior began to emerge more as a team leader.

Running backs coach DeShaun Foster said Charbonnet stepping out of his comfort zone has benefitted the Bruins.

“For us to be a player-led team, it has to come from the leaders. Everybody respects him and he understood that and just ran with it,” Foster said.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly said he has seen Charbonnet excel in all facets of his game. Charbonnet’s quick impact in Westwood was a big reason the Bruins finished 8-4 last season and earned a bowl berth for the first time since 2017.

“A lot of the kids joke around and call him a cyborg but he just goes every day, he practices every day, he doesn’t miss a rep,” Kelly said. “Anything that we ask our guys to do, he’s there full speed and more. I think all the great ones are like that. They always just want to get a little bit better on a daily basis and Zach really kind of epitomizes that for us.”

Charbonnet’s biggest improvements coming into the season have centered around pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield. With the departures of Kyle Philips and Greg Dulcich for the NFL, Charbonnet is UCLA’s leading returning receiver with 24 receptions.

Even though Charbonnet had at least 28 touches in the final two games of last season and six games with at least 21 carries, Foster said a reasonable workload would be around 25 touches per game.

“I think you can tell stuff is slowing down for him. He has all the tools, it’s just finetuning it,” Foster said. “It’s just little things outside of running, like catching, pass pro. It’s all stuff he can do but just improving, so it’s just the overall game.”

Charbonnet is up to 223 pounds, but his body fat is under 5%. As one of the leading returning running backs in a Power Five program, he is trying to block out the distractions that come with increased visibility.

“I don’t think about all that other stuff, all the preseason stuff, I don’t pay it too much time,” he said. “I just try to come in every day and do what I can and play to the best of my ability.”

With Charbonnet established as the lead running back, there is still competition for the remaining carries. Deshun Murrell, Keegan Jones, Tomarion Harden and Kazmeir Allen remain in the mix.

The Bruins have excelled with two backs in Kelly’s four years at UCLA. Kelly lauded Jones for his progress during the first two weeks of preseason camp while Allen could see time at running back and wide receiver.

UCLA opens its season Sept. 3 against Bowling Green.

“It’s a two-back system, two-back league, everybody has two backs, you’ve just got to be able to stay healthy and you don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the year,” Foster said. “I want to get everybody developed as much as I can.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.