For UCLA's newest tight end, Nate Chandler, it was a trying off-season.
Chandler lost his father, Bubba, while on his way to the East Meets West All-American Game in Florida a few weeks before Signing Day.
"I think about him all the time, but I've spent a lot of time with my mom, my brother and my sister, and we pray a lot. It's hard, but I know he's still with me," said Chandler. "I'm really glad I chose UCLA, because it let me be close to my family."
Chandler made the move from Mira Mesa in San Diego up to Westwood in late June, and after a tough first couple of weeks, he got his feet under him and said things are going well for him.
"The first week was as hard a week as I've ever had," said Chandler. "But the more I was up here, the easier it got. I'm taking two classes in summer school, but we finish next week. Then we start practice. It will be nice to not have school while we're in practice. We don't have to worry about turning in papers, going to class, and we can just focus on football for a couple months. We definitely have an advantage."
Chandler is rooming with a familiar face, his Eastern League rival in high school and fellow San Diego native, Chris Forcier. "Chris and I got to know each other really well and we hang out a lot with the other freshmen," said Chandler. "Since we were a small class, we got to know each other and we all get along really good."
Logan Paulsen, the Bruins' returning junior tight end, has also taken Chandler under his wing, spending hours with him. "Logan and I watch film together on Wednesday nights," said Chandler. "He talks with me a lot about what to expect, what to look for, how to improve."
Chandler said that getting a playbook early on, being on campus in late June and being around during the spring, has helped make the transition easier and also prepared him for what he hopes is playing time as a true freshman.
"Once I got my playbook, I started studying it," Chandler said. "I'm coming in with the mindset that if I perform really well in practice, I'll be able to play this year. My goal is to play this year, but if the coaches want me to redshirt, I wont be mad."
The most complete senior tight end in the West last year in high school, and the top-ranked player at his position in California, Chandler said his ability to both block and catch is what he feels will allow him to make an early impact.
"A lot of guys signed with schools who could only catch, and some guys signed with schools and they could only block. I am able to do both really well, which I think will help me," said Chandler.
Chandler said the off-season workouts with Doc Kreis and Randy Horton have also made a noticeable difference for him. "I'm at 6-5, 252, and I think I can lose a few more pounds and be in top shape by the time camp starts," said Chandler. "I wanted to put on some weight after the season, and they're helping me with my muscle without losing my speed."
He's also noticed that the workouts with quarterbacks Ben Olson and Pat Cowan have helped him adjust to the speed of the college game and getting on the same page with both quarterbacks. "Pat is more of a mobile quarterback and Ben is more of a pocket passer, so I'm learning to adjust to both of them and working on my routes," said Chandler.
Two of his former teammates at Mira Mesa, Mike Coughlin and Markques Simas, have both made transitions to college and he's used them for advice, specifically Coughlin, who will be a redshirt freshman at Boise State.
"Mike and I are really close so I've called him and talked about adjusting to college and he said it's tough and a lot of work, but I'll be fine," said Chandler. "Markques left for Colorado and he said the elevation was really high for him, but he's doing really well."