Transfer defensive back Azizi Hearn takes long road to UCLA football

It wasn’t just traffic that stalled Azizi Hearn’s trip from Oceanside to Westwood.

The UCLA defensive back took the long road up the California coast, looping through Tucson, Ariz., and Laramie, Wyo., and turning into the transfer portal twice. Five years after walking on to his first college team, the San Diego-area product is happy to say he’s arrived to his ultimate destination.

“This is home for me,” Hearn said Wednesday after practice at Spaulding Field on UCLA’s campus.

Less than a month into his UCLA career, the graduate transfer has emerged as the team’s fifth defensive back, jumping in with the top unit as the slot corner. Redshirt senior Stephan Blaylock said last week that Hearn was an early standout in spring camp because he grabbed two interceptions in the first two weeks. He had another pick during one-on-one drills.

Hearn is expected to make an instant impact at UCLA. That’s the standard he set for himself while at Wyoming, where he played in 32 straight games in three years. He started all 13 games last year with 30 tackles and five pass breakups as the Cowboys went 7-6 and finished the season with a victory in the Idaho Potato Bowl.

The Oceanside native went to Wyoming after two years at Arizona, where he began as a walk-on in 2017 under Rich Rodriguez. He cracked the rotation the following year, which was Kevin Sumlin’s first season in Tucson, and rose to the starting role by the final three games, finishing with 26 tackles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Hearn admitted he had early dreams of playing at UCLA. It felt like a hometown school for the San Diego-area product, but the three-time team captain at Oceanside High never broke into the recruiting spotlight. Having to begin as a walk-on is never far from Hearn’s mind.

“That still fuels me to this day, honestly,” he said. “I still kind of have a chip on my shoulder.”

Hearn’s ample college experience makes him a ready leader for a defense adjusting to four new assistant coaches, including first-year defensive coordinator Bill McGovern. Hearn connected quickly with veterans Blaylock and Kenny Churchwell, who are both in their fifth years at UCLA, and younger players such as sophomore Devin Kirkwood.

“He’s like a big brother to me,” Kirkwood told reporters last week. “He talks to me all the time. He helps me stay locked in.”

Hearn said he chose UCLA after Wyoming because it offered him a place to “grow as a man and as a player.” Strong relationships with former UCLA players and fellow San Diego prospects such as Kyle Philips and Jordan Genmark-Heath contributed to the choice. They both spoke highly of their experiences as Bruins and seeing how the school prepared them for potential NFL careers only intrigued Hearn more as he dreams of the next stop in his journey.

“To see them put themselves in that position, it’s just exciting,” Hearn said. “And I can’t wait to meet them up there.”

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