Jay Toia's dalliance with transfer portal ends in a triumphant return to UCLA

Turns out there’s no need to cross one big name off UCLA’s spring football roster.

Jay Toia returned to practice Tuesday, five days after he entered the transfer portal to assess his options.

“I’m just excited big man is back,” Bruins coach DeShaun Foster said of the 6-foot-3, 325-pound defensive lineman. “We knew with our culture here, our beliefs, the way we coach, our development — we just felt that that really, at the end of the day, overcomes anything that’s coming inside trying to take away our guys.

“We’re just excited that he gave us that opportunity to come back and be part of the program, and he’s a Bruin through and through.”

Retaining its top defensive lineman should significantly bolster a defense that already has to replace every edge rusher with experience and a large chunk of the secondary. A starter in all 12 games he played last season, Toia made 28 tackles, including four for losses and one sack.

UCLA heralded Toia’s return with a tweet announcing the move.

“Bruin Nation! I’m back,” the tweet read. “I’m Ready to Finish what I started! 4s Up!!”

The tweet was accompanied by the slogan “Culture & Development Over Everything.”

“It’s just basically what we are — we’re being genuine, you know, when you come out here and that’s why I think people are jumping in the boat,” Foster said when asked to explain the slogan. “We’re being genuine. You can see what we’re preaching is true; we’re trying to be a family and it’s a real family. The alumni are coming back, we’re getting donors, fans — just the atmosphere is something that you want to be a part of.”

After missing two practices while he was in the portal, Toia unleashed several powerful moves that allowed him to get into the backfield. He also was offsides on one play, leading to him running a partial lap around the field as punishment.

Toia becomes the third Bruin to withdraw from the portal in recent months, joining running back Keegan Jones and guard Spencer Holstege.

Talk it out

Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has been wielding a walkie-talkie that allows him to communicate with the quarterbacks via devices implanted in their helmets.

“It’s great for Coach E.B. to be able to talk to the quarterbacks, tell them what to look for, what not to look for,” Foster said.

The devices are part of a new NCAA rule that allows coaches to communicate with one player on offense and another on defense. Foster said the middle linebackers have been chosen to receive the communications on defense.

Recruiting uptick

Foster said “a few” high school prospects verbally committed to UCLA after the team’s “Friday Night Lights” event.

The Bruins also received a commitment from guard Alani Makihele, a 6-3, 350-pound graduate transfer from Nevada Las Vegas who has two years of remaining eligibility.


Fullback Anthony Adkins hurt his right knee and sat out the remainder of practice with a wrap around the area. … Jack Pedersen returned to practice, enhancing the Bruins’ tight end depth. … Foster said defensive lineman Gary Smith III, recovering from a broken ankle, could return by fall training camp. … Foster said more than 20,000 tickets have been reserved for the spring game Saturday at the Rose Bowl. Tickets are free and can be reserved at uclabruins.com.

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