Greg Dulcich has left the realm of "feel-good story" behind like he's ditching defenders on his way to the end zone. The tight end is just a hard-working former walk-on who earned a scholarship. He's a star for UCLA.
The redshirt junior tight end had a team-high 117 receiving yards on three catches against No. 16 Louisiana State on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, including a 75-yard touchdown catch in which he juked past a defensive back and split another pair of defenders at the five-yard line before getting tossed into the end zone.
It was UCLA's longest play from scrimmage in its 38-27 win over LSU and it turned the momentum immediately toward the Bruins sideline after the Tigers (0-1) scored on the previous drive. It took UCLA (2-0) only one play to answer as Dulcich lined up on the left side of the line as if he were run-blocking, cut across the formation untouched and found no defender within five yards of him.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was awestruck by how open he was.
"I was just making sure I didn't overthrow the ball or underthrow the ball," said Thompson-Robinson, who threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns on nine-of-16 passing. "I'm glad I could get it to him and Greg's going to do the rest for me."
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Dulcich rumbled for 58 yards after the catch.
"Coach [Derek] Sage says you catch the ball, it's first down or touchdown," Dulcich said.
"I kind of think touchdown, then first down," he added with a smirk.
It was Dulcich's first touchdown of the season and seventh of his career. Three of his touchdown catches have been 50 yards or longer.
Dulcich's rise to becoming one of UCLA's top deep threats started after he walked on from St. Francis High. The campus in La Cañada Flintridge is just three miles from the Rose Bowl.
Even when friends and family couldn't attend home games during the pandemic last year, Dulcich still felt the strong local support as he broke out for 19.88 yards per catch and 73.9 receiving yards per game, which ranked second-best among tight ends in the country. He was the best pass-catching tight end among his Power 5 peers.
The performance put him on the preseason watch list for the Mackey Award, which recognizes the best tight end in the country. He is the next noted tight end from UCLA under Chip Kelly, following NFL draftees Caleb Wilson and Devin Asiasi. Dulcich recognized he wouldn't be in position to star on a resurgent UCLA team if those former teammates didn't lay the first bricks down.
"This entire unit that we have right now is pretty much based off of the road they paved for us," Dulcich said before the season. "Just hard workers, come out here every day and give it their all and demand the best of themselves and their teammates."
Dulcich was buried on the depth chart as a freshman in 2018 when Wilson, another walk-on who turned into a star, was leading UCLA in receptions (60) and receiving yards (965) and putting together the best receiving season a UCLA tight end has ever had. The following year, Asiasi emerged as the starter before getting drafted in the third round by the New England Patriots and Dulcich got his first regular time in the rotation coming off the bench in 11 games and catching one touchdown.
Dulcich stepped into the spotlight fully the next season with a team-high five touchdowns. This season, he's taken a larger role by becoming a vocal leader, helping lead his hometown team back to prominence.
"Coming and playing in your backyard," Dulcich said, "there's no better feeling."