Quarterback Kevin Prince originally committed to Washington, but some gamesmanship from coach Rick Neuheisel convinced him to reconsider and eventually led him to play for the Bruins.

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LOS ANGELES — So you wonder what happened to the depth behind Jake Locker, the Washington quarterback? Where is the insurance policy against unspeakable horrors, such as 0-12 seasons?

That guy is at UCLA, Kevin Prince, and if the Bruins’ coaches are right, Prince’s name is someday going to be uttered alongside the best of those in college football.

For now, he is due to be the starter for a UCLA team in its second year of the Rick Neuheisel regime, thanks partly to that old gamesmanship that was always inside Neuheisel, right to the bitter end in Seattle in 2003.

Prince is 6 feet 2 ½, 215 pounds, and he is said to be able to make all the throws.

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Two years ago, he tore up a knee in his first game at Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, Calif., but that didn’t deter the Huskies from targeting him.

“I just fell in love with coach Willingham and his staff,” Prince said recently on the UCLA campus of former UW coach Tyrone Willingham. “The Seattle area, the school, the campus, the stadium, was magnificent. It was where I felt comfortable.”

It says something about the tepid capabilities of Karl Dorrell’s old staff at UCLA that the Bruins hadn’t easily nailed down Prince, who grew up a fan of the school his father and uncle each attended.

“Something just didn’t feel right,” Prince said. “It just kind of felt like, if they wanted me to be their guy, they would have kind of been out there more and said it more. As a quarterback, that’s kind of where you want it to be.”

So Prince committed to the Huskies. It was before the holidays, so he “asked for a bunch of Washington stuff for Christmas.”

But then the vibrant Neuheisel was hired to replace Dorrell, and a week before signing date the quarterback was called out of class to the football office. He found Neuheisel standing at a dry-erase board.

There, Neuheisel penned three columns, one with three lines, one with five and one with six. In a game of eliminating the lines, one by one, the object is to saddle your opponent with erasing the last one.

“He said if he could beat me 10 times in a row, that I’d have to consider going to UCLA,” Prince said with a grin.

Sure enough, Prince lost 10 straight to Neuheisel, who knew the secret to the game. And a week later, Prince was a Bruin.

“I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings in Washington or anything,” Prince said. “I just had to do what was best for me.”

The Bruins redshirted Prince in 2008 while Neuheisel suffered with poor Kevin Craft, who threw a school-record 20 passes that were intercepted, fueling an incessant loop of TV clips of an exasperated Neuheisel gesticulating and jawing at Craft.

Of course, UCLA wasn’t very good at anything offensively, finishing 116th nationally in rushing.

“It’s tough to watch a fellow teammate go through something like that, to be put through so much ridicule,” Prince said. “If you watch the game films, he gets annihilated, and time after time after time, he just gets up.”

Craft is still around, but he is third string. The job is Prince’s.

“He’s very composed, wise beyond his years,” Neuheisel said. “I believe he’s going to give us a chance to exploit all portions of the field.”

A better ground game would help Prince, and versatile back Christian Ramirez returns after sitting out 2008 for academic reasons.

The defense should be good, although depth has taken a hit with knee injuries in camp to two backups. But there are few better tackles than Brian Price, and there is high quality in linebacker Reggie Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner.

As for Prince, he is waiting for another shot at his coach in that game he calls “Sticks.”

“I’ve been practicing, by the way,” he said. “I’m waiting for the perfect time to challenge coach Neuheisel. But don’t tell him I said that.”

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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