UCLA: Recruiting

Defensive back Priest Wills signs with UCLA

February, 9, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- As expected, UCLA has added defensive back Priest Willis to its 2013 recruiting class, coach Jim Mora announced on Twitter Saturday.

Willis (6-2, 199) is the No. 59-ranked prospect in the ESPN Recruiting Nation rankings and the No. 5 safety, though he projects to play cornerback in college. He becomes UCLA's highest-rated prospect according to the ESPN rankings. His signing brings UCLA's class to 24 players.

Willis had committed to UCLA in late January, two weeks before signing day, but did not sign on Wednesday because, he said, his mother was out of town and unable to sign the letter of intent. Willis was also being pursued by Louisiana State, USC, Florida and Oregon, among others.

UCLA signing day breakdown

February, 6, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- The rebuilding of UCLA's football program took another step forward Wednesday when coach Jim Mora landed one of the school's top recruiting classes of the past decade.

Mora signed 23 players Wednesday, the first day football players could sign, and the class is currently ranked No. 12 in the nation by ESPN Recruiting Nation. Of the 23 players, five are among the ESPN 150 and nine are in the ESPN 300.

Priest Willis, No. 5 safety in the nation and No. 59 overall recruit, did not sign Wednesday and is expected to still sign with UCLA.

"We're very happy with the class that we were able to put together," Mora said. "We feel that it fills a lot of needs or areas of concern for this football team."

Looking at the class breakdown, offensive line, defensive back and linebacker were the major target areas for the Bruins. Mora and his staff brought in seven offensive linemen, three defensive backs (with Willis perhaps still to come) and five linebackers.

Defensive end Kylie Fitts, No. 85 in the ESPN 150 and the No. 8 player at his position, was the top-ranked player to sign Wednesday. Asiantii Woulard, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and No. 143 overall prospect, is UCLA's top offensive player.

The gaping hole in the class is at running back. Johnathan Franklin, the school's all-time leading rusher, left some big shoes to fill, but Mora and his staff didn't fill them. Craig Lee, a running back from Redlands, was committed but did not sign because of admissions issues.

Here is a breakdown of UCLA's class:

(Read full post)

Video: Jim Mora on the recruiting class

February, 6, 2013
ESPN's Dari Nowkhah talks to UCLA coach Jim Mora about the Bruins' recruiting class. Mora discusses his staff-filled positions of need and offers his thoughts on the notion that UCLA has surpassed USC in recruiting.


Howland announces signing of Zach LaVine

November, 14, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- UCLA Bruins coach Ben Howland on Wednesday announced the signing Zach LaVine, a 6-foot-3 combo guard from Bothell High in Washington.

LaVine is No. 51 in the ESPNU top-100 rankings and is the No. 10 point guard, though Howland said he sees LaVine as more of a shooter and scorer who would play both guard positions at UCLA. LaVine chose UCLA over Louisville, Gonzaga, Washington and Washington State.

"He is going to be a very good player," Howland said. "He can really shoot it, he's a very good athlete. I think he has a lot of upside."

Wednesday was the first day of the early signing period, which lasts one week. Howland said he was hoping to announce "a couple of more" signings by the end of the week.

Jim Mora's first recruiting class a success

February, 1, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- When Jim Mora took over as UCLA coach in December, the first question asked of him was: How are you going to recruit?

Mora, who had spent 25 years in the NFL and never had to recruit before, didn't have an answer at the time, but he responded in emphatic fashion Wednesday when he announced that his first recruiting class contained a number of high profile recruits and was rated No. 19 in the nation by ESPN.com's recruiting ranker.

"A lot of hard work went into this year’s class," Mora said. "We certainly could have conceded the 2012 class because we got such a late start and focused our energies on 2013. We decided not to. We decided to attack it and try to take chunks out of it every day and the culmination of that is the players we are presenting to you today."

Highlighting UCLA's 25-player class are four members of the ESPNU 150: defensive lineman Ellis McCarthy of Monrovia, quarterback Devin Fuller of Old Tappan, New Jersey, quarterback T.J. Milleweard of Fort Worth, Tex. and Ishmael Adams of Oaks Christian in Westlake Village.

The Bruins also got a surprise recruit when Oaks Christian four-star receiver Jordan Payton signed Wednesday after going on television Tuesday and announcing he was going to sign with Washington. Other four-star players UCLA landed were linebacker Aaron Porter of La Habra, and receiver Randall Goforth or Long Beach Poly.

"I don't think anybody expect them to finish this last month the way they did," ESPN.com recruiting analyst Greg Biggins said. "They're going to have a class that is close to top 15 in the nation and I don't think anybody saw that just a few weeks ago."

That's because UCLA was a program in flux. Coach Rick Neuheisel was fired in late November and Mora came on board on the middle of December with no notable experience at the college level or with recruiting. In order to make up for that shortcoming, Mora made some strategic assistant coach hires, notably Adrian Klemm, Demetrice Martin and Steve Broussard.

Those coaches used existing relationships to help get UCLA in the door of some the recruits they signed Wednesday and made Mora's first recruiting class a success.

"They did everything, I was just along for the ride," Mora said. "It's called recruiting, but really what it is is going out and forging and building relationships and these guys are fantastic at it because they are genuine. There is nothing fake about them. So when they walk in a home, you feel the warmth that they have already created with the relationships that they have with these people."

Mora and his staff got into the game so late that it would have been easy to just sit tight and build a recruiting strategy for next year, but that wasn't in their nature. They first needed to figure out which Neuheisel recruits were still interested in UCLA and also targeted players for this year's class who were committed to other schools and then hit the road.

"One of the things I learned was how competitive the recruiting really is," Mora said. "The process of recruiting is how you accumulate your talent and it’s completely different than anything I had ever been through before in the NFL. When you draft, you’re picking players. When you’re recruiting, you’re picking players, but they have to pick you, so that’s very, very different."

Luckily he had some recruiting aces to help. Klemm, who came from Southern Methodist, Martin, from Washington, and Broussard, from Arizona State, had all built reputations as excellent recruiters. They helped Mora along in the process by teaching him the dos and don'ts of recruiting while also accompanying him on home visits and offering recruiting pitch advice.

"Some of those things were challenging because you expect your head man knows all that," Martin said. "But he’s all new to it so he had to learn fast and he did. Once he got going he became pretty good at it."

Still UCLA had other challenges. With a new staff, it's always going to be a tough sell, especially for a team coming off of a 6-8 season. UCLA was an easy target for negative recruiting, where opposing coaches point out the negatives of different schools, The coaches hit recruiting hard and expected to get a decent class, but were surprised by how things turned out.

"I thought we could have a really good class, but I thought it would be a little more shaky than it was today," Klemm said. "People were using some of that stuff against us, but a lot of kids believed in what we’re doing and bought into what coach Mora was saying when he went into their living rooms and I think the type of person that he is, they saw the genuineness when he was speaking to them. They understood that everything he was saying was true and it wasn’t a hustle."

Mora's energy had a lot to do with that. He worked tirelessly, sometimes visiting as many as four states in one day in order to meet with recruits, sit in their homes and deliver his pitch. Mora's naivety about the recruiting process also came in handy. He said he really didn't pay much attention to the fact that players had committed to another school because as far as he was concerned, if they hadn't signed a letter of intent, they were fair game.

That paid off in the form of Payton, the coveted receiver from Oaks Christian.

"I don’t even know what the word commit means quite frankly because it doesn’t mean anything right now," Mora said. "I think what’s happened is that the pressures that the media has created, especially the bowl games, is they pressure these kids to make a commitment on TV to push the rating up for a bowl game. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on these kids and they are easily swayed."

The entire process was a learning process, Mora said. He acknowledged that his initial approach to recruiting was to take the same presentation to each recruit and try to sell the school and the UCLA program. He quickly learned that each player and each family had different concerns.

"I thought I knew what recruiting was but I really didn't," Mora said.

Judging from the results, however, he picked it up just fine.

"We signed the class that we worked to sign," he said. "We signed the guys that we wanted to sign so we’re very happy about today’s results."

Baseball: Savage adds to 2012 class

June, 9, 2011
UCLA head coach John Savage announced Thursday the additions of Jacob Ehret (San Dimas, Calif./San Dimas), Justin Hazard (Tustin, Calif./Beckman) and Grant Watson (Bakersfield, Calif./Centennial) to the 2011-12 recruiting class.

Ehret, a right-handed pitcher, was selected in the 37th round by the Florida Marlins in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft Wednesday. Hazard, a catcher, batted .402 this spring in leading Beckman to a CIF-Southern Section title at Dodger Stadium. Watson, a left-handed pitcher, went 9-1 with a 2.02 ERA this past season.

“Jacob is a projection guy who has really good stuff and will be able to pitch right away in our program,” Savage said in a statement. “He has tremendous upside in regards to his abilities.

"Grant is a pitcher who has been very competitive over his career at Centennial High School,” Savage continued. “He is as left-handed strike thrower who will be an immediate help to our pitching staff.”

The late additions might be an indication that Savage anticipates the loss of signees. In all, nine Bruins and four potential incomers -- Joe Ross (25th overall, San Diego), Tyler Goeddel (41st overall, Tampa Bay), Austin Hedges (second round, San Diego Padres) and Kevin Kramer (25th round, Cleveland) -- were picked in the draft.

Howland gets another guard for 11-12

June, 1, 2011
Shooting guard Khalid McCaskill (Harlem, N.Y./Brewster Academy) announced Wednesday on his Twitter account that he will attend UCLA.

"Its official," McCaskill wrote. "I have committed to #UCLA next year. #GoBruins."

According to numerous reports, McCaskill will join the Bruins as a preferred walk-on. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard gives coach Ben Howland a third player in the 2011 recruiting class. Incoming guards Norman Powell (San Diego, Calif./Lincoln) and De'End Parker (San Francisco, Calif./City College) will compete for former starter Malcolm Lee's minutes.

Signing day: Rick Neuheisel on Torian White

February, 2, 2011
The flip-flopping commitment of offensive lineman Torian White (Lakewood) was among the more bizarre stories of signing day and UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, who eventually landed the 6-foot-6, 280-pounder, discussed the last 24 hours during his signing day news conference Wednesday.

White, who had been a long-time verbal commitment to UCLA, went on television Wednesday, picked a USC hat and announced he would become a Trojan. He later changed his mind and signed a national letter of intent with the Bruins.

“Last night for the first time I wasn’t able to talk to him,” Neuheisel said. “The phone wasn’t answering and so I got nervous. During the contact period, every day I talked to him. Sometimes more than once. So to not be able to talk to him, I got concerned.”

Neuheisel said he thought the relationship was strong enough that there would be nothing to worry about, but when he watched White pick up a USC hat during his televised announcement, Neuheisel’s stomach dropped.

“Obviously when he picked up the other hat I was depressed,” Neuheisel said. “That wasn’t the hat I wanted him to choose.”

Later, Neuheisel received a call from White, who told Neuheisel he still wasn’t settled. Then he received a signed letter of intent and all was well.

“I’m thrilled he felt that way and I’m thrilled that we built enough of a relationship, not only between he and I, but also between the school and his family, that this felt right,” Neuheisel said.

Campus connection: Brett Hundley

February, 2, 2011

Football: Four to watch on Signing Day

February, 1, 2011
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel's latest recruiting class isn't as highly regarded as his other two. The stars aren't there and neither are the numbers.

UCLA has only 11 commitments heading into Wednesday's National Signing Day, the first day high school recruits can sign their letters. Three of the 2011 class members have already enrolled. Rebuilding is always a tough chore, but it has been particularly tougher this year with the various coaching uncertainties and the lull associated with a disappointing 4-8 season.

With that in mind, here are four UCLA targets Neuheisel wouldn't mind adding. These prospects are expected to make their announcements public on Wednesday:

LB Tony Steward (St. Augustine, Fla./Menendez)

The big fish is still out there and only three hooks are in the water. Steward, the top-rated inside linebacker and No. 9 overall player in the 2011 class, will choose between Florida State, Clemson and UCLA. He is scheduled to make his announcement on ESPNU's National Signing Day Special, at around 7:05 a.m. PT. Many believe Steward will stay close to home, but recruiting insider Jamie Newberg claims it's still a three-team race.

DE Jalen Grimble (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)

The longtime USC pledge re-opened his recruitment and it's now a battle between Miami (Fla.) and UCLA for the four-star prospect. Grimble is the cousin of USC tight end Xavier Grimble.

DT Kevin McReynolds (Washington, D.C./St. John's)

The four-star prospect is down to four schools -- UCLA, Mississippi State, Syracuse and Kansas State -- but Westwood is an intriguing option because McReynolds could potentially crack the rotation early. He visited the three other schools after visiting UCLA, so the Bruins might be at a disadvantage there.

WR Devin Lucien (Northridge, Calif./Crespi)

The three-star receiver didn't pick up an offer until last October, right about the time when he was breaking out for Encino Crespi. Lucien had a monster senior season (17 touchdown receptions), seemingly gaining a scholarship offer every time he reached the end zone. He's considering UCLA, Colorado, Arizona State, Miami and Kentucky.

Target Stefan McClure chooses Cal

January, 27, 2011
Three-star defensive back Stefan McClure (Vista, Calif./Vista) committed to California on Thursday, adding yet another prospect to UCLA's long list of misses.

"UCLA is a great school and I still feel coach (Rick) Neuheisel has them going in the right direction," McClure told ESPN.com's Greg Biggins. "It wasn't that UCLA did anything wrong, I just felt Cal was the best place for me. It was definitely not an easy decision for me, both are great schools and I would fit in very well at both places but in the end, I just thought Cal was where I needed to be."

UCLA was always considered a favorite to land McClure -- the CIF San Diego Section Defensive Player of the Year -- but he wavered in the final days before announcing.

The uncertainty surrounding UCLA's defense couldn't have helped. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough was fired on Dec. 18 and Neuheisel has yet to hire a replacement.

The next Russell Westbrook?

January, 25, 2011
That's what UCLA signee Norman Powell (San Diego, Calif./Lincoln) wants to become -- and something coach Ben Howland wouldn't have an issue with.

Hear what the guard had to say following the California Elite Showcase in this video:

Expectations high for Brett Hundley

January, 11, 2011
Top quarterback prospect Brett Hundley (Chandler, Ariz./Chandler) is enrolled at UCLA, so the speculation can officially begin.

Will the four-star recruit make a serious run at the starting job this spring?

In a press release Monday, coach Rick Neuheisel said, "It's great to have him here already and we are looking forward to watching him compete with our other quarterbacks during spring practice." But how much will Hundley be allowed to compete? Does "compete" mean he will be given substantial first- and second-unit reps?

Hundley appears to have a shot. Starter Kevin Prince is coming off knee surgery; backup Richard Brehaut went 2-5 as a starter last year. And it isn't like they got it done -- the Bruins ranked 116th in passing offense, beating out only four other schools. Remember, this is a team that had walk-on Clayton Tunney under center in a must-win road game in mid-November.

The 6-foot-3 Hundley looked good in last week's Under Armour All-America Game, throwing a 58-yard touchdown to Oregon-bound Devon Blackmon. He won the pass-attack skills challenge, beating out a group that included Jeff Driskel (Florida) and Max Wittek (USC).

The ability is there; the belief is that the "brains" are, too. Hundley factored in UCLA's medical school when he made his college choice.

With that being said, here's how the quarterback position looks heading into spring:

Jr. Kevin Prince - From knee to oblique to head, an inability to stay healthy is a concern
Jr. Richard Brehaut - Has only six touchdown passes in seven career starts
Fr. Brett Hundley - Dual-threat ability makes him intriguing option if UCLA keeps pistol
Jr. Darius Bell - Transfer was replaced for walk-on Tunney in loss at Washington
Jr. Nick Crissman - Shoulder troubles have limited him to practice duty for three years

Football: UCLA whiffs on top target Lyons

January, 8, 2011
Citing the academics as the main reason, ESPNU 150 prospect Wayne Lyons (Oakland Park, Fla./Dillard) chose Stanford over UCLA and Michigan in the third quarter of the U.S. Army All-American Game in San Antonio, Texas.

For the mean time, UCLA's recruiting class appears stuck at eight commitments.

Lyons, the nation's No. 7 safety according to ESPNU, would have become coach Rick Neuheisel's highest-rated recruit, surpassing four-star quarterback Brett Hundley (Chandler, Ariz./Chandler). Two other UCLA targets also made announcements at the game but did not choose Westwood as their destination.

Four-star wide receiver Tobias Singleton (Madison, Miss./Central) had a UCLA hat on the table, but he was always expected to stay in-state. The nation's No. 22 receiver prospect chose Mississippi.

Three-star offensive lineman Donovan Smith (Owings Mills, Md./Owings Mills) stayed closer to home, committing to Penn State over UCLA and North Carolina State.

This comes after local receiver Devon Blackmon (Fontana, Calif./Summit), rated No. 4 nationally, chose Oregon over UCLA and USC at the Under Armour All-American Game on Wednesday.

Football: Bruins miss out on Devon Blackmon

January, 5, 2011
Four-star athlete Devon Blackmon (Fontana, Calif./Summit) committed to Oregon at the Under Armour All-American game Wednesday, choosing the Ducks over locals UCLA and USC.

"When I went (to Eugene) on my trip, it felt like a family," Blackmon said when interviewed live on ESPN.

Had he put on the Bruins' cap, Blackmon would have been the highest-rated prospect in UCLA's current eight-player recruiting class. Four-star quarterback Brett Hundley (Chandler, Ariz./Chandler), who is expected to enroll at UCLA in time for spring practice, threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Blackmon to give the Red team an early 7-3 lead at the All-America game.

A look at UCLA's recruiting class (as of Wednesday, Jan. 5):

QB Brett Hundley (Chandler, Ariz./Chandler)*
OG Ben Wysocki (Los Alamitos, Calif./Los Alamitos)
OG Jacob Brendel (Plano, Texas/Plano East)
DE Sam Tai (Henderson, Nev./Liberty)^
LB Aaron Wallace (San Diego, Calif./Rancho Bernardo)^
OT Torian White (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood)
TE Raymond Nelson (Modesto, Calif./Modesto Christian)
LB Ryan Hofmeister (Murrieta, Calif./Riverside CC)*

* = expected to enroll in time for spring practice
^ = already enrolled



B. Hundley368259301921
P. Perkins23013786.07
B. Hundley1485483.78
J. Payton6389614.27
D. Fuller574287.51