NCF Nation: Brandon Willis

Top Pac-12 newcomers

April, 3, 2012
Most Pac-12 teams will have new faces on hand this spring -- early-entry high school or JC players or transfers -- who are expected to provide immediate help, if not win starting jobs.

Here are seven we expect to make a mark in 2012 (feel free to comment on how you can't believe we left out so-and-so).

LB Brian Wagner, Arizona: Wagner was prolific tackler at Akron, collecting at least 100 stops in three years as a starter and earning All-MAC honors in two out of his three seasons with the Zips. He might not have top-flight Pac-12 speed, but the Wildcats are fairly desperate at linebacker.

QB Connor Wood, Colorado: Wood, a Texas transfer, was expected to win the job even before Nick Hirschman re-injured his foot. But with Hirschman out, it's Wood's offense -- at least for the spring. In the fall, Jordan Webb, a two-year starter at Kansas with two years of eligibility remaining, is expected to join the fray.

DE Arik Armstead, Oregon: The true freshman arrives in Eugene this spring after one of the more closely watched recruiting sagas on the West Coast. While more than a few folks believe the 6-foot-8, 280 pounder is a prototypical left OFFENSIVE tackle, he's going to at least start off on defense at Oregon. He's athletic enough to play end, and could immediately be in the picture to replace the departed Terrell Turner.

TE Caleb Smith, Oregon State: The Beavers use both a tight end and an H-back, and Smith, a touted recruit from Kentridge High School in Renton, Wash., looks like a good candidate to replace departed -- and productive -- H-back Joe Halahuni. He could challenge sophomore Connor Hamlett, the backup tight end in 2011, for the starting job.

DE Brandon Willis, UCLA: Willis' wanderlust has been almost comical -- he's transferred between UCLA and North Carolina twice -- but he was once a touted recruit and could compete for immediate playing time on an experienced but underachieving Bruins D-line.

RB Kelvin York, Utah: York, a 5-foot-11, 225-pound transfer out of Fullerton College, picked the Utes over a host of suitors. At the very least will be Robin to John White's Batman. It's also possible they could be 1A and 1B, almost splitting carries equally.

RB/WR Antavius Sims, Washington: Sims is a JC transfer who signed with the Huskies in 2011 but didn't qualify academically. He was expected to play cornerback, but has been shifted to offense so he can use his speed both as a runner and receiver.
There's a lot new at UCLA this spring, even with 16 players with starting experience returning on both sides of the ball.

There's five new coaches, including two new coordinators. There's uncertainty about scheme on both offense and defense. And there's uncertainty at quarterback.

As for the offense, the "pistol" isn't dead. Said coach Rick Neuheisel to that query, "Oh, no. No. No." Even though new coordinator Mike Johnson isn't a pistol guy, Jim Mastro tight ends/F-backs coach is. Mastro was hired away from Nevada, where the scheme was invented.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIBrett Hundley will get a lot of reps during spring practices for UCLA.
So there will be some pistol. The Bruins will lineup mostly in the shotgun. They will still use an "F-back," a hybrid position that can be a small quick receiver (Damien Thigpen) or a tight end (Morrell Presley). And there will be some two-back formations. The idea is to develop some run-pass balance, which has eluded the Bruins over the past three seasons.

"The pistol is a formation and it was certainly successful in the run game," Neuheisel said. "What we need now is to develop the throw game that compliments and goes along with that and uses other formations."

As for that throwing game, quarterback Kevin Prince will be able to do very little this spring because he's still recovering from knee surgery. Darius Bell (shoulder) is also out and Nick Crissman will be limited as he comes back from a shoulder injury. That means more reps for Richard Brehaut, who is playing baseball but will not miss any spring football practices, and true freshman Brett Hundley.

Hundley, the touted recruit, is the guy everybody will be watching.

"As is always the case, when somebody's down, it creates opportunities for someone else," Neuheisel said. "With Prince not able to [practice], it creates more reps. Darius Bell not able to go for spring practice, it creates more reps. So Brett Hundley is going to be the benefactor of that. He's going to get lots of chances. How fast he grows and matures in the offense and shows he can understand all he needs to handle to be effective, that will just enhance his ability to play and play at an early time in his career."

We wrote about the depth chart on Tuesday.

Here, again, is the list of injured players.

WR Jerry Johnson (ankle)
RG Casey Griffiths (back)
QB Darius Bell (shoulder)
P-K Jeff Locke (hip)
DE Keenan Graham (hip)
MLB Patrick Larimore (shoulder)
CB Antony Jefferson (foot)
FS Dalton Hilliard (knee)

WR Shaquelle Evans (shoulder)
QB Kevin Prince (knee)
LB Jared Koster (shoulder)

Some notes:

What are you talking about, Willis? Defensive lineman Brandon Willis is supposed to be headed back to North Carolina, the school from where he transferred to UCLA. But there may be another chapter in this twisting tale. Said Neuheisel: “That’s still an uncertain situation. We signed a release and want him to have the opportunity to explore his options and make sure he’s meeting his family obligations. But he has yet to enroll at North Carolina, and I don’t think he’s heard from the NCAA with regard to the waiver and whether or not he can play next fall. I’m still waiting to hear."

Neuheisel said Willis has not withdrawn from UCLA. Willis wants to return to UNC to be closer to his sick grandmother, but he probably doesn't want to sit out the season. He left UNC because his father got a job in Los Angeles.

F-back and RB: How will things stack up in the backfield? Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman are both back, but Malcolm Jones and Jordan James could make a challenge. Further, Neuheisel said he wants to get a look at 6-foot-5, 238-pound sophomore F-back Anthony Barr with the ball in his hands. Said Neuheisel, "We want to find out more about Anthony as a running back."

Safety numbers: Sophomore Dietrich Riley is listed as the No. 2 at strong safety behind senior Tony Dye, but that figures to be an interesting competition. And things at both safeties could be fluid with Hilliard, listed No. 1 at the spot manned by Rahim Moore the previous three seasons, out with a knee injury.

Recruiting rewind: North Carolina

February, 4, 2010
Unfortunately for UNC coach Butch Davis’ wife, her birthday falls on signing day.

“The common joke around our house is what did you get her -- four offensive lineman, two wide receivers?" Davis said. "But it was a good day.”

Yes it was for the Tar Heels.

North Carolina was at its best down the stretch and cracked the Scouts Inc. Top 25 at No. 24, bringing in the ACC's fourth-best class. Davis and his staff closed strong, adding the No. 16 running back, Giovanni Bernard, the No. 10 defensive tackle, Brandon Willis, and top-25 receiver Sean Tapley, who switched from South Carolina on signing day. It’s not a large class, but it packs a punch, thanks to players like ESPNU 150 offensive guard James Hurst.

“This class is what we would like a recruiting class to look like in future years to come,” Davis told reporters at his Wednesday press conference. “The first couple years you have to recruit on need. There are voids in the roster, you need speed or skill players or you are short at a position. In this particular recruiting class we signed a player at every position, with the exception of quarterback.”

And that was intentional. The staff made a decision about six months ago that they wouldn’t add another signal caller to the roster in this class.

“We felt comfortable with the guys that we had on our team,” Davis said. “We respected the idea that kids who play quarterback want to look into the future. Not only do they want to know whom they are going to play with, they also want to know what their opportunities are to get a chance. … Coach (John) Shoop and I felt that in the Carolina’s there are some of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country. We felt like this would be an appropriate time to skip the quarterback position.”

Instead, the staff focused on what it needed -- offensive and defensive linemen and tight ends. They also wanted to recruit more speed at the skill positions. With five four-star recruits, they did that.

“We wanted guys who are home runs hitters, someone (who) can score quickly – I think we accomplished that. I think there are some guys we have that can do that."

Wide receiver Sean Tapley should be one of those players. Despite the signing day decision, Davis said the staff knew Tapley was coming to Chapel Hill for about two months.

"In Sean’s case, his father is a major Tar Heel and he really wanted Sean to go to school here," Davis said. "Sean was heavily recruited in Jacksonville by two schools in the state of South Carolina among other schools. One of the trends that have I noticed this year with a lot of recruits is that kids are tired of getting “beat up.” They are tired of getting beat up in their schools, by alumni, in their community and a lot of them have said ‘Here is what I want to do. Will you keep it quiet?’ That way the kid does not have to battle the unnecessary phone calls from coaches asking why they committed or why they decommitted. When Sean came here he said ‘Coach, I want to be a Tar Heel."

Davis said he anticipates all 21 of the signees will be on campus in the fall.

"In previous years, as in last year, we over-signed -- knowing a few players might have to be placed somewhere,” he said. “This year that is not the intent in any of the 21 players that we signed."