Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
UCLA recruit Jones talks a good game

By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com

He's a tailback, not a fullback. Which means he usually is following a blocker through the opening at the line of scrimmage and into the open field.

But when it came to recruiting, prized running back Malcolm Jones flipped the script, leading the way for what's poised to be a second consecutive impressive recruiting class for UCLA.

He might not have gone on television and played shell games with a bunch of hats -- preferring to let his high school coach, Bill Redell, at Oaks Christian in Westlake Village confirm that he had made a decision -- but Jones' commitment to the Bruins back in October did make a splash.

As soon as Jones, the Gatorade national player of the year after a senior season in which he scored 45 touchdowns in 14 games, gave his word, it seemed to validate UCLA in the eyes of several other elite-level recruits.

But perhaps even more important, Jones shifted from coveted prospect to surrogate recruiter.

"I talk to all the guys," he said of other recruits. "We talk to each other on Facebook, text, call. I don't want to force people to come, I just let them know what a great opportunity it is."

So far, Jones said, he has met, talked to and helped persuade to become Bruins: offensive lineman Chris Ward (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei); defensive back Shaquille Richardson (Los Alamitos, Calif./Los Alamitos); running back Jordon James (Corona, Calif./Corona); and his own Oaks Christian teammate, defensive tackle Cassius Marsh.

Jones says he's still working on prized, still-uncommitted recruits such as defensive back Dietrich Riley (La Canada, Calif./St. Francis) and defensive tackle Owamagbe Odighizuwa (Portland, Ore./Douglas).

"I'm just looking out, calling them, seeing how strong their interest is and telling them some solid facts," Jones said. "Because once I decided to go there, I never thought twice about it."

Malcolm Jones
Malcolm Jones has been active in trying to get the message out to recruits about joining him at UCLA.

He said he took a decidedly hands-off approach with Marsh, his teammate who had committed to Louisiana State this past summer but began to look closer to home as the recruiting process went on and eventually committed to the Bruins on Jan. 26.

"I let him come to me," Jones said. "And then I just tried to give him some solid facts."

Jones said he thought the hard sell would come off as disingenuous, knowing from personal experience how many people reach out to a recruit and try to influence their decision.

"I thought Malcolm was pretty quiet with me," Marsh said. "He was just like, 'UCLA would be great. Their coaches are sick [the kind that has a positive connotation in the lexicon of today's teenagers], but you already know that.' He's not really a rah-rah type of guy. But I talked to him a few times."

The hands-off approach worked. Marsh committed to the Bruins. Shortly thereafter, he began working the phones himself.

The approach seems to have taken on a life of its own, growing organically without any impetus from the coaches at UCLA but simply out of an internal dynamic within the group of incoming recruits.

"Since I've committed, I've been working on a lot of the guys so that when we come in, we'll be able to make things happen," Marsh said. "I don't pressure anyone because I don't like getting pressured myself. I just call them, keep in touch, get to know people and let them know it'd be cool to play together next year."

Marsh says that he frequently interacts with Riley, Odighizuwa and wide receiver Anthony Jefferson (Los Angeles/Cathedral) and feels optimistic that at least two of those players will be joining him in Westwood.

As strong as this dynamic has been for UCLA, it's certainly not exclusive to high school football players who show an affinity for powder blue and gold.

One of the most well-connected and socially active football players in Southern California is running back Lucky Radley (Woodland Hills, Calif./Taft), who is set to announce his decision at a news conference at the school at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

"Everyone recruits each other," Radley said. "It's much bigger than people realize.

"We all call each other, text each other, post on Facebook. Things like, 'Come on, come be a Bruin with me' or 'Fight on, Let's go Trojans.' When you're unannounced like me, you get a lot more people calling you. It's been nuts. You should see my Facebook page."

Because he is still unannounced -- he's deciding between Michigan, North Carolina, Utah and Texas Tech -- Radley's been on the receiving end of a lot of these phone calls and recruiting pitches.

But because he's probably one of the most savvy teenagers I've ever talked to -- seriously, the kid's going to be an agent someday -- he also has been a fact finder.

Frankly, Radley probably knows more about where the big-name recruits in Southern California are going to commit Wednesday than most of the professional recruiting analysts.

But what makes this all work, in a way no coach or professional recruiter can ever replicate, is that the kids trust each other, knowing that they're all going through the same set of issues, decisions and dilemmas.

So no, Radley won't divulge any inside information on where his friends are going or secrets of the peer recruiting world.

Except for one thing.

"Yes," he said. "Malcolm called."

Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com.