A lot of people are disappointed in how this recruiting class finished.
We have to admit we would have jumped out of our Lazy Boy and ran around the block in our boxers if any combination of Adoree’, Malachi, Rashaan, or Juju had come on board.
But you know what? This is still a darn good class. The players who signed are not only good players but also good students and good kids with high character. It is called program building.
Think about it, a few years ago, UCLA would have never even been in the conversation for a lot of recruits at the five star level. Today, we are considered a national recruiting power. ESPN stationed a reporter at UCLA for national coverage, the only school they featured on the West Coast.
Guys like Malachi and Rashaan would have never considered leaving the south. We gave schools like Alabama and LSU the scare of their lives this time around. We were the biggest threat to LSU for recruits IN THEIR OWN STATE. They were so worried about UCLA they sent a coach to stalk LSU recruits on their official UCLA visit. And how about Stanford? Typically when a recruit gets offered and gets admitted to Stanford, it is a done deal. We even gave them a run for their money this year. UCLA also got guys who had offers to all the top programs: The Texan Whitley could have gone to Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, and more yet he chose UCLA. Dickerson had offers from the likes of Notre Dame and USC, and still picked UCLA. Young had offers from elite schools like Alabama, Florida State, Notre Dame, and Michigan. UCLA also showed drawing power by flipping recruits that were committed to other schools: Dickerson from Notre Dame, Wadood flipped from Cal, and Sharp flipped from Kansas State.
Not long ago, a five star So Cal recruit would have been considered a Trojan lock since he was five years old. The current crop of recruits grew up following USC during their glory years. So did their families and friends. USC had the “IT” factor. With national championships, Heismans, a Bruin like Ken Norton Jr walking their sidelines and singing their praises, and ace recruiters like Ed Orgeron – they became a recruiting juggernaut. UCLA with poor coaching salaries, questionable coaching hires, administrative meddling, and a lack of killer recruiters just kept tumbling every year. Perhaps the last assistant coach that we considered a truly ace recruiter was Eric Scott back in 2006. We felt like we had to settle for the Trojan leftovers every year. Signing day was not particularly exciting or fun for Bruin fans in the past.
But no more, it is a new day for UCLA football. Last year and in particular this year signals a turning point in the program. The renovation of the Rose Bowl, the announcement of a new football training facility, increased competitive coaching salaries, and the hiring of workaholic coaches who like to recruit. Even small things that have a big impact have changed. For instance Mora was able to get the colors black, and a richer, darker blue added to the official marketing color palette. Sure this seems small, but at a bureaucratic public behemoth like UCLA, it can be like moving mountains to get approval of a simple color change in marketing materials. If you have been to Spaulding Field (the UCLA football practice field), you will see the new colors in action. The fact that all these things are happening signals a significant cultural shift in UCLA athletics. UCLA has learned a lot of hard lessons from the Dorrell and Neuheisel years and the administration has shown they are willing to change and support the program in meaningful ways. We have been critical of the athletic department administration in the past, but we have become big supporters of them in the past two years.
As for this class, players like Wadood and Pickett are not only good players, but they are also great kids with big personalities that can be pied pipers for UCLA recruiting in the future. Pulling a Louisiana guy like Kenny Young right out from under LSU’s nose is big time. In Taua and Tuioti-Mariner we picked up two of the top Polynesian players in this class and make no mistake, it is critical to keep the recruiting connection to that community. And while UCLA swung and missed on some really elite recruits, they got some nuggets that we consider to be underrated by the pay sites and may surprise fans down the line. Guys like Lasley and Starks will both have a bigger and earlier impact than is currently projected. And then we have the recruits that have the ability to be big time play makers, like Wadood, Whitley, and Dickerson.
We believe this 2014 So Cal recruiting class is the first in a long time that was not 100% all about USC. It will take a while to continue that trend but assuming we have the kind season that we all think we can, UCLA keeps beating USC, continues being ranked and can keep it’s coaching staff relatively intact, we predict the 2015 class will be closer to 70% USC / 30% UCLA, the 2016 class 50% USC / 50% UCLA, and the 2017 class 30% USC / 70% UCLA.
So would we have liked to be surprised with a couple elite additions on signing day? Absolutely. Are we worried about the state of the program because we didn’t? No way. This is the most exciting time to be a Bruin fan in years and we can’t wait to cover the Junction Boys and these new recruits in San Bernardino again this summer! We expect this team to rock this town next year.