Foolish Football Recruiting Predictions

It's extremely early to be making predictions and probably very foolish, but here is a very early look at who UCLA could get to fill out it's next football recruiting class...

It's especially foolish to be making predictions a few days before UCLA's one-day camp this Saturday. So, I reserve the right to alter these predictions next week, after the camp, and then thoroughly alter them by fall.

UCLA has 23 scholarships to give total right now and, if things go the way they usually do, they'll probably have the limit of 25 to give by January. As of right now, there is no concrete information that DB Julius Williams will return to the team. OL/DL Steve Sanchez told us in spring that he was getting it together academically and intended to make it back to the team by fall. Dashaun McCullough, at last count, was still enrolled at UCLA and trying to get back in good academic standing to return to the team by fall. Most insiders are skeptical that any of the three will return to play football at UCLA.

So, with 23 scholarships available, I'll make this prediction based on what I believe will be the actual number, 25. Every year UCLA loses a couple of players to academics or something else and I would be surprised if they didn't this year.

UCLA currently has five verbal commitments. They are Kevin Harbour, DE/DT; Marcedes Lewis, TE; J.J. Hair, TE; Eric McNeal, S/WR, and C.J. Niusulu, DT. While Lewis's commitment was a big one since UCLA needed a TE and he's so highly rated, perhaps the biggest commitments among these five come from Harbour and Niusulu. Harbour proved at the San Diego Nike Camp that he's one of the best DLs on the west coast, as did Niusulu. UCLA, as we all know, desperately needed to find some talent at the DL in this recruiting class and has already done so by spring, which is huge.

That gives UCLA some leeway to work with. Niusulu is a pure DT, but Harbour could end up playing either DE or DT, which gives UCLA even more flexibility in its recruiting. With two TEs already verbally committed, there are plenty of TE/DE/ATH types out there that UCLA is recruiting. Look for UCLA to probably take a few of these "athletes," guys who could play defensive end, could end up a defensive tackle, or might end up at tight end. In college football you can't have enough of these types of players, and UCLA is in some serious need for them given its roster projections for the next several years.

The easiest way to predict UCLA's future commitments isn't to go by position, though, it's to go by the prospects that UCLA has or probably will offer and those most likely to commit, soon and ultimately.

The prospects I think that will commit to UCLA, and are the candidates to commit the soonest:

Jesse Taylor, DE/TE/ATH, 6-4, 240, West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade. Probably better suited to play tight end, Taylor comes from a strong UCLA family. He has the coordination, athleticism and mobility, though to play anywhere. He's a kid I think UCLA takes as an athlete and let his position be sorted out in practice in the next couple of years. At this point, for him to go elsewhere UCLA would have to probably drop recruiting him, but UCLA also needs to show Taylor some love and not just expect him to jump in the boat.

Nathan Rhodes, OL, 6-7, 300, East Baskersfield (Calif.) High. He's always been a strong UCLA lean. After the one-day camp I think he'll be even more convinced he knows where he wants to go. He could wait until fall, but I think it would be an upset at this point if he went anywhere else.

Joe Garcia, DB, 6-0, 180, 4.4, Los Alamitos (Calif.) High. Another strong UCLA lean who did incredibly well at the San Diego camp, I think UCLA is, and will continue, to go after him hard, and he'll commit fairly soon.

Jim Kanuch, DB/LB, 6-2, 190, Johnstown (Penn.) Westmont Hilltop. Kanuch loves UCLA, and UCLA loves Kanuch. He's another great athlete that could play safety or end up a weakside outside linebacker. With UCLA needing safeties and outside linebackers, Kanuch is a perfect fit. He's going to take an unofficial trip to UCLA soon and he could commit on the visit.

The prospects I think UCLA will ultimately get:

Rhema McKnight, WR, 6-2, 190, La Palma (Calif.) Kennedy. His rep is spreading. Many college coaches think he's among the best WRs in the country. A heavy UCLA lean, UCLA recently offered him, according to sources close to the Kennedy High School. He might hold out a bit but ultimately, now with UCLA having offered him, it would be a huge upset if he went somewhere else.

Antwuan Smith, WR, 6-0, 190, Clovis (Calif.) Buchanon. Considered one of the best players on the west coast, Smith and his family are leaning heavily toward UCLA. He might want to take some trips before deciding but UCLA is in the firm driver's seat with him and have him as a huge priority.

Aaron Miller, DB, 5-11, 180, Fresno (Calif.) Edison. Considered probably the best corner prospect on the west coast, Miller is leaning toward UCLA. He'll probably wait into his season but it's pretty clear it would take a big shift in his thinking for him to go elsewhere.

Mike Nixon, DB/LB, 6-3, 195, Phoenix (Ariz.) Sunnyslope. Also plays QB, Nixon showed great speed and quickness last weekend at the Oregon Nike Camp. He loves UCLA and with UCLA defensive coordinator looking for speed on defense, Nixon fits that fast safety/outside linebacker type that UCLA is looking for. He hasn't really even done any weight work and could easily put on another 25 pounds of muscle. He says he wants to take trips but if UCLA gets really serious about him he could commit sooner than fall.

Drew Olson, QB, 6-2, 185, Piedmont (Calif.) High. UCLA likes him quite a bit. He's raw, but has good size and toughnes, and he looks like he might be a good fit for one of the two quarterbacks UCLA wants to take with this class. He has said UCLA leads for him heavily.

Winston Justice, OL, 6-6, 277, Long Beach (Calif.) Poly. After publishing the story I just did on Justice you might think this is surprising. I hear, though, from Poly sources, that it will come down between UCLA and USC for Justice. USC has a weak depth chart at OL going for it, UCLA has Justice's parents. I'm going with the parents on this one.

Fred Matua, DT, 6-2, 285, Los Angeles (Calif.) Banning. Matua will get courted by many, probably have a few different leaders by January, but when it comes down to it won't leave his tight knit family and stay close. When it comes between UCLA and USC, UCLA seems to have many edges for this one.

Combining the 11 above with the five committed already makes for 16, leaving nine more to work with. Among those nine, it's very safe to say that UCLA will take one more quarterback, one running back, one more offensive lineman, one more defensive end, and two linebackers. That probably leaves three more scholarships for UCLA to play with, and they'll probably fill them with defensive players, either ATH/DE or ATH/DB types. In Snow's new defense, UCLA wants guys who are quick and can run as their first priority, and they'll find them a position later. UCLA could, though, take one more OL if an elite fourth OL wanted to come, or a third quarterback in the special case that they get Ben Olson, who would probably go on his mission right out of high school and then not count against the scholarship count for this class anyway.

It's really near-impossible to predict the prospect that will fill the last nine scholarships that will probably be available. It's easier though, to narrow down the prospects UCLA has the best chance with, especially for the six positions we know UCLA wants to fill:

Quarterback (One More)-

Trent Edwards, 6-3, 185, Los Gatos (Calif.) High is thought to be a heavy lean toward Stanford, which could be true. But there is a lot of evidence and speculation that could have him ultimately coming to UCLA. Stanford has some competition at quarterback. For one thing, he'll have to sit behind Chris Lewis for two years. At UCLA, he'll only have one year to sit behind Cory Paus, which would be his redshirt year anyway, and then he'll be able to compete for the starting position as a redshirt freshman. His other favorites, including Cal and USC, present far more competition at QB than UCLA for Edwards as a redshirt freshman. I think ultimately, UCLA has an excellent shot with him.

I'm doubtful about Ben Olson, 6-5, 205, Thousand Oaks (Calif.) High, coming to UCLA. I think UCLA is running in second place behind BYU, but I think ultimately with his connections and faith, BYU will be too hard to turn down. The other best bets are Matt Guiterrez, 6-4, 200, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle, and Tim Brasic, 6-2, 185, Riverside (Ill.) Riverside-Brookfield. If some of the California QBs fall to other schools, Guiterrez could see a great opportunity at UCLA. Brasic is one of the best in the midwest, says UCLA is leading and has Cory Paus as an example of an Illinois quarterback prospect coming to UCLA and doing well. A complete unknown at this point is Matt Moore, 6-5, 180, Newhall (Calif.) Hart. Moore is slated to come to the one-day camp on Saturday. No one really knows how good he is since he didn't play QB last year. If he comes to camp on Saturday and looks outstanding, it could be too much for UCLA to pass up, especially with the experience of Kyle Boller still in everyone's mind. If he looks good, at the very least, UCLA could wait to watch him in fall and then, if he also looks great, pull the trigger.

Running back (One):

Probably the hardest to predict at this point. The best bets are Lorenzo Booker, 5-11, 180, Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure; Marcus O'Keith, 5-11, 170, 4.4, Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne; Kellen Marshall, 5-11, 175, 4.4, Las Vegas (Nev.) Cimmarron Memorial; Tristan George, 5-10, 185, Berkeley (Calif.) St. Mary's, or Frederick Collins, 6-0, 190, 4.6, La Quinta (Calif.) High.

There's a long way to go in the recruitment of Booker, but when it comes down to it, UCLA will have a great shot with him. O'Keith favors Cal, but if UCLA went hard after him a source said they could be the team to beat. Marshall likes UCLA among west coast schools, and the east coast schools might not come calling. UCLA likes George, and Collins could be the guy that comes to UCLA when others fall to other schools. If UCLA doesn't look like it's going to get Booker, I'd watch for them to go really hard after O'Keith.

Offensive Line (One More):

If UCLA gets Rhodes and Justice, they'll probably be very happy with one more among Nate Vander Pol, 6-5, 280, Federal Way (Wash.) High or Stephen Berg, 6-6, 305, Tucson (Ariz.) Canyon Del Oro. Robin Kezirian, 6-4, 270, Fresno (Calif.) Central, could be another real possibility with his UCLA connections, and UCLA could think of him as a prospect that could possibly play DL also. If James Bonelli, 6-5, 280, Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure, impresses the coaches at this Saturday's one-day camp he could skip to the top of this list. Robert Chai, 6-4, 275, Newport Beach (Calif.) Newport Harbor, is another possibility.

Defensive End (One or two more):

Probably the big national name that UCLA has the best shot with is Bryan Pickryl, 6-5, 230, 4.5, Jenks (Okla.) High. Pickryl's dad went to UCLA and his parents would like him in Westwood. UCLA will fight with the big national powers for him but UCLA will probably still be on the short list next winter. Curtis Justus, 6-7, 220, Perry, (Okla.) High, is another DE/TE/ATH that runs well that UCLA would love to bring in and then sort out his position later. Justus likes UCLA quite a bit and will probably visit Westwood unofficially soon. Thomas Patton, 6-3, 250, Oakland (Calif.) Tech and Loren Howard, 6-5, 260, Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro, are probably the other two best bets for UCLA to get at DE. If they look good in summer camps and early on in their season, both could get offered and maybe commit early. Matt Traverso, 6-6, 225, Sacramento (Calif.) Christian Brothers, is another real possibility, but Stanford could have the inside track.

Linebackers (One or two more):

Nixon or Kanuch could end up an outside linebacker. At least one of them could, so UCLA might only take one or two more linebackers. Pickryl is also projected as possibly playing strongside linebacker. Xavier Burgess, 6-3, 215, Sacramento (Calif.) Grant, could be a good bet for a commitment, and would probably project as a middle or weakside backer. Chad Slapnicka, 6-2, 228, 4.7, Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola, might be a good possibility also if he looks really good this fall. Who UCLA would love to take as a linebacker is Ricky Miller, 6-3, 225, Tustin (Calif.) High. They might even take him as RB/FB/ATH and do the sort-out-the-position thing later with him. Many scouts think his future is as a linebacker though he prefers running back. So, with the class not being very deep at linebacker, along with many athlete-types available, UCLA could put together a class that includes some athletes that might end up at linebacker, like Nixon, Miller and Pickryl.

That leaves possibly two to four left to give. UCLA could complete its class by filling it with the type of athletes I've described. They could take two linebackers, but also take Nixon and Miller. They could take Joe Garcia and Aaron Miller as corners, but add one or two athlete/corners to the mix, too. Matt Moore, Jesse Taylor, Jim Kanuch, Mike Nixon, Curtis Justus and Ricky Miller could be considered already on this list of "athletes." You can also throw in Jerrod Page, 6-0, 185, 4.5, San Leandro (Calif.) High; Dominic Roux, 6-0, 170, Gardena (Calif.) Serra; Rory Carrington, ATH, 5-11, 190, Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, and Albert Griffin, 6-0, 180, 4.6, Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany.

It's just too early and far too foolish to make predictions on those last nine spots. But possibly by next week, after the one-day cap I'll be feeling a little more foolish ...

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