Post-S.D. Inside Story, Part 1: Quarterback

With Signing Day behind us, we have plenty of inside stories we can now tell. In the first installment, we lay out what went down with UCLA's 2013 quarterback recruiting, and who the mystery recruit was that UCLA was pursuing late...

This season there were a number of stories that happened behind the scenes during the recruiting season that we weren't at liberty to report when they happened.

Just so everyone gets this, we're not holding back this information just to tease you. The vast majority of the time it's because revealing the information at that moment would be detrimental to UCLA's recruiting effort. It could be that UCLA has secretly been recruiting a prospect who is committed elsewhere and if the information went public the program the recruit is committed to would put a huge amount of pressure on him as a result. We think that most BRO readers would rather not have their immediate need for knowledge satisfied if it were to sabotage UCLA's recruiting, right?

So, here were go. We're going to tell these stories without having to attribute each point to "sources." Just assume these stories came from a number of sources around the recruitments of all of these recruits.

The Quarterback Recruitment

We're going to give this to you straight, too. In our opinion, UCLA almost screwed the pooch in quarterback recruiting for 2013. Almost, because they pulled it out with a miraculous recruitment and commitment from Asiantii Woulard.

It started with a poor evaluation of Eddie Printz. Let's qualify this by saying, again, that we don't think Printz is a bad quarterback prospect. Just in our opinion, and in the opinion of many scouts and college coaches, he didn't project to be a Pac-12-level starting quarterback. He's now signed at Missouri, and we wish him well, and hope that he proves us wrong and becomes a big success there. But in this business, you have to go by odds, and in a pretty easy evaluation, the odds are that Printz wasn't the level of quarterback UCLA needed.

UCLA, though, took a commitment from Printz early on, pretty soon after Signing Day last February. UCLA thought it had a good projected depth chart with a bunch of young quarterbacks on it, which included Brett Hundley, Jerry Neuheisel, Devin Fuller and T.J. Millweard. And then add Printz to that.

Then there was Troy Williams, the very promising prospect from Harbor City Narbonne. Williams does have most of the qualities that would lead you to project him as a Pac-12-level starting quarterback. He was sending pretty strong messages to UCLA that, if they offered, he'd commit, even with UCLA already having a commitment from Printz. UCLA, though, thought they didn't want to risk losing Printz, and told Printz they wouldn't take another quarterback – and told Williams, that, to his dismay.

By summer, and after UCLA and us scouts got a good look at Printz, it was apparent what level of prospect he was. But they decided to stick with Printz, and not take Williams.

Not only was this a mis-step on just pure projection of their prospects as quarterbacks, but Williams had so many highly valuable intangibles. As Greg Biggins says, when in doubt over which prospect to take, go with the local one. It's not too difficult to understand why. You establish more ties to your local high school football community. In Williams' case it was even moreso. He played for one of the most high-profile 7-on-7 teams in SoCal, coached by Keyshawn Johnson (who wouldn't be bad to have on your side), that has many UCLA-level prospects on it, and will in the future. Williams is, in the inner-city, considered a celebrity/star that many other prospects look up to and would like to follow.

He wanted to come, but UCLA turned him down.

Hey, this staff had an amazing run recruiting the 2013 class, so we'll give them a pass on this, only because it turned out okay.

But then, from what we know, UCLA starts re-considering Printz. By fall, it was clear UCLA didn't want him. UCLA told Printz at that point that he might not have a decent shot at significant playing time at UCLA and he should look elsewhere. We all remember how that was a bit of an ugly situation, with the Printz family publicly condemning UCLA. It was understandable, too; While the vehemence with which they did it was probably not appropriate, they had a reason to be upset. Pretty much what it comes down to: Get your evaluations right to begin with, this won't happen.

So, that looked settled. It appeared UCLA, then, wouldn't take a quarterback, since they had so many on their roster. But a funny thing happened on the way to the 2012 season: UCLA's future quarterback depth chart didn't look that, well, deep. Yes, Hundley clearly proved to be a wunderkind. But you can't win in college football with just one capable quarterback, and you can't sustain success if you don't have a number of very viable quarterback prospects lined up to take up the position seamlessly when one moves on. By mid-fall, it was pretty apparent there were some question marks in terms of level of talent behind Hundley. Jerry Neuheisel, we'll admit, is better than we projected him to be when we saw him as a high school prospect. But back then we didn't think he was a D-1 quarterback; now, he's proven he is, at least in UCLA's practices, but we firmly believe he's not a UCLA-starting-level quarterback. Perhaps he'll prove us wrong, like his father did. I wouldn't count out Jerry, by any means. He's a smart kid, the best in the film room among the young quarterbacks, and the first with almost every answer. But realistically, you wouldn't feel good about the prospect of handing over the reins of the UCLA offense to Neuheisel after Hundley leaves UCLA. Then, Devin Fuller, to be candid, in fall when he lined up with the quarterbacks, didn't look like a UCLA-level quarterback. He just didn't show the arm strength. Now, again, perhaps we're wrong. He was just a true freshman and most of the time true freshman quarterbacks never look good in their first fall. Fuller, then, as we all saw, moved to wide receiver, and looked to have a good future at that position. It's no secret that we also feel T.J. Millweard, after watching him in spring (he enrolled early) and fall, is questionable as a quarterback at this level. He also just doesn't have a strong enough arm, and probably lacks enough overall athleticism. Again, we could be proven wrong; and we don't want to under-estimate the powers of UCLA Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach Noel Mazzone in being able to turn Millweard into a viable option.

All of a sudden the depth didn't look deep. But UCLA's staff, as can be the case, was so immersed in their season they seemingly didn't realize this. Again, you could call this another mis-step, but we think it's understandable. Jim Mora and Co. were pretty focused on winning in their first season.

The problem, though, comes down to playing the odds. If they really decided not to take another quarterback for 2013, it might have been worth it to, then, to hold on to Printz. Recruiting, especially quarterback recruiting, is guess work (as our friend, Jon Wilner, recently said). Sometimes a prospect goes way beyond your projection of him. Take Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, or on a smaller but just as valid level, Kevin Hogan at Stanford or Taylor Kelly at Arizona State. So, what you generally want to do is give yourself, as a program, as many chances as possible to find that over-achiever. As we said, perhaps Printz is the next Kelly. If you can't get anyone else, it would serve you well to take him, and give you one more body and one more chance at finding your future starting quarterback.

Mora, though, did come to realize he needed a quarterback in this class. It was pretty late in the game, but give him a huge amount of credit for coming to this realization. The story is that, in one recruiting staff meeting in December, Mora told his coaches that, despite their previous policy, they needed to take a quarterback in 2013.

But they were up against it in trying to get someone good that late. They took a last-minute shot at Williams. He was on schedule to graduate early in December and enroll early at Washington. It was near impossible to turn him at that point. The UCLA staff, too, had some very close connections to Williams' support people, but it was far too late.

So, UCLA started to look around. The looked at a number of prospects. There was Joshua Dobbs, from Georgia, who was verbally committed to Arizona State, but he was already having cold feet about going that far away from home for college (and he subsequently flipped very late in the recruiting game to Tennessee, leaving ASU empty-handed). UCLA had a connection with Luke Del Rio, who de-committed from Oklahoma State at the time, but inexplicably decided to walk on at Alabama. There were a few others.

But the one that became the target was Hayden Rettig, the prospect from Los Angeles Cathedral. Mazzone had favored Rettig early on. In fact, at the one 7-on-7 at UCLA during the summer when Printz didn't look very good, Rettig participated and, comparatively, looked quite a bit more promising. Mazzone kept recruiting Rettig, despite his verbal commitment to LSU. Mazzone went to see Rettig play – while Printz was still committed to UCLA – and that touched off the firestorm that led to Printz's de-commitment. Mazzone now, in December, recruited Rettig hard and it was very apparent he was going to flip to UCLA. Rettig, too, intended to graduate early from high school and enroll at LSU in January. So, he had to make a decision pretty quickly. At the U.S. Army All-American game, Rettig spent a great deal of time in the UCLA suite, rather than with LSU's coaches. We heard at the time a flip was imminent. If you remember, we reported that something was going to happen during that one week in late December; it was getting down to the deadline when Rettig had to enroll at LSU for their second semester. He went right up to the last drop-dead moment, but ultimately decided to stick with his commitment to LSU.

That left UCLA empty-handed in recruiting. But luckily, and serendipitously, Woulard, the Elite 11 champion, had de-committed from South Florida and was looking around. Why would a Florida kid want to come across country to go to school? Well, last summer, the Elite 11 was conducted in Redondo Beach and Woulard, understandably, fell in love with California. He also created a strong bond with Trent Dilfer, the former NFL quarterback who helps run the Elite 11. It just so happens that Dilfer is close with Mazzone, and respects Mazzone's ability to develop quarterbacks. An official visit was arranged for Woulard in late December, and it wowed the prospect, as UCLA official visits are now tending to do. Woulard, too, turned out to be a very gregarious, personable kid, who fit in well at UCLA.

UCLA got Woulard, and saved their quarterback recruiting for 2013. Getting a propect on the level of Woulard, too, is so beyond the expectation of UCLA's possibilities from just a few weeks ago. It was an amazing comeback for UCLA quarterback recruiting, and really was the decisive factor that made the 2013 class a clearly all-around successful one.

More to come, including the inside story on the other mystery recruits (yes, this is officially a tease)...

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