With the evaluation period at the midway point, UCLA has had a productive start to the recruiting cycle, with 10 commitments in the 2016 class and four of those 10 commitments coming since the beginning of the eval period.
Interestingly enough, not one of those four verbals added is from Southern California.
Thanks to recruiting much of 2015's class with the mindset it would be a smaller class, there has been an earlier focus than usual by UCLA on the 2016 class. Three of the Bruins' commitments are on offense, with six on defense and one on special teams.
UCLA clearly signed a considerably talent-laden class for 2015. Plugging that into the existing talent in the program, UCLA is definitely at its most talented point in quite a long time.
It clearly is a new era in UCLA football recruiting, with UCLA not just being mentioned among the elite in California and the West, but also nationally, and beating some of the national powers for guys in their own backyard.
Here is a current look at UCLA's defensive recruiting board.
UCLA already has a commitment from one player at defensive end -- Breland Brandt -- and would love to add the other top pass-rusher from the Southland in Oluwole Betiku. From an athleticism standpoint, you wouldn't find a better 1-2 punch anywhere outside the Southeast than those two.
Because he has played basketball throughout his high school career, he hasn't been able to keep weight on consistently, but he still projects to end up as a defensive end in college. And with UCLA's linebacker recruiting, Brandt as an end allows them to pick up the two remaining outside linebacker targets they covet. Brandt is still new to football, only having played for two years, going to Windward to play basketball, and in a short time has become one of the most intriguing defensive prospects in the country. Brandt hasn't played much 7v7 this offseason because of hoops, though we did see him at Passing Down last month running some tight end (instead of linebacker). He's still raw, but he's ridiculously athletic and has more upside than he knows what to do with. Brandt was a frequent visitor to UCLA's spring practices in April.
When it comes to recruiting Betiku, there are some significant helping points and some obstacles to overcome. First the bad news: he goes to Serra, and UCLA has consistently struggled at Serra against USC when the Trojans prioritize someone. The good news? His legal guardian is LaVar Arrington, the former Penn State All-American who now lives in Los Angeles, working for the NFL Network. And one of Arrington's closest mentors is Tom Bradley, who just happens to be UCLA's new defensive coordinator. So if there was ever a Serra prospect that would help UCLA grab some Serra momentum, it would be Betiku, who also happens to be Serra's top prospect this year. Betiku had an offer from Maryland a year ago, before he'd ever played a down of football. Coming from Nigeria, he was new to the game, but you couldn't ignore the physical tools and neither could the double-digit programs that have offered him. UCLA has had Betiku on campus several times since Bradley was hired, with Betiku taking in a few spring practices. He is easily one of UCLA's top and most important targets in the 2016 class, for a number of reasons, but the key ones being that he's a talented defensive lineman and that he's a realistic possibility from Serra. Betiku was at the UCLA Spring Showcase, and the word continues to be that UCLA is doing pretty well with him, and is likely the leader.
Kemp is the top prospect in Colorado and he's being recruited by UCLA as a defensive end. There are some connections too with UCLA. His uncle is John Pagano, who Jim Mora tried to hire as his defensive coordinator when he first got the UCLA job, but Pagano took the DC job with the Chargers. Kemp is also being recruited by graduate assistant Taylor Embree, whose father played and coached at Colorado, so there are plenty of connections. Kemp has the hometown Buffs in his top two along with UCLA, but he's also starting to emerge more nationally, with Michigan also offering him. Still, UCLA is prioritizing Kemp and the coaches were out to see him last week.
Bledsoe is the No. 1 prospect in Kansas and plays in the backyard of the hometown Jayhawks. He's obviously a high priority for Kansas, but many feel he's headed out of state. He visited UCLA earlier this month and spent almost a whole day on campus with his mother and the visit went very well. It looks like Bledsoe will be returning in the fall for an official visit and Angus McClure was out in Kansas last week to check in on Bledsoe.
Utah's top prospect, Tupai has blown up in the last couple of months and has offers from all over the country. UCLA is in the mix for Tupai, who's said that he wants to play on the West Coast in college. He's hoping to take an unofficial visit to UCLA sometime in the spring or summer. USC will also likely get an unofficial visit from Tupai when he comes to Los Angeles.
A bit of an unknown, Young's film has helped his recruitment take off, with UCLA and Michigan offering him in February. He's one of the top prospects in Central California and is long and lean with room to still add more weight. Already he's shown terrific potential as a pass rusher. He lived in Los Angeles for a time as a child and has spent time in Los Angeles since. USC was his favorite school growing up but Young said he's open minded now that he's being recruited. We'll see Young this weekend at the Oakland Opening Regional.
One of Arizona's top prospects, Murphy has good bloodlines, with his brother Trent a former all-Pac-12 defender at Stanford before going to the NFL. Murphy has a slew of offers from all over, and while Stanford has offered, we've heard that its unlikely Murphy will seriously consider the Cardinal. The local schools are on him hard and some national schools are also on Murphy.
Kampmoyer committed to Arizona State early in the spring when the Sun Devils were his only offer, but since then he's blown up, with offers coming in from a variety of programs, including UCLA. He visited UCLA for the spring game, and said he really enjoyed the visit. Within a couple of days, he decommitted from ASU. Now, the two may be unrelated events, but from what we've heard, UCLA gave him a lot to think about. Oregon may also factor into the mix here, but odds are that Kampmoyer will not make another very quick decision, choosing instead to let the process play out a bit and collect offers from around the Pac-12.
Other defensive ends:
Marcus Moore, 6-3, 250, Encino (Calif.) Crespi
Shavar Manuel, 6-3.5, 255, Tampa (Fla.) Blake- OFFERED
Erick Fowler, 6-3, 210, Manor (Texas)- OFFERED
Malik Barrow, 6-3, 250, Tampa (Fla.) Catholic- OFFERED
Tomon Fox, 6-3, 220, Suwanee (Ga.) Collins Hill- OFFERED
Anthony Smith, 6-3, 250, Las Vegas (Nev.) Desert Pines
Defensive tackle isn't much better out West at this point, and the only real elite guy in California they've already offered in Tagaloa. The good news is that UCLA is doing well early with Tagaloa and he figures to be their top interior prospect on their board, if not their top defensive target, period. Obviously, UCLA landed Odighizuwa last week, which helps to shore up the need, but the Bruins are still going to look for at least one more interior lineman.
The first five days of May were a pretty memorable time for the Odighizuwa family. On May 1st, UCLA defensive captain Owa Odighizuwa was drafted by the New York Giants. Five days later, the youngest Odighizuwa, Osa, committed to UCLA, continuing the family legacy in Westwood. Odighizuwa was offered by the Bruins back in January and was a virtual lock to commit from the day he was offered. The No. 3 player in Oregon (in what is a pretty good year in-state), there was obviously already a strong connection and relationship with Angus McClure that put UCLA in great position. Osa is much more raw than Owa was at the same stage, but that's not a fair comparison since Owa was a physical freak at the same age. Osa, though, is a pretty physical player in his own right and is a two-time national heavyweight champion wrestler. While he's probably a lock to redshirt, he's a hard worker (much like his older brother) who figures to contribute down the line at UCLA.
Tagaloa has a chance to be a rare four-year varsity letterman for the vaunted Spartans program. He's the top defensive lineman in the West and one of the best in the country and UCLA has made him a heavy priority for some time, offering him over a year ago. Tagaloa is getting a lot of attention from Michigan too and they're very much a factor in his recruitment. But the Bruins are going to do everything to keep him in-state and will pursue him vigorously till the end. Tagaloa came down to Los Angeles last month and spent a couple days on campus with the UCLA coaches and taking in a practice.
Gary is the No. 1 ranked prospect in the country in the 2016 class. And being on the East Coast would probably make him a long shot, but we've heard he and the UCLA coaches have been in consistent contact, that his mom values the UCLA education, and he and Angus McClure have hit it off. Gary is hoping to take an unofficial visit to Westwood this summer and UCLA would love to get him back on campus for an official visit. They'll have their work cut out, but it's not unrealistic to think UCLA could end up on Gary's short list.
Lawrence has mentioned UCLA a number of times as a school he's seriously considering and one that he anticipates visiting officially in the fall. Like with Gary, UCLA will have their work cut out in recruiting Lawrence, the No. 3 defensive tackle in the country, especially with a number of national suitors after him, but the five-star has gone out of his way to mention the Bruins. That has to bode well for UCLA's chances in staying in the race for him.
The DL MVP at The Opening Los Angeles, Rand is another talented defender from Arizona. UCLA has offered him and he's mentioned trying to get out to UCLA for another visit at some point, but Stanford, Arizona State and Michigan State have been the schools he's mentioned more prominently.
Tupou was one of the first prospects to get an offer from the Bruins after Signing Day. We actually saw him play last fall when we scouted Darrin Paulo, with Tupou playing left guard next to Paulo. He was a solid offensive guard but UCLA wants him as a defensive lineman, where he could play inside. Still, with some of the other defensive lineman that UCLA is doing well with, it may be the case where the class fills up before getting to Tupou.
Other defensive tackles:
Mike Williams, 6-3, 270, Fort Worth (Texas) All Saints Episcopal- OFFERED
Christian Colon, 6-3, 300, Charlotte (North Carolina) Independence- OFFERED
Malik Walker, 6-1.5, 260, Montezuma (Ga.) Macon County- OFFERED
Jabari Watson, 6-3, 255, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.)
New linebackers coach Scott White hasn't wasted any time recruiting, picking up commitments from the top two inside backers in the West. Their inside linebacker recruiting looks to be done already and the focus is on a SAM backer.
Toailoa is a big hitter who's gotten bigger since he was first offered by UCLA a year ago. Toailoa picked the Bruins in March over USC, which was the family favorite, and he had offers from 11 Pac-12 schools and several national programs. It was a big recruiting win for White and UCLA because of who they beat, but also because of the player that Toailoa, one of the more gregarious players in this class, happens to be. Toailoa has already gone to work on Caleb Kelly and his 7v7 teammate Damian Alloway.
While Toailoa had an offer from the Bruins for a year before he committed, Barnes had one for just a couple of minutes, but his commitment was just as big. Barnes had offers from LSU, USC, Oklahoma and Nebraska among others, but the Bruins waited to offer him until they saw him on campus for an unofficial visit. When Barnes finally visited UCLA in mid-March, he was offered and committed on the spot. More importantly, he said he was shutting down his recruitment and wasn't just trying to save a spot. Barnes may have more upside than Toailoa, but the two can complement each other well. In fact, they play on the same 7v7 team, Ground Zero, and that team won the Pylon Elite 7v7 National Tournament. Barnes said he's also working on Kelly, who is also from the Central Valley. Barnes was the Linebacker MVP of The Opening Los Angeles and earned an invitation to The Opening Finals.
Other inside linebackers:
Devin White, 6-2, 260, Springhill (La.) North Webster- OFFERED
Dontavious Jackson, 6-2, 237, Houston (Texas) Alief Elsik- OFFERED
Devin Bush, 6-0, 207, Pembroke Pines (Fla.) Flanagan- OFFERED
Sammy Duarte, 6-2, 220, Anaheim (Calif.) Servite
White wants at least two outside linebackers in this class, and with Brandt able to play defensive end, it gives him the freedom to bring in two more at this spot.
The top prospect in the West, UCLA is on the very short list for Kelly, who recently named a top ten. He visited Michigan in March and had a great visit, with the Wolverines making a big impact and possibly now considered the frontrunner for him. Oklahoma and UCLA, though, have been the two constants from the beginning for Kelly and it's likely going to come down to those three. What UCLA has going for it is the obvious proximity to home, but Oklahoma has had great success in Fresno of late. UCLA will be in this one until the end, though, and with White's energy and ability to recruit already on display, the Bruins will be a factor for Kelly no matter what. And given teammate Darien Owens' commitment to the Bruins, you can bet Kelly is getting a healthy dose of Bruin recruiting from Owens.
Juarez committed to USC before Signing Day and before USC got commitments from Osa Masina, Porter Gustin and John Houston. Not that those were unexpected, but the Trojans did stock up on linebackers, and that has impacted the status of Juarez's commitment. UCLA has been recruiting Juarez hard, and it makes sense, as he's one of the more versatile 'backers in this class, able to play inside or outside. Juarez has said numerous times how much he likes UCLA and attended a couple of UCLA spring practices. At the Spring Showcase at the Rose Bowl, he actually attended in a UCLA shirt. And while he's yet to decommit from USC, that could come sometime soon, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him flip to UCLA before Signing Day.
Eifler's mother is a professor at Cal, and his father is a librarian at Cal so the Bears figure to have a big say in his recruitment. You can also bet that academics will play a huge role in Eifler's recruitment. Eifler's coach is legendary Washington running back Napolean Kaufman and the Huskies are pursuing Eifler as well. He visited UCLA unofficially, loved his time in Westwood and said he may camp with the Bruins this summer. But with Kelly and Juarez the focuses right now at the SAM spot and Eifler more of a Will, he may not be as much of a priority right now.
Winston is the No. 2 player in Oregon and one of the more versatile players in the West. He plays receiver for his high school team, but his ceiling is higher at linebacker and he's added 25 pounds from last spring, when we saw him for the first time. We went and saw him for a game in October and he had a sack, forced a fumble, tipped an interception and had a touchdown reception, so he makes his presence felt on the field. All of the Northwest schools have offered, including Oregon, who already has a commitment from his teammate, Brady Breeze. They're the pretty heavy leader for Winston, but UCLA LB Coach Scott White recruits the Northwest and Winston said they already have a good relationship. We've heard the Bruins are probably running second, though it's still a significant gap between them and Oregon.
He's the No. 1 linebacker in Texas, and UCLA has had some success there under Mora. McCullough might be more of a DE/LB hybrid, and UCLA could actually add him to the mix there, like Brandt, if they got four other true linebacker types. McCulloch is planning to visit UCLA this summer. He has already been invited to The Opening Finals.
Divinity is the No. 1 linebacker in Louisiana and, of course, he's a high priority for LSU. UCLA has some good connections in Louisiana, especially with linebackers, namely Kenny Young. In fact, UCLA coaches have spent some time at Ehret, when it recruited 2014 running back Darrel Williams. From what we've heard, Divinity has an affinity for UCLA, and intends to unofficially visit, which is always a good sign, but we've heard Oregon is the Pac-12 school doing the best with him right now.
Franklin named a top eight in March and UCLA was on it. He was offered by the Bruins last year so he's been on their list for some time. But we're not sure he's a priority for the Bruins right now especially with UCLA doing well with some other higher-rated outside backers. Being a local prospect, he was at a couple of UCLA practices and the Spring Showcase, but we've heard Oregon is probably the leader for his services right now.
Terry probably projects to that LB/DE spot, being a prety big kid, possibly now 6-3, and a body that looks like he could get bigger. He has consistently said UCLA is among his leaders.
Other outside linebackers:
Lyndell Wilson, 6-3, 225, Montgomery (Ala.) Carver- OFFERED
Maciah Long, 6-2, 200, Galena Park (Texas) North Shore- OFFERED
Dominique Ross, 6-3, 203, Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian Academy- OFFERED
Bryce Youngquist, 6-2, 210, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Los Osos
Andrew Pryts, 6-2, 200, Hermitage (Penn.) Hickory
Davir Hamilton, 6-3, 200, Los Angeles (Calif.) Verbum Dei
Its a strong corner year in the West, but not a deep safety pool so the pickings are a bit slim here.
Jackson played a little bit of everything for Franklin, including quarterback, before finally settling on safety. He has double digit offers from around the country, but the Bruins have some connections, namely Marcus Rios, who trained with True Grit Sports, where Jackson trains. Jackson said Rios has talked up UCLA to him and he up to UCLA. Jackson could be the #1 in-state safety target for the Bruins. USC has also offered Jackson and they are thought to be the leader, so UCLA will have some more work to do. Jackson has taken two visits to UCLA this spring, including for the Spring Showcase, so they're definitely on the short list.
Eric Monroe, 6-0, 180, Galena Park (Texas) North Shore- OFFERED
While UCLA is probably a long shot for Monroe, the No. 2 safety nationally, the Bruins are still going to try and have consistenly been a threat in Texas, with Demetrice Martin having some success down there. Monroe played with Najee Toran at North Shore when he was a sophomore and he told Scout earlier this month that UCLA is a school he wants to visit at some point, whether that is unofficially or officially.
Shurod Thompson, 6-1, 185, Brentwood (Calif.) Liberty- OFFERED (Committed to California)
Thompson committed to California a little surprisingly last month (in much the same way that his close friend Parker committed surprisingly to UCLA). Thompson and Parker have talked in the past about being a package deal, though, and there's still talk that they would love to do that. Academically, Thompson would have some work to do to put himself in good shape for UCLA admission, and it's no slam dunk at California either. UCLA is still recruiting him, though, and having Parker on board helps their cause.
Probably the top priority with the class of 2016 is to find a great cover corner. The five guys UCLA brought in for 2015 are talented, but you wouldn’t necessarily say there is an elite lock-down corner among them. Fortunately for UCLA, they're on the short list for three of California's best and have a commitment from one of them.
Parker got his first offer from UCLA back in October, when Angus McClure went to see Shurod Thompson play. Since then, Parker has only gotten better and is the top cornerback in the West and still may be underrated. He was terrific in Vegas at the Pylon Elite 7v7 and showed why he's a double-digit offer guy. Seemingly out of nowhere, after saying this spring that ASU and USC might be his leaders, he visited UCLA unofficially and committed to the Bruins late last month. That was a huge pickup for the Bruins, and along with Barnes, was probably the least expected at the time. Parker has said he'll still take some visits and other schools are going to pursue him, but he was a big get for the Bruins early on. Now they just have to hold on to him.
Few players have exploded this spring like Jones. He was already a Scout 300 prospect, so it wasn't like he was a secret. But he was originally a four-star receiver, and UCLA was the first to offer him, doing so after their camp last summer. Since then, he's played a lot of cornerback, including at The Opening Los Angeles, and was the DB MVP and earned an invitation to The Opening Finals. He was stellar at The Opening, showing all the makings of an elite cover corner. He said earlier in the month that UCLA was his top school, but now he's saying he's still pretty open. Wherever he stands, he's a priority of the Bruins, as he's both an elite corner and an elite receiver. He's kind of the epitome of an athlete, so when Scout added the ATH category to the rankings, Jones was the easy choice as the No. 1 athlete nationally in the 2016 class.
Like Jones, Long was originally in the Scout 300 as a four-star receiver. Like Jones, it was at The Opening Los Angeles where he showed that he is a potentially elite cover corner. Long can play on either side of the ball but UCLA has prioritized him at corner, with UCLA defensive backs Coach Demetrice Martin, who's a Pasadena native like Long, doing the heavy recruiting. He took an unofficial visit to UCLA and it went really well and it looked like UCLA was No. 1 with a bullet. Then Stanford offered. Since that offer, the Cardinal have shot up and they may be the team to beat. He played 7v7 with K.J. Costello, a Stanford commit, and Dylan Crawford, a Stanford target, which helps the Cardinal as well. But UCLA won't stop trying with him.
Like with many Southern recruits, UCLA will have to battle the SEC programs and, like with other Louisiana kids, the monster that is LSU. The Tigers are the heavy favorite for Fulton, but he will visit Los Angeles next month, visiting both UCLA and USC, before he makes a decision later in the summer.
Murphy is the top corner in Arizona and has a number of offers from all over, including Texas A&M, where his good friend and teammate, Christian Kirk, is now playing. The Aggies are the team to beat, but UCLA will try for Murphy, who is also pretty close with Priest Willis, having been a freshman at Marcos De Niza in Tempe when Willis was a senior.
Fuller is the younger brother of receiver Devin Fuller, who's heading in to his senior season and third year as a starter for the Bruins. While UCLA is a longshot, they'll continue to recruit him given their connections and Fuller did visit unofficially during the spring. He's talked in the past about wanting to stay closer to home for college, though.
Hamlin has been off the radar a bit, but UCLA has been out to Pittsburgh to see him this spring and he's in a region defensive coordinator Tom Bradley knows well. While Hamlin will be somewhat tough to get out of the East, UCLA is one of the only schools outside of the east region that Hamlin consistently mentions.
Trayvon Mullen, 6-2, 180, Coconut Creek (Fla.)- OFFERED
Nigel Knott, 6-0, 170, Madison (Miss.) Germantown- OFFERED
Jared Mayden, 6-0, 190, Sachse (Texas)- OFFERED
Malek Young, 5-10, 173, Coconut Creek (Fla.)- OFFERED
These are guys that UCLA will just take and figure out their best position later.
Pittman was the first commit in the class of 2016, pledging to the Bruins just two days after he was offered. His commitment status has been interesting since moment he committed. Initially, he was fairly solid, and then he flirted with USC a little bit, which softened that commitment. A few weeks ago, he said he'd become a little more solid thanks to discussing the situation with his family, but then Oregon offered and he's a bit enamored with the Ducks. All that said, UCLA will gladly take him and let him go through the process if it still means he's theirs come Signing Day. The biggest question for Pittman will be what position he plays in college, since there's no telling how his body might continue to grow. When he was offered, UCLA wanted him as a receiver, but he may be too big for that already, let alone come 2016. He's a very good safety, and we've felt he was more a defensive player from the first time we saw him, but he's likely going to outgrow safety too. He could end up as an outside linebacker or even as a Y in college. Whatever he does and however he grows, UCLA would love to have the problem of figuring out where he'll play, because that means he's on campus.
Like Betiku, UCLA will have their work cut out for Burton, considering he's at Serra, but Burton visited UCLA in March and said he enjoyed his time on campus. Demetrice Martin has been doing the heavy lifting with Burton. Burton has looked better this spring after a so-so junior year and he could also end up as a receiver. UCLA is recruiting him as an athlete and receiver could end up being where he plays.
Sidney was the WR MVP at the Oregon NFTC last year. At The Opening Los Angeles this year, he was terrific at both corner and receiver. His heart is at receiver but his higher ceiling may be at corner. He's a guy you take all the way and, like Pittman, you plug him in where you need him. The trick is to get him on campus first. UCLA was his first offer but USC followed suit not long after and the Trojans could be the leader. The Bruins will make him a priority throughout, with Martin using his Pasadena ties to keep on him.
Lucas is now listed as an athlete, with many schools recruiting him at either corner or running back, but UCLA recruiting him as an athlete. With two running backs entering for fall 2015 and a couple of other priorities at the position in 2016, it makes sense to recruit Lucas as an athlete, and he's open to it. UCLA has had some good success at Chandler, with Brett Hundley and Paul Perkins both former Chandler stars, and that's not lost on Lucas. He visited UCLA earlier this spring and said he had a great time on campus.