Prepare yourself, because we’re right on the verge of it getting crazy. The dead period ends Wednesday, Jan. 13th, and then the madness begins. UCLA will have only three weekends available to host official visitors, and the first one is this weekend.
Just to get you warmed up, we’ve built up some buzz for you, so you’ll be well-armed heading into this week.
It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but we expect the hiring of MarquesTuiasosopo as UCLA quarterbacks coach will be made official this week.
Not to raise expecations too high, but Tuiasosopo should have a fairly significant impact on UCLA’s recruiting.
From Greg Biggins:
Tuiasosopo should pay immediate dividends this year with Concord (Calif.) De La Salle defensive tackle Boss Tagaloa and tight end Devin Asiasi. UCLA was already doing well with Boss but USC was trying to make a late push and Tui was his primary recruiter. You have to think Tui now being at UCLA all but locks him up.
As for Asiasi, UCLA was chasing not only USC but, according to someone close to his recruitment, Washington and Michigan as well. Tui will immediately give UCLA a fighting chance as he was Asiasi’s primary recruiter and projected position coach, and really connected well with him. The same source also said the hiring of Kennedy Polamalu as offensive coordinator and the possibility of moving to a more pro-style offense could be a big help as well.
Tuiasosopo also has great connections in Utah and Hawaii and should be big for UCLA moving forward. He was the primary recruiter for both USC players Osa Masina and Porter Gustin a year ago in Utah and should help the Bruins in the loaded Utah class of 2017.
Speaking of 2017, UCLA needs to land an elite quarterback in the class and Tua Tagovailoa, the prospect from Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis could now be the top guy on their board. The talented lefty, who is the #5-ranked quarterback nationally in the class of 2017, was leaning to USC and, although that was partly due to the Trojans being his childhood favorite, Tuiasosopo had established a solid relationship with him and his family. You have to expect UCLA and Tuiasosopo will make Tagovailoa a top priority and they should have a real shot to land him now.
Okay, on with the buzz…
We’re hearing that, even though USC offered him and he postponed his commitment to UCLA, it still looks good for Brandon Burton, the four-star safety prospect from Gardena (Calif.) Serra. UCLA defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin is doing a great job recruiting Burton, having built a great relationship with him, according to sources close to Burton, and that's a major reason why he's still leaning to UCLA.
Since we're here, let's stay on DB recruiting.
Keep in mind that Martin has a pretty loaded defensive secondary depth chart, so it's not a matter of UCLA desperately needing bodies there. If you thought UCLA might need to tweak its secondary personnel after watching the 2015 season you'd say they need to get bigger and stronger at safety, and it appears Martin is trying to do just that. He does have a commitment from safety Leni Toailoa, from Rialto Carter -- and Toailoa will help there. If UCLA gets Burton that will also help significantly in that department. It's long been thought that UCLA, too, leads for Keyon Riley, another big safety type. He'll officially visit UCLA Jan. 30th, the last recruiting weekend of the year, and is expected to officially visit Colorado State and Washington before that. The Bruins are still involved with Lamar Jackson, from Elk Grove Franklin, the #7-ranked safety in the nation. Jackson has taken all of his official visits, and it's thought that Nebraska could be the leader. Jackson has been to UCLA's campus a few times, but there are some close to the situation that believe another unofficial visit during a UCLA recruiting weekend could really help the Bruins' cause.
One note: the NCAA has cracked down on unofficial visits during big official visit weekends. Programs have to be very careful that unofficial visitors don't benefit like an official visitor.
There is also Khaleke Hudson, the prospect from McKeesport (Penn.), the #1 athlete in the east. Hudson already visited UCLA, and has official visits to Michigan, Penn State and Pittsburgh lined up for January. It's generally thought that he's leaning to stay in the east, probably Michigan, but we've heard that UCLA might have a better shot at Hudson than many think. UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley has done a good job recruiting him, and Hudson has told people close to him that he really bonded with Bradley. Hudson was out in L.A. for the Semper Fi All-American Bowl, and because it was a dead period, he didn't visit campus or meet with any coaches, but he did get to see SoCal again, which we've heard helped. Hudson would also fulfill the need for bigger-hitting safeties, while he also very well might project as a running back in college.
If we're talking cornerback prospects, perhaps the best-chance proposition would be Kentrell Love, the four-star prospect from Corona Centennial who is verbally committed to Washington. UCLA and USC offered him in December, he's been wavering from Washington, and we've heard the Bruins have a real shot to flip him. Love is the cornerback version of UCLA's push for more size in its defensive backfield.
Then there is Jack Jones, the five-star prospect from Long Beach Poly. He's gotten the nickname on the BRO message board as "smokescreen," mostly because there is a history of five-star guys indicating they're interested in UCLA but all the while knowing they were going to USC. What we've heard is that it's not the case with Jones. He very well could ultimately pick USC, but it's not like with Biggie Marshall or Adoree Jackson, when everyone actually knew everything they were saying before National Signing Day was, in fact, a smokescreen, and it was already a done deal they were going to USC. In fact, we've heard that Texas A&M, at this point, could still be UCLA's biggest competition. Jones proved in the U.S. Army practices and game what we've always known here in the west -- that he's one of the most talented cornerback prospects from the region in years.
UCLA wants to get bigger in its defensive backfield, so even though it's pretty stocked, we think they'd take any and all of the guys mentioned above, but probably not anyone else at this point. If Martin ends up with four guys, great; if he ends up with two, that's fine, too.
There is only one linebacker left on UCLA's board and that's the #1 outside linebacker prospect in the nation, Mique Juarez, from Torrance North. Everything we heard coming out of the U.S. Army Game and practices was that UCLA was the heavy favorite. He's on the UCLA commits' group chat. He talks privately like he's already committed. Now, of course, this is recruiting, so there's always a chance of the unexpected. We know that Ole Miss is the biggest competition (He said he was down to UCLA and Ole Miss), but he's also taking an official visit to Alabama this month and, no matter who you are and how much you want to stay close to your extended family at home, which Juarez does, Alabama is always compelling on an official visit, especially now, with the buzz from winning the National Championship still alive. Juarez will visit UCLA on the last weekend in January, and he'll announce on Signing Day. Not to put too much pressure on this, but at this point whether UCLA's recruiting class is ultimately considered a good one of just a decent one depends on what hat Juarez puts on that day.
We said there was only one linebacker left on UCLA's board, and that's not exactly true. Aaron Hansford, the four-star linebacker prospect from Washington (D.C.) St. John's, is still very much a UCLA target. He is, though, being primarily recruited by UCLA as a receiver -- and, interestingly, his primary recruiter is defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. So follow this: he's being recruited by the defensive coordinator to play receiver primarily, while he projects as a linebacker. It's key to Hansford that UCLA has said he'd have a chance to play both ways, as both a receiver and linebacker. We've heard that UCLA very well could get Hansford, especially if the official visit goes well this weekend. He's visited Michigan State, Oregon and Notre Dame, but the word is that, if UCLA can win over the mom, and she feels comfortable with her son being safe in L.A., UCLA will get him. While getting Hansford might not be that big of a thing, we think it potentially could be; we think he'll end up primarily a linebacker in college and, if you look at UCLA's linebacke depth, it could use some athletic outside linebacker types, especially if Juarez pulls a stunner and goes somewhere else.
Scout's Brian Dohn reported Monday that a teammate of Hansford's, four-star defensive end Terrell Hall, a Ohio State decommit, might take the visit to UCLA with him. Hall could visit Maryland instead, but there is a big push going to get Hall to visit UCLA with Hansford.
Hall would be a great addition, since defensive end recruiting has been scrambling a bit since the decommitment of Oluwole Betiku. It UCLA has a commitment from Marcus Moore, but could use at least one more guy, and definitely use a big-impact prospect. On the field, that would be JC DE Jonathan Kongbo, from Arizona Western, who is a beast of a prospect. UCLA recently offered him. The word, though, is that he could have a problem qualifying. UCLA could actually benefit by the new rule that JC players need to have a 2.5 GPA to transfer to a four-year school, since he won't be able to go anywhere with a 2.0 to 2.49, like he would have, and will actually have to put in some extra academic work. UCLA usually makes JC players have to do more work to qualify for UCLA than they would at other schools, so this puts UCLA on a more level playing field. He's going to be a late admit wherever he goes, because he has some transcripts from Nigeria and the work he has to complete, so there's quite a bit left in his recruitment. He could sign with someone, but it could be a while to determine whether he actually gets into the school of his choice. Or he could not sign, and wait until he's cleared by the NCAA Clearing House.
UCLA is looking seriously at Keanu Saleapaga, the big defensive end from La Mirada who decommited from USC last week. Saleapaga could also have academic issues, and that might have been why he decommitted from USC. We've also heard that USC was trying to open up rides for others. We, though, actually like Saleapaga, especially if UCLA is going to a bigger, bulkier defensive line strategy. He might not know it, but Saleapaga even looks like he could be an offensive tackle down the line.
UCLA is also looking into Leki Fotu, another big, beefier DE from Herriman (Utah), but he also could have academic issues. He might have a pretty good reason for a poor early high school performance, though. If that gets cleared by UCLA, expect a UCLA offer for Fotu.
There are also a couple of defensive ends committed elsewhere who are still a possibility for UCLA, but we can't reveal who they are at this time.
Speaking of committed elsewhere, we're hearing that UCLA very well could have a chance with Garrett Rand, the defensive tackle from Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton verbally committed to Wisconsin. Wisconsin is currently without a defensive coordinator, which helps UCLA, and his father lives in SoCal, which also helps UCLA. We've heard there's a chance he could take an official visit.
On the offensive line, it's looking really good for Francisco Perez, the prospect from Baldwin Park who is verbally committed to Cal. We're hearing from sources close to Perez that a flip is just a mattter of time. Perez is schedule to officially visit UCLA Jan. 29th, but he very well could move up his visit date just to get the decision over with.
We're also hearing that UCLA continues to look good for Jake Raulerson, the University of Texas transfer. Raulerson will visit UCLA, and probably Michigan and Alabama. UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has known the Raulerson family for many years so that connection has the Bruins in a good spot for him. Always keep in mind that, even though Raulerson is a good student, sometimes UCLA can be tough on graduate transfers qualifying for UCLA's elite graduate programs.
The possibility of UCLA getting Tramonda Moore, the four-star offensive tackle from Oklahoma City (Okla.) John Marshall, shouldn't be completely counted out. There was some question about his academics, but there have been some developments that could enable him to qualify for UCLA. If the UCLA academic committee okays it, expect Moore to arrange a UCLA official visit. He has visited Oklahoma, and still has Oklahoma State, Alabama and Miami, but one of those could be dropped or Moore could add a mid-week visit.
As always about this time of year, there are other offensive line recruit possibilities, too, but we can't reveal them at this time.
Receiver recruiting has probably been the most interesting of the 2016 recruiting cycle, and probablay still is. There are very solid indications that Damian Alloway, the four-star from Fontana Summit, has told UCLA he's coming. Of the targets remaining on the board, two are Texans -- Adewale Omotosho, from Plano East, and Quartney Davis, from Houston Langham Creek. We've heard UCLA is doing well with each. Davis is the real catch, the #13-ranked receiver in the nation, and someone who could possibly come in and have an immediate impact at UCLA, which could be key with the loss of Jordan Payton to graduation. UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm also recruits Texas and, according to sources, he's been recruiting the heck out of Davis. Yarber, too, has prioritized him, and head coach Jim Mora is making Davis one of his personal targets. Houston could be UCLA's biggest competition. He'll visit Oklahoma, and could visit Ole Miss, but UCLA has the last visit in January, and that could seal the deal. There is always the caveat with Texas recruits -- that they want to come to UCLA but there ends up being too much pressure on them to stay close. But since the University of Texas isn't the local program recrutiing him we think UCLA might have a better chance with Davis.
UCLA, though, is also reportedly leading for Omotosho. and we know he intends to visit UCLA but we haven't heard of the specific date yet.
There is also Steffon McKnight, the four-star prospect from San Diego St. Augustine, who has maintained for a while that UCLA was his leader. His recruitment is a bit of a strange one, though. When he came out with the news that UCLA was his leader back in fall, it was kind of unexpected; he hasn't taken one official visit; and he very rarely talks to the media. Academics could be an issue, and it very well might preclude UCLA from taking him.
Thaddeus Moss is the one other receiver option, the four-star tight end prospect from Charlotte (North Carolina) Mallard Creek. Moss just announce his four finalists -- UCLA, USC, Texas A&M and NC State. He'll visit Westwood on the 22nd, and the word is that UCLA has a very good chance with him.
Quarterback recruiting might not be over. Nick Starkel, from Texas, who decomitted from Oklahoma State, is slated to visit this weekend. It's interesting that UCLA and Texas A&M, where former UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and quarterbacks coach Taylor Mazzone are now, are probably the two teams to beat. We'll see how it shakes out and whether UCLA still has interest in Starkel with the departure of the Mazzones, and whether new UCLA quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo wants him.
We've heard that UCLA has a legitimate chance at Devon Modster, the QB prospect from Las Flores, who decomitted from Arizona. Oklahoma State and Syracuse are thought to be two programs he's considering, but Modster is privately indicating that he has interest in UCLA. Again, so much will depend on Tuiasosopo's assessment of the quarterback situation.
Quarterback Update from Biggins (Tuesday, 1:15 p.m):
Nick Starkel will no longer visit this weekend, he'll visit A&M instead and it remains to be seen if he'll re-schedule the UCLA visit for later this month. Tesoro QB Devon Modster will visit this weekend however. Modster is also looking at Syracuse and Oklahoma State but has yet to schedule a visit with either school, which I think is pretty telling. I'm not sure if Modster will commit this weekend if the visit goes well but I wouldn't be surprised if he does shortly after.
Remember, tis the season for some unexpected twists and turns -- the last three weeks before Signing Day. So expect some other names to crop up on the next few buzzes.