Brandon Huffman, Greg Biggins and Tracy Pierson contributed to this report.
There is usually a domino effect when quarterbacks come off the board in a given recruiting cycle, but the recent flurry of activity has resembled more of a carousel than anything else, and that could mean good news for UCLA.
Assistant coach Marques Tuiasosopo saw San Clemente’s Jack Sears throw a couple weeks ago and offered shortly thereafter, essentially ending the Bruins’ pursuit of longtime target Tua Tagovailoa, who moved up his decision date to commit to Alabama after spending a week in Tuscaloosa this spring.
Sears, though, suddenly has some company on UCLA’s board.
Tate Martell, the No. 1 QB in the 2017 class, is back on the market after de-committing from Texas A&M due to a lack of communication with former Bruins offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Chandler (Ariz.) Basha four-star Ryan Kelley, too, is available after backing away from his pledge to Oregon, though nearby Arizona State would seem to be the frontrunner.
Martell, from what we’ve heard, is very high on Ohio State. The Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman star visited that campus recently, his family is originally from Ohio, and the Buckeyes have stayed on him for quite a while. Martell, according to sources, kept his Ohio State offer private for a few months before tipping his hand when he visited earlier this spring, so he has had his eye on that program. Yet the Bruins, at least for the time being, offer something Ohio State doesn’t: adidas.
Yes, the three stripes.
According to a couple sources, Martell really wants to play for an adidas program at the next level. We heard that if it wasn’t A&M (an adidas program), that UCLA was attractive because of its current apparel deal. Martell, in fact, initiated a lot of the conversations with current UCLA commits -- which would explain some of their tweets campaigning for the five-star to join them in Westwood -- and it's certainly gained some steam. Martell works out with private coach Steve Clarkson, whose camps are outfitted by adidas, and he's committed to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which has become a major event for the apparel company. The Bruins could draw another (more serious) visit from Martell later this month.
Kelley, meanwhile, has a good relationship with Mazzone, so A&M is suddenly a possible landing spot for him. In speaking with a source in Arizona, there are some concerns about how Kelley would fit into UCLA’s new offensive system given that he’s more suited for throwing out of the shotgun and going with a first-read approach in the pocket. Still, the Bruins were right there with the Sun Devils for No. 2 when Kelley committed to the Ducks and he actually initiated contact with UCLA a few months ago, so there is legitimate interest there. We would expect Tuiasosopo to venture into the desert soon to see Kelley throw.
Tuiasosopo already saw Corona del Mar three-star Chase Garbers last week but didn’t offer, which should suggest that Sears is the local priority. Nick Sipe, who has been impressive in the 7-on-7 circuit this spring, figures to draw a look along with former Arizona commit Braxton Burmeister and current Nebraska commit Tristan Gebbia, the teammate of five-star Darnay Holmes at Calabasas, Calif., who we’ve heard could flip to the Bruins if offered.
The wild card in all of this is USC, which lost out on Tagovailoa more than UCLA did and officially joined the chase for Sears earlier this week. Quarterback recruiting, for the most part, moves along fairly quickly so it should be interesting to monitor how many more turns this carousel takes, especially now with the Trojans also in the mix.
At receiver, the Bruins recently lost out to Washington on Sacramento Sheldon three-star Alex Cook, but they appear to be in a great position for four-star Tarik Black, the No. 1 wideout in the East region out of Cheshire (Conn.) Academy. Alabama, Michigan, Stanford and Notre Dame are also in his top five, but all indications are that UCLA leads after making a big impression during his visit to the West Coast in February. There is a long way to go, obviously, but the family really values education and, if the Bruins can show enough firepower in the passing game this fall, they could have their impact receiver in this class.
Addison Gumbs, the No. 1 outside linebacker in the West out of Hayward (Calif.) Stellar Prep, drew a visit from UCLA on Thursday and, from what we’ve heard, the Bruins are still in the thick of things with about a month to go until an announcement.
There is a growing sentiment that three-star safety Rhedi Short of Los Angeles Cathedral is separating himself more and more from his UCLA pledge, but that would not exactly be seen as a blow to Demetrice Martin’s recruiting efforts at defensive back. Short visited Oregon last weekend and picked up an offer from the Ducks, and he has been maintaining steady contact with Arizona as well.
UCLA, of course, has its share of options at safety. Sacramento (Calif.) Inderkum three-star Trajon Cotton visited campus for the spring game and has indicated that the Bruins are high on his list. Oregon is thought to be the main competitor. Four-star Chaz Ah You out of Provo (Utah) Timpview also has UCLA out in front. There are more candidates than there are spots available in the class, so Martin has the luxury to be a bit more selective than in recent cycles.
And then there is Los Angeles Salesian four-star Deommodore Lenoir, who landed an offer from USC recently. Lenoir has the versatility to play corner and safety, and says he would be willing to do either in college, so the Bruins would be able to move him around if needed. UCLA is on his short list as well and he’s been close to committing before, so it remains to be seen whether the Trojans offer changes much. For what it’s worth, Lenoir says he didn’t grow up watching football at all -- basketball was more of his thing when he was younger -- so there is no prior fandom to USC as is commonplace throughout the city. His parents, though, are huge Trojans fans but he says that has no effect on his choice, especially since he's had a connection with Martin for much longer. For Martin, it's about finding the right combination of defensive backs in a class that could include the likes of Holmes, Thomas Graham, Elijah Gates, Elijah Hicks and others.
This week UCLA offered three-star offensive tackle Jaxson Kirkland, from Portland (Ore.) Jesuit, after offensive line coach Adrian Klemm saw him in person. The word is that UCLA now leads for Kirkland, and he’ll be a sooner-than-later decision-maker. It’s interesting that Kirkland’s father played for Washington, but there is a bit of a falling out there and the Huskies aren’t seriously involved. Kirkland has a plan to visit UCLA in two weeks, and we wouldn’t be shocked if a commitment came out of it.
On Klemm’s recent swing through the Northwest he checked in on the No. 1 offensive tackle in the nation, Foster Sarell from Graham (Wash.) Graham Kapowsin. UCLA is probably holding steady in the second tier for Sarell, behind Washington and presumed leader Stanford. Klemm also saw Henry Bainivalu, the nation’s No. 4-ranked offensive guard from Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline, and the feeling is UCLA is among his leaders but it’s going to be hard to displace hometown favorite, Washington.
One of the biggest developments in OL recruiting is that, with what’s going on with Texas A&M, UCLA might be back as a consideration for Will Farrar, the 6-foot-5, 290-pound prospect from Richmond (Tex.) Travis who was previously committed to UCLA. Farrar took an unofficial visit to UCLA in April during spring practice and then de-committed, the primary reason cited was that he and his family wanted him to stay closer to home and that he had some connections to A&M. It wouldn’t be surprising, either, if UCLA gets back in on Grayson Reed, the nation’s No. 19-ranked offensive tackle from Houston (Tex.) Cypress Creek, who is verbally committed to A&M. Farrar and Reed are close, in fact, and that could be a factor.
You can probably expect Klemm to be in the state of Texas before the evaluation period is over (end of this month), and he’ll also be there to see Stephan Zabié, the offensive tackle prospect from Austin Westlake. Klemm has been on Zabie pretty strongly and the prospect has become a high-priority target for many programs after an impressive showing at The Opening Dallas.
Perhaps the biggest OL news is that Wyatt Davis, the five-star offensive guard prospect from Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco and one of UCLA’s top targets for the 2017 class, will be on UCLA’s campus Saturday. Klemm already was at St. John Bosco to watch Davis practice during the eval period, and now the plan is for Davis to hang with Klemm for a day at UCLA. While Stanford has recently been considered the leader, we do know that the Davis family wouldn’t mind having their son in the L.A. area. This one will probably be a protracted deal, so bunker down.
It’s thought that it’s between UCLA and Oregon for offensive tackle target Andrew Vorhees from Kingsburg (Calif.). Vorhees took a visit to Eugene that impressed him, but UCLA was probably the leader before that.
A new name for offensive line recruiting: Ronald Rudd, the JC prospect from Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Chaffey College. Rudd is 6-6 and 300 pounds, and is having a good spring, with many programs offering and pursuing (Baylor, Colorado, Kansas State, Missouri). He’s a three-to-play-two guy and, if his academics check out, expect UCLA to pursue him and for him to visit campus soon.
UCLA is probably out of it for Austin Jackson, the five-star tackle prospect from Phoenix (Ariz.) North Canyon. The Bruins, though, are holding steady with NorCal offensive line prospects Alijah Vera-Tucker from Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O’Dowd and Aaron Banks, from El Cerrito.
Klemm and Defensive Line Coach Angus McClure (who recruits the Bay Area) will have been in NorCal quite a bit during this eval period, with the region pretty stocked with talent for 2017, especially OL talent. They are both expected to make a second Bay Area Trip, and to visit Jalen McKenzie at Concord (Calif.) Clayton Valley. McKenzie, of course, is the brother of former five-star and current Tennessee DL Kahlil McKenzie, and the son of Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie. The family and Klemm go way back, so there's a strong connection, especially with Mrs. McKenzie being a UCLA alum. Jalen has always been a good-looking prospect, but the issue is that he's suffered two ACLs in his young career. Klemm and McClure will get their first look at Jalen this spring probably later this month, and how he looks in his high school practice could go a very long way to determining his physical status and recruitment.
McClure was in attendance at the recent Passing Down 7-on-7 Best in the West, since his son, Hamish McClure, a quarterback at Encino Crespi, competed at the event. It wasn’t coincidental, then, that UCLA quickly offered three-star defensive end Terrance Lang, from Pasadena (Calif.) Maranatha, who also competed in the event. Lang, who is about 6-6 and 270, runs well for his size and showed decent ball skills. In other words, for how big he is, he’s an exceptional athlete. After UCLA offered, we’ve heard the Bruins quickly rose to the top of his list, over USC, Cal, Oregon State and Washington State (who have all offered), and it’s expected that he’ll visit the Westwood campus again this summer. On the next level, Lang would probably get his first shot at defensive end, but it’s not much of a stretch to see him eventually become an offensive tackle (with his wide body, it’s easy to see him at 300 pounds by his second year in college), and with his athleticism and long arms, there’s some tremendous upside there.
McClure has been all over the country during the evaluation period, most recently seeing Xach Gill, the three-star defensive tackle from Wake Forest (North Carolina), who has been a pretty hot commodity this spring. Gill is a big dude, at about 6-5 and 285, and could probably play either interior DL position and maybe some defensive end. He’s getting strongly pursued by the Power 5 close to him -- North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, and Tennessee -- but this is a case where UCLA might actually have a shot at a recruit from the South. He’s a very high academic kid, and he has family connections to the Los Angeles area. Gill will visit UCLA this summer and that, of course, will be a big factor in his recruitment.
We’re continuing to hear it’s a UCLA-USC race for Popo Aumavae, the four-star defensive tackle from Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary’s. He visited both UCLA and USC during spring, and coaches from both schools have been to his high school since. UCLA, though, has been on Aumavae longer and could have the familiarity advantage.
The Bruins have also been showing some interest in Brett Kitrell, a defensive tackle from Ashland (Neb.) Ashland-Greenwood. Kitrell just received his first BCS offer, from Minnesota, and he’s bound to get more. At 6-4 and 280, well-built and lean, he’s a good-looking prospect, with good feet, which gives him some versatility; in fact, he might be better suited for the other side of the ball at offensive line.
UCLA isn’t giving up on Marlon Tuipulotu, the defensive tackle from Independence (Ore.) Central, who recently verbally committed to Washington in a bit of a surprise. UCLA was thought to be the leader for Tuipulotu, and then after a visit to Washington he committed, and we heard it was even a surprise for the Washington staff. The recruitment, though, probably isn’t over; remember, McClure is an artist at continuing to recruit committed-elsewhere prospects and flip them, so expect McClure to make that same type of effort here. McClure is expected at Central during the evaluation period, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Tuipulotu and his family took another unofficial visit to UCLA’s campus sometime in the next couple of months.
UCLA might have a shot at some other guys who are verbally committed elsewhere. A.J. Epenesa, the No. 1 defensive end in the nation from Edwardsville (Ill.), is verbally committed to Iowa, but he has some Bruin family ties. He’s related to former UCLA defensive lineman Sealii Epenesa, and also current lineman Jacob Tuioti-Mariner. He’s a longshot to flip, but he’ll visit UCLA this summer.
The Bruins might have a better shot with committed-elsewhere tight end Austin Allen, from Aurora (Neb.). The three-star is verbally committed to hometown Nebraska, but there could be a logjam of tight ends at Nebraska, and Allen is an academic kid that might favor a UCLA education. Allen is interesting, at about 6-8 and 220, and a basketball player, reminiscent a bit of Joe Fauria but perhaps a bit more explosive. He plays AAU basketball so he’ll be in Los Angeles this summer for basketball tournaments and intends to visit UCLA.
UCLA continues to recruit defensive tackle Martin Andrus, with assistant Eric Yarber recently visiting him at Los Angeles High. Andrus looked a bit under-weight at the Opening Los Angeles in late February, but the word is that he’s been bulking up and is probably now at 270-plus. We’ve heard Andrus favors UCLA and USC, but it will be interesting to see if the Bruins have him as a high priority in the long run.
If you’re talking defensive tackle recruiting, for UCLA it’s greatly about Greg Rogers, the nation’s No. 3-ranked defensive tackle from Las Vegas (Nev.) Arbor View. McClure saw him recently at his high school, and the UCLA coach is expected to visit Arbor View again to watch Rogers actually practice in the next couple of weeks. Everything we’ve heard is that UCLA is the leader over USC, but it’s close. He did, too, take an unofficial to Notre Dame, but some people who talked to him in South Bend thought he was leaning to UCLA. One source close to the recruitment believes he’ll take a decent amount of official visits, but another believes he could pull the trigger before he gets done with them. He’s supposed to visit UCLA again this summer and has established a connection with current verbals Jaelan Phillips and Hunter Echols that could work in the Bruins' favor.
UCLA recently offered four-star athlete C.J. Holmes, from Cheshire (Conn.) Cheshire Academy, and it marks a pretty good week for him. He competed at The Opening New Jersey, as a receiver, and earned an invite to The Opening Finals after no defensive backs could stay with him. He’s an impressive prospect, at 6-0 and 190; he’s one of those rare prospects that you could see at a variety of positions – receiver, running back or safety. He looks like a running back physically but was very impressive running routes last weekend. The UCLA angle is that we’ve heard the Bruins will have a chance with him. It looked like Penn State, Syracuse and Tennessee had been narrowed to a near-finalist group, but we’ve heard he’s very open to UCLA, just like his teammate, the aforementioned Black. The thing is, after his performance at The Opening there could other big-named schools jumping on the bandwagon.