Brandon Huffman contributed to this story.
It's a big weekend for UCLA, on the field against its rival USC, but also in the recruiting trenches.
UCLA will host seven recruits this weekend on their official visits (at least this is the seven we know about at this point; UCLA sometimes sneakily adds official visitors to big weekends like this). And it's not only the biggest number of recruits visiting one program in the nation this weekend, but the most talented group.
This visit weekend has just about everything you'd want in terms of talent -- a couple of national five-star prospects, one local five-star prospect committed to USC, a local prospect UCLA has coveted for a while, one out-of-stater that has had UCLA as his leader for a long time, and an under-rated out-of-stater that UCLA would love to get to make up for a recruit at his position that was formerly committed to UCLA but flipped to USC. It's just about every type of recruiting drama you could want, especially so for the USC game weekend.
We've heard that some heavy hitters not taking their official visitors are also planning to attend the game and hang out with the recruits for the weekend, like UCLA-committed five-star DE, Jaelan Phillips, and long-time UCLA lean, five-star Darnay Holmes.
So here is a breakdown of each official visitor this weekend.
Baron Browning, Outside Linebacker, 6-4, 230, Kennedale (Texas)
Browning is the No. 2 outside linebacker nationally, the No. 25 overall prospect in the country and has been on UCLA’s short list for a long, long time. Browning was an early commit to Baylor but opened things up not long after Signing Day and has been back on the market ever since. UCLA linebacker coach Scott White has prioritized Browning as his top out-of-state target and it will come to fruition this weekend when he takes his much awaited official visit. Browning was supposed to visit at various points during the spring and summer for an unofficial but never was able to lock that in. So now comes the official and UCLA will put their best foot forward with Browning. For some time, the feeling has been that Browning would leave Texas and UCLA and Ohio State have been the two constants mentioned. Those two schools, in fact, are his final two visits, with Browning set to visit Columbus next weekend after he visits Los Angeles. The Buckeyes are the likely favorite so UCLA will have to blow him away this weekend. And you can’t entirely discount Texas or TCU (where his dad played) in making a late run. If UCLA could pull out Browning, it would be a huge boost to the 2017 class as well as give White the much-needed elite linebacker he needs for the class.
Lamont Wade, Cornerback, 5-10.5, 180, Clairton (Pa.)
Wade is the No. 3 corner in the country and No. 1 in the east, and the five-star is the No. 17 overall prospect in the 2017 class. His relationship with UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is a big reason why the Bruins are getting an official visit from him with Bradley using his long-standing ties to Pennsylvania to stay in the mix for Wade. The two in-state schools are making a major push for Wade, Pitt and Penn State. Yet, the feeling is that Tennessee could be the leader and he’s already visited. So with that, UCLA knows there is a good chance Wade will leave Pennsylvania for school and will try to convince him to head West instead of South. They’ll have their work cut out for them, but they’ve been diligent in recruiting Wade and now they’ll get their chance with him on his visit. It isn't expected that UCLA really was in the running for Wade, so if Bruins actually got him it'd be stunning.
Stephen Carr, Running Back, 6-0, 200, Fontana (Calif.) Summit
The No. 3 running back in the country and the No. 8 overall player in this class, Carr is one of the best running backs to come from Southern California in some time. In fact, were it not for Najee Harris, he would easily be the top running back in California. Plus, the gap between the two isn’t that wide. Carr has been committed to USC since April of 2015. But there have been rumblings for a while that he wasn’t 100% sold on the Trojans after their coaching change last fall and even through the spring. It got louder with their slow start. Yet he’s never come out and decommitted from USC. The Trojans were his dream school, which is why he picked them in the first place. But Michigan and Miami have been trying with him for a long time too and UCLA has never quit recruiting him. He’s the kind of back UCLA needs, a power runner, with speed, ability to catch the ball, strength, balance and vision. UCLA signed five of his Ground Zero teammates a year ago, one of them being his high school teammate, redshirting receiver Damian Alloway. And Demetrice Martin and Kennedy Polamalu haven’t quit recruiting him. But UCLA has work to do, and their running game issues this season haven’t helped their chances. So the hope is that Carr can come in and see that his talent is a missing piece and that it makes a compelling case for him. We still think it's a longshot for Carr and UCLA, but it was a bit of a surprise he's even taking an official visit.
My-King Johnson, Defensive End 6-3, 225, Tempe (Ariz.)
Johnson is a three-star at this moment, but we think that might be a bit under-rated merely because Scout just hasn’t seen him enough. It’s funny, because since Hunter Echols decommitted, UCLA has been looking for that second defensive end to complement the No. 1 defensive end in the nation verbally committed to UCLA, Jaelan Phillips, and Johnson is similar to Echols in size and playing style. He probably has a bit wider frame, with the ability to hold more weight than Echols, though. In fact, there are scouts, and college coaches talking in anonymity, who like Johnson better, thinking he has equivalent quickness, a body with more upside and a better temperament. That has earned him some impressive senior-year offers, from UCLA, USC, Texas A&M, and Oregon, to go along with one from ASU. Coming into UCLA with Phillips is a really smart idea, since defenses are going to be keying on Phillips and can’t double-team both defensive ends, and Johnson is an accomplished pass rusher in his own right. Since UCLA jumped into the picture in September, we’ve been hearing that Johnson likes UCLA quite a bit. In fact, we’ve heard that his official visit was moved up to the USC game because he very well could verbally commit soon.
Elijah Gates, CB, 5-11, 175, Buena Park (Calif.)
Gates is another of our favorites, another guy who shows grit, aggressiveness and relentlessness whenever he takes the field. He has great ball and tracking skills that make him a potential lock-down kind of guy. After some college seasoning, Gates is easily a potential two- to three-year starter at cornerback at UCLA. In a loaded year for cornerback in the west, he’s one of the elite prospects at the position. Gates has always had UCLA toward the top of his list. There have been times when he got some considerable attention from other programs, but we’ve heard he’s kept his interest in UCLA, even when he knows UCLA is going to get the much-hyped Darnay Holmes. He's close with Holmes, grew up knowing him, and there was a thought he might want to get away from Holmes' spotlight. Demetrice Martin would love to get both Gates and Holmes to go along with the already-committed guys, Jaylan Shaw and Quentin Lake, and it would make the 2017 DB class a truly elite one. Gates visited Oregon last weekend and still intends to visit TCU, Colorado and Cal, and while any of those three could pull an upset, we’ve heard right now it’s a UCLA/Oregon battle.
Chaz Ah You, Safety, 6-1.5, 190, Provo (Utah) Timpview
Ah You is the No. 2 safety in the West, the No. 9 safety nationally, and has been one of UCLA’s longest standing safety targets. He was offered by the Bruins in June after his sophomore year and UCLA has been doing extremely well with him ever since the idea. Ah You is a true sideline to sideline safety, superb in coverage and physical with big-hitting ability. The visit to UCLA will be his first official visit. He is still planning to visit Notre Dame and Stanford and could visit the two in-state schools too, Utah and BYU. BYU is making a push for Ah You; his father, Jasen, is the Director of Football Athletic Relations at BYU, but Ah You has said at no point has there been any family pressure to go to BYU. Ah You has said he’s pretty set on serving his LDS mission right out of high school so he wouldn’t enroll anywhere until the fall of 2019. And UCLA is completely fine with that, further helping their cause. The Bruins have been the leader for Ah You for some time and we think the visit will only solidify that more.
Ronald Ruddis the JC offensive tackle who is verbally committed to UCLA. He's big, long and has looked very good this season for Chaffey. There's still a bit of a question if Rudd will qualify, but the thought is that he has a very good chance, and will come in and immediately compete at the one open tackle spot for the 2017 season.