UCLA football recruiting is currently in a precarious situation. The disappointing season and a very demoralizing loss to USC has made a substantial hit on UCLA's recruiting. In early November, UCLA was poised to sign a top-five class, with UCLA scholarships a precious commodity and going fast. It looked like UCLA wouldn't have enough scholarships to go around, and that they'd have to save the last nine for only very elite, highly-ranked prospects. Now, in the beginning of December, after the devastating last month, things have changed. Some of those highly-ranked players have dropped UCLA, or UCLA has fallen down their lists. While UCLA will probably fill its last nine rides, it almost certainly won't be with the level of talent it looked like it was going to fill them with a month ago.
UCLA has quite a bit of ground to make up in recruiting over the next two months. It looks like it has succeeded in damage control with its committed players, even though it might be prudent to keep an open mind about potential de-commitments. I'm not saying I'm privy to any player that is contemplating de-committing, but there is still a possibility. It's been reported that committed running back Shelton Sampson has plans to visit either Washington or Notre Dame this weekend, which could precipitate a de-commitment (We'll try to contact Sampson in the next couple of days).
With seemingly the committed guys still committed, the ground UCLA will now have to make up is with the highly-regarded prospects that they were doing very well with a month ago. It's been well-documented what's transpired in regards to Lorenzo Booker. While Booker now says he's put UCLA back on his list after saying he had dropped the Bruins, it's still a longshot that UCLA will get Booker. The other high-profile prospects that UCLA will be fighting for are Winston Justice, Hershel Dennis, Fred Matua, and Nathan Rhodes.
Rhodes actually will come to campus today for his official visit, taking a rare mid-week official visit. Rhodes, as of few weeks ago, seemed to be starting to lean back toward UCLA (if you remember, UCLA was his early leader), but it's difficult to know how he's feeling now. He has an impressive list of visits on his schedule, including those to Washington, Tennessee, Michigan and Nebraska. His Tennessee visit is January 11th, so if he holds out and takes all his trips, his recruiting saga won't be over until late January, at the earliest. The fact that UCLA is his first visit could be good or bad, but the fact that it's mid-week, a without other recruits on their trips with him, could be considered a detriment. The word, though, was also that Rhodes didn't think he'd make it to January before deciding and that UCLA was his leader and he wanted to make sure he got in an official visit to UCLA so he could make up his mind fairly quickly. I think it's safe to expect Rhodes to take his visit to Washington and Tennessee in the next couple of weeks, but it could be a lot for him to hold out through January. But Rhodes did have Michigan as one of his favorites for a while and he could be determined to take that trip January 4th.
Winston Justice is the Jamal Sampson of this year's football recruiting season. If you remember from last year in basketball recruiting, Sampson was notorious for telling different reporters entirely different things, depending on who the reporter was and Sampson's mood. Justice is doing pretty much the same. He's done it so much that it becomes difficult to even trust inside sources. Those sources insist that UCLA still has the inside track for Justice, but I'm skeptical. Even though he's flirting with Washington and other out-of-town schools, USC definitely is the competition here, and, in my opinion, tough to beat. USC will romance him with promises of starting as a true freshman and use the win over UCLA to its fullest. Justice, also, hasn't passed the SAT, which bodes better for USC since the Trojans are traditionally more able to recruit prospects with academic concerns. Justice could be one of those that believes UCLA's academics could be too difficult. Justice will visit UCLA on January 11th, and doesn't have plans to visit USC as of yet.
Hershel Dennis has been a difficult man to contact recently. He said some pretty eye-opening statements about being close to committing to UCLA after the UCLA/Cal game and that UCLA was his leader. It's believed now that UCLA no longer leads and that USC has moved up again. It's still only speculation on whether Dennis and Booke would go to the same school. While publicly they state that it wouldn't matter to them, and that could be true, sources behind the scenes said that they wouldn't go to the same program. Dennis hasn't arranged an official visit with UCLA. He'll visit Washington next weekend and has Florida arranged for January 11th. It might be good for UCLA to push for him to reschedule that Florida visit so he could visit UCLA along with his Poly teammate, Winston Justice. Dennis, though, has been one of the most enigmatic recruits this year, and he's entirely too hard to get a bead on. The prevailing thought is that USC could have the advantage but UCLA has a good chance.
Fred Matua is another big-named prospect that had UCLA leading only a few weeks ago, but now sources indicate he's completely up for grabs. He'll visit USC on December 14th, and then UCLA and Notre Dame in January, and could visit Oklahoma, Nebraska or Hawaii. Matua will more than likely not leave town, so it's probably, again, between UCLA and USC. Among all the big-named recruits on this list, Matua is probably the one UCLA has the best chance with. It's good that he'll visit USC first, because it would be difficult to imagine him committing after his first trip. After getting hit hard with recruiting through the holidays, he could be prepared to commit soon after his UCLA trip January 11th. This one is truly up for grabs, and we'll see if UCLA can get this one done. He's a key recruit – with defensive line being a position that UCLA needs to fill.
Zach Latimer would have been exactly what the doctor ordered for UCLA, but it appears that UCLA is running a distant fourth for him at this point.
Trent Edwards is the recruit that, if he decided on UCLA, it would be the exact boost that UCLA needs right now, given the state of the UCLA quarterbacking situation. While he keeps maintaining that UCLA has a good chance with him, all signs – both public and private – point to Stanford. He's taking his visit to Stanford this weekend and hopefully he won't commit on the trip. UCLA gets him the weekend after that and he more than likely will decide shortly thereafter.
If UCLA gets even two of these guys it would go a long way in softening the blow of UCLA's season, and go a long way to ensuring UCLA will have the top-flight talent it needs over the next couple of years.
THE CLOSEST THING TO A LOCK
Justin Medlock, the kicker, is probably the closest thing to a lock, and not just because of his name. He heavily favors UCLA, and took his trip to Oregon last week, which looked to be the closets competition. He said he had a good time on the trip but UCLA still led. Expect him to commit this weekend when he visits UCLA.
BEST BETS FOR UCLA TO GET AMONG THOSE OFFERED
On the list of "Best Bets" among the recruits UCLA has offered are probably Jarrad Page, Aaron Miller, and Antwuan Smith. These three are long-time heavy Bruin leans, with ties to UCLA and the program, and it'd be an extreme upset if they went anywhere else. They are also probably collapse-proof, meaning that their recruitment is probably not affected too much by UCLA's late-season collapse. All three will visit UCLA December 14th, and probably the most likely to pop would be Smith. Page and/or Miller could commit also, but Page has insisted he wants to take as many of his trips as possible. More than likely, though, it's a good bet that UCLA will get these three.
PROSPECTS THAT UCLA HAS OFFERED THAT THEY'RE PROBABLY LEADING FOR
The headliner of this group is Rhema McKnight. He definitely belongs in the group of elite recruits above, but he's listed here just because the general feeling is that UCLA is leading for him. He tripped to Oregon last weekend and, while he plays it close to the vest with reporters, many of the recruits on that trip with him said they're impression was that McKnight would go to UCLA. He is another big, key recruit in this class. Not only will his commitment help soften the blow of the season, it dramatically helps an ailing and thin receiving corps. McKnight is talented enough to come in and contribute immediately as a true freshman.
Keith Jackson is a long-time Bruin lean who will take other trips but UCLA will be tough to beat for him. He's pretty valuable to UCLA in many ways: He's a huge lineman that can play either side of the ball, and he's got a brother, Lawrence, who's one of the most talented juniors on the west coast as a defensive end at Inglewood.
UCLA looks to be in good shape with Glenn Ohaeri, mostly because of the lack of competition at this point. He tripped to Cal last weekend and has a trip to Notre Dame planned for January. Both of those schools will be hard pressed to recruit him as long as they don't have a head coach, and it's uncertain whether the new coach at Notre Dame will choose to recruit him.
It's really undetermined how well UCLA is doing with JC DT Ryan Boschetti, but sources close to the JC scene indicate that UCLA is probably leading for him. Boschetti, the #1 JC DT prospect in the country, will be on his official UCLA visit this weekend. He would be able to enroll in January, participate in spring practice and has three years to play two. He's also considering Arizona, Iowa and others.
PROSPECTS OFFERED THAT UCLA HAS A SHOT WITH
Offensive line prospect Clayton Walker is someone UCLA will target heavily in the remaining recruiting season. He is leaning to Washington but is originally from the L.A. area and grew up a UCLA fan. David Beall is another offensive lineman that UCLA has offered and wants but leans elsewhere, in this case, to Stanford. Beall visited Stanford last weekend and didn't commit, and will visit UCLA officially this weekend.
Among the Texas prospects UCLA has offered, UCLA has the best shot with corner Willie Andrews. He'll visit UCLA on the 14th.
Thomas Bachman will announce his decision in a couple of weeks, but the general feeling is that Texas Tech was on him for so long and so hard that they'd be tough for him to turn down.
PROSPECTS THEY COULD MOVE ON
Alex Potasi, the offensive lineman from Narbonne, is probably the top candidate in this category. He has yet to be offered, but has made it pretty clear that UCLA did offer him he'd be leaning heavily UCLA's way. He's also said he'd get far more interested in USC if the Trojans offered him, too. Marcus O'Keith, Potasi's teammate, could also trip to UCLA, who could be considering him as an athlete with very good speed.
Mike Nixon is a prospect that UCLA has been continuing to recruit for a while without offering. Nixon has long said that UCLA was his favorite and if they offered he'd almost certainly go there. The latest word is that Nixon will take an official visit to UCLA and more than likely the Bruins will offer. So, if Nixon hasn't been too turned off by UCLA putting him on hold for so long, he is probably a very likely recruit that UCLA will get.
UCLA could also step up its recruitment of lineman Robin Kezirian, the newphew of the director of academic services for the football program, Ed Kezirian, and cousin of current tight end, Blane Kezirian. If UCLA was looking like it wasn't going to fill all of its scholarships, he would be a good bet for one.
Also, another lineman has emerged as a real possibility. He's Brandon Gray, a 6-4, 280-lb. lineman from Cathedral City, Calif, Gray has attended many UCLA games and is apparently pretty talented. He can also play either side of the ball. UCLA very well could move on Gray.
The lineman from Arizona, Stephen Berg is another possibility. He hasn't yet been asked to visit officially, but it could be forthcoming.
Others that UCLA could step up its recruitment of are Paul Williams, the wide receiver from Avenal; Curtis Brown, the running back who could also play defense from Paraclete; Donny McClesky, the running back/athlete from La Puente Bishop Amat; Dane Simmons, a good-looking wide receiver/athlete prospect from Alta Loma; wide receiver Chad McCullar and defensive back Willie Gaston, both from Houston (Tex.) Northshore; Fletcher Session, an undersized but quick linebacker prospect from Tyler (Tex.) High; and Noah Strozier, the defensive back from Missouri. (There are probably a few others that are on UCLA's list and we'll try to get more information on who they are soon).
Much has said about the possibility of JC quarterback Nathan Chandler. As of right now, I'd say that UCLA probably won't move on him. I've heard from some scouts on Chandler, and they don't believe he's good enough for UCLA to take. However, if UCLA does continue to evaluate him and believes he has a chance to contribute, they very well could bring him in, just to give them another option at the position.
The word is that UCLA is no longer recruiting defensive back Roshawn Pope, running back Selvin Young, or JC DE Monte Parson.
PROJECTED PROSPECTS TO FILL OUT THE CLASS
Nine Remaining for Fall:
Page, Smith and Miller, as stated above, would be upsets if they went elsewhere. McKnight is the recruit among the elite guys who inside sources and gut feeling have going to UCLA. I generally don't have a good gut feeling about Justice or Matua. JC DT Boschetti is a good bet, and a very good get. Ohaeri seems like a good bet, too, given the competition for him. UCLA will probably tell him he can come in as an athlete and try out wherever he wants, and it will probably eliminate the last reservation for UCLA with him. There are those, too, that think he is an excellent running back that could end up as good as the other more highly-touted running backs in this class. When it comes down to it, Keith Jackson is more than likely a Bruin. I think with a lack of good linebacker prospects, especially being recruited by UCLA, Nixon's versatility might be attractive. Since it appears he's tripping, an offer will probably follow and he's always said UCLA is where he wanted to be. The last spot available for the fall incoming class will more than likely come down to among three linemen, Rhodes, Potasi and Gray. If Rhodes goes elsewhere expect UCLA to Potasi over Gray. Going out on a little limb, I'll say UCLA gets Rhodes and they don't have to pull the trigger on Potasi or Gray. But if Rhodes waits too long UCLA very well could offer Potasi or Gray, which, if the scenario played out, could preclude Rhodes from a scholarship.
If this happens, or a reasonable facsimile, combined with the talent UCLA already has verbally committed, it probably gives UCLA a top ten national recruiting class. There might be a lack of elite guys in the class, but it's stocked with top recruits and the class has 25 prospects, which is key in getting a high national class ranking.