Q&A With Neuheisel on Class

Head Coach Rick Neuheisel answered questions from the media about UCLA's 2008 recruiting class, about keeping them together, the bond they created, and some of the players he sees that could have a chance to immediately contribute...

Head Coach Rick Neuheisel's opening statement:

"I'm excited as I can be. We're elated here at UCLA to be welcoming 21 future Bruins. It is a great day and we still hope there is more good news on the way.  It's a great day for us, the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Karl Dorrell, my predecessor here at UCLA. He's a great friend, and the job he did in bringing about these kids and recruiting these guys early on in the process, getting them to buy into the UCLA mystique, and buying into the UCLA experience, and DeWayne Walker picking up the torch and holding on to the kids the throughout the whole time and through the transitional period, and then obviously a host of us trying to make sure the guys got to the finish line. I'm very proud of everyone's effort. And maybe I'm the most proud of the kids. They did such a nice job in believing in each other, and believing that each other as the people that were going to be apart of UCLA back to the forefront in terms of the national scene and the national elite programs in the country. I'm excited about it. We addressed a lot of critical needs, especially in the skill department, both on defense and on offense. And I think we also kept a real strong, close-knit bond with the community here. We have kids from the city, we have kids from the Orange County. It's a heavily-laden group of elite kids and especially Southern California kids. I'm thrilled with that, and thrilled with everyone's effort, as I said, and I'm looking forward to getting these guys on campus as quickly as is possible to begin what I think is going to be a very exciting time for the class of 2008."

Can you talk about a few of the indidivual recruits? First, Aundre Dean...

"Aundre Dean is the prototype I-back, tailback. It's clear when you watch the tape that he knows how to run behind a fullback. He's a ready-made physical player. Sometimes you look at young players and you have to project what they're going to look like from a physical standpoint. This is a guy who can come in and compete right away. Obviously we're elated that he also comes from a great family. Discipline is a cornerstone in his home. And he also is a good student. So, he's the prototype UCLA student athlete. He's another great back from Texas. We have a long line of youngsters who come from Texas and have done great things here at UCLA."

How about Nelson Rosario?

"I went and saw Nelson. He's from El Camino down in Oceanside, California, and I went down and saw him at basketball program. And in about 20 minutes he had about four tomahawk dunks that were NBA-caliber. I got to shake hands with him when he was done with practice and his fingers are at least an inch longer than my own. He's 6-5 ½, he broad jumps 24 feet, he high jumps close to 6-10, he's a 50-foot triple-jumper, and his parents are both Marines. I think he's exactly what we're looking for. I'm fired up Nelson Rosario."

What about Aaron Hester?

"Aaron Hester has just blossomed. He's a speedster from Dominguez High School. He's grown by leaps and bounds in the last year, I guess. I wasn't around him when he was developing, but by all accounts he's grown, and now he has a great set of shoulders on him, and he's got that long wing span, which is such a weapon for shutdown corners. He's also on the 4X1 relay team that's among the nation's best. So we think we got a real gem in Aaron Hester."

What about Rahim Moore?

"Rahim Moore of Dorsey High is a very versatile secondary player, because he can play free safety and he can play the corner. Like Aaron, he has a long wing span and he has a frame that, coming from the NFL, which I just did, I know they're looking for. He's probably 200 pounds, or 195, right now, while he's running track, but he certainly could carry up to 215. He's a rangy type. Back in my era, like Kenny Easley and Don Rogers. So I'm extremely excited about Rahim."

What do you think of Datone Jones?

"Datone Jones is a great-looking defensive end prospect. When you're playing in the four-down you have to create some pressure off the edges. We just witnessed the New York Giants win the Superbowl based on the pressure brought by those front four guys. Datone Jones is the type of guy who could grow into and, if he does all the thing necessary, who could be eventually on the New York Giants front four. He's that kind of body. He's that kind of intensity that he brings, and that kind of speed. We're excited about Datone. We think he can be a presence at either the weakside or stongside defensive end."

What would it take for any of these guys to be contributors next year?

"First thing you ask yourself is, Are they physically developed to play right away? Normally, when you're talking about that, you're talking about running backs or secondary players, or possibly a wide receiver. Those are the guys that are usually physically blessed enough to go out and compete because the world isn't that much more complicated than it is in high school, when you're out there on the edges. When you're talking about in the trenches, as an offensive or defensive lineman, that's more difficult. It isn't out of the question. So we'll just wait and see how these guys blossom. I think, given our depth situation, we'd have to think that one of the tailbacks will have to play, and it wouldn't be outlandish to think we'd have one or two secondary guys play next fall."

Thirteen of these kids got together this morning. Can you talk about that? What's your reaction to those guys coming together as a group?

"That's what I think is so unique, and that's what I was pointing to in terms of congratulating Karl, and thanking Karl, and DeWayne, and all the guys who were on Karl's staff, because that's unique when kids bond like that. It's a tip of the hat to the guys that we're in charge here. And recruiting is more than just the coaching staff. It's all the support people who help immeasurable amounts to make people feel welcome, to make people understand that it's more than just a football experience. We have all sorts of support people involved in our academic programs here that just do a marvelous job. All of those people made these kids - and when I say kids I mean their families as well. They come from great families, that's one of the things I'm most proud about with this class. All of those people together created this unity thing, and they were all going to stick through it, through thick or thin. You really get tested through a time of transition. As witness today, at that occasion there in that restaurant in Los Angeles, Jerry Johnson's father was able to host this thing, it was really a special thing for all of those kids. I think more kids would have been there had they not had commitments at their own individual high school. So it's a unique class in that regard, and I think it's off to a great start in terms of the type of chemistry you need to be successful as we all want to be here at UCLA."

Even with all the kids in different classes, what was the thinking behind bringing in three quarterbacks?

"I looked at our depth chart, and we have two seniors and a junior at the top of it.  We all know that, at some point, we're going to have to name a starter. And when you name a starter, if you're not named the starter, kids can do different things, when they're left with their eligibility getting to where there's not much time.  So you have to protect against the possibility that one or even two would say, 'I'm going to go and play someplace else.' I certainly don't hope that happens, but you have to protect against it. So I started looking for a junior college quarterback and I found Kevin Craft. Mike Moscetti, and old player of mine who coached at Mt. SAC, alerted me to him. I got tape on him. I was certainly familiar with the father, the former head coach at San Diego State, and I admired what Tom did as an offensive mind. After watching Kevin I thought he was a bona fide player in the Pac-10. His options at the time were at other places that weren't as close as UCLA. I felt like it was the right thing to take a run at him, and fortunately he liked what he saw when he cam on campus. We're thrilled Kevin Craft is going to be a part of it. He'll be able to compete. One of the hallmarks of all great programs is there is going to be competition. If we can weed out people who are afraid of competition then we're going to be better for it. I certainly hope that isn't the case, but all of our players need to be on notice that we need to compete if we're going to start playing for the big prizes."

You mentioned you were still hopeful for good news to come. Is Milton Knox still in your plans?

"I can't mention any names. As I said, we're hopeful there is more news to come."

What's the likelihood you can add to this class?

"I'm going to remain optimistic."

Were there any surprises today, based on kids you did or did not get?

"Probably not surprises. I had hoped that more could happen and I still do. It's an interesting day, and I think there was great effort by the people here at UCLA. And I'm pointing to the people both before my arrival and currently, as everyone worked really, really hard in the last month, to get what I think is really an outstanding class for the future of UCLA football."

How important was it to keep these guys who were commited? And how difficult was it to convince them that you could do for them what the previous staff had said they could do for them?

"That's probably a better question for the earlier staff. Karl might be able to shed light on that. I know it's unusual, for guys to bond the way they have bonded, and then get them to buy into the notion that it's one for all, all for one, because this is a very competitive market place - recruiting - and there's lots of people who would love for you to come and look at their schools. And some of these kids ended up going and looking. So keeping them together you have to give a great deal of credit to the place we work, which is UCLA. It's a special place. You might go and look and see other places, but it's going to be hard to find someplace that's better than right here in Westwood, California, home to 100 national championships. We can go on and on about all the things UCLA stands for. It's a special place. But I think this group of kids thought of it as an opportunity to put UCLA football back on the map, and they created a special bond."

What is your opinion of Tony Dye and Damien Holmes?

"I think they're outstanding players and student athletes. When I went into Anthony Dye's home I saw all the hockey pictures. This is a guy that was hitting slap shots when he was about 7 years old. He likes to muck it up in the corners, which I guess is the terms they use. That's an unusual athlete. His father was a bona fide major league baseball player. So there are a lot of athletic genes in the family. His mother's a trainer at one of the junior colleges. So this guy grew up around it, and is competitive. I think he'll find a home in our secondary in the very near future.

"With Damien Holmes...one of the hard parts of recruiting is finding your defensive linemen, guys that are big enough and aggressive enough, and carry the grade point average to get into a place like UCLA. Damien Holmes is a poster child for those three things. He enjoys the contact, he enjoys playing with his pads low, and doesn't have any problem with his hand being on the ground, and playing very physical at the point of contact.  He's also a bona fide great student. We're thrilled that Damien and Tony are coming to UCLA."

How many scholarships do you have left? Do you have two left over still?

"For this particular class we could sign 25, but I think you numbers are probably right."

Do you see maybe a need that you'll go out and look for at this point?

"I don't think so. I think we're in good shape right now. As I said, there's still work to be done, and we're hopeful that will be successful. I think to save a number or numbers for next year when we're all in place and we have a chance to really be thorough going forward...there's optimism currently, and I think optimism will be even higher a year from now. To have more golden tickets, as I like to call them, isn't a bad thing."

The class seems light on linemen. You don't have a d-tackle in here. Is that something you really need to address in the next class? Did you try to address it in this class?

"I think it's something we desperately need to address in the next class. It's true on both sides of the ball. Certainly interior defensively, and then on the offensive line. We have two great young guys on the offensive line in Connor Bradford and Jeff Baca. I think both will be bona fide players here. But we need to go out next year and make that a point of emphasis, to go and get some quality, quality interior defensive linemen and offensive linemen."

How has the recruiting dynamics changed in the Pac-10 and nationally since you were at Washington?

"I think everything is just a little faster. We're talking about junior recruiting already, and the offers are out there. That's unique, a little different than when I was last here in the conference up in Seattle. But we're certainly capable of playing that game. We're going to get at it in earnest, and start our calendar with junior days and the like in the very near future. That's different from what I was last here."

What about the growth and focus in recruiting reporting?

"I think it's the growth of high school football in general. You can lots and lots of high school football games each week nationally.  In talking to some of the high school coaches in the last month, and listening to how many different opportunities they have to travel to different states and play major games on national television, and so forth, and television contracts and sponsorships, and the stadiums they're getting to play in, I think it's all very exciting for the young guys, as long as it doesn't distract them from their focus in high school to get an education. It's an exciting thing. High school football has really hit the map. It's fun for all of us in the game. Having been a high school coach not too long ago, it's exciting."

In all of your different stops, how difficult is it for a first-year coach, who doesn't have a full year ahead to recruit, to form those bonds with high school coaches, with players and parents?

"I think it's tougher if you had never done it before. Obviously I had been in the Pac-10 prior to coming here. We were at a lot of the same places and high schools. I had prior relationships that were basically a case of re-acquainting myself. The most difficult thing about coming into a college job is kind of becomes backwards. You end up recruiting the newcomers and getting to know the newcomers, the incoming freshmen, more than you get to know the kids in your program. The time allotted to getting the recruiting done when most of these hires take place isn't sufficient to get to know players. So you're spending your time away from campus getting to know the incoming guys, and spending very little getting to know the guys who are doing most of the heavy lifting in the upcoming season. That will be the chore now. To get to know all the guys in the progam. Because just like these kids just did, we need everyone to commit, and everybody to feel great about being at UCLA, and looking forward to challenges ahead and achieving some new things together."

What's Johnathan Franklin going to come in as, do you think?

"Johnathan would like to start as a tailback, I believe. You know his nickname is Jetski. When I asked home he got the name, he said the dirt kicked up from his feet when he starts digging in and churning out the hard yards. So if Jetski wants to play tailback at the outset we're going to give him a chance to do that. He's one of those kind of guys, and I told him this, that if there's a line that's a little shorter and he might be able to get on the field a little faster, he'll do that in a New York second. He just wants to help our football team. He's a great kid, that has a great mom, as all these kids do. It's a pleasure to have him join us."

Do you know where the DBs will wind up, safety or corner, or will that get worked out?

"It will all get worked out. Aaron Hester will start at corner. I think Tony Dye will start at corner. E.J. Woods and Rahim will probably start at safety. We'll see where Johnathan falls in, if he comes to the defensive side.  There is some moving around that could happen there. It could easily be Rahim goes to corner and Tony goes to safety. So we'll just wait and see how it all plays out."

Will Craft be able to get in to spring ball?

"My knowledge of that is he will not be able to participate in the spring game. But he's done with school, he's already achieved his AA, so he's allowed to be up here sitting in meetings and watching practice, and getting as much as you can get out of practice without participating.  And that's okay, because that will give reps to Osaar Rasshan, and to Pat Cowan and to Ben Olson, and obviously Chris Forcier, the young freshman in the program. It will give them all the chance to compete and we'll see where the dust settles at the conclusion of spring ball."

With Craft, he said he was still holding out hope he could participate in spring practice, and you could get him in in time, because he has his AA degree. Is that now by the way side?

"I'm not saying it's by the way side. I'm just referring to what I've been told. We'll certainly explore it. We'll do whatever the rules allow us to do."

So, it's not set yet? There is a chance he could come in for spring quarter?

"I'm just going to say we'll do whatever the rules allow us to do. I'm not positive on that question."

You made it a point that you wanted to beat the guys on the other side of town pretty badly...

"I said beat them, I didn't say pretty badly."

Can you talk about this recruiting class and where it stacks up against theirs?

"I have not analyzed their class. I know they do a good job over there. That goes without saying. You don't line up and have the type of success they've had over the last six or seven years without doing a great job in recruiting. I know Pete enjoys recruiting, as do I. But the proof is always in the pudding. I think we line up with them December 6th, so we'll wait and see how it stacks up then."

Does your defensive coordinator have some explaining to do for not being able to hang on to that wide receiver that went to Oregon State?

"You know what, when family politics get involved, I leave it to the family for that."

Did you have to explain anything to recruits about the articles that came out in the Seattle Times about your 2000 team at Washington?

"There was very little question about that. This is probably not the appropriate time to talk about that. I'd be happy to address that another time. Today is a celebration of our class, and some great kids and great families, and the tremendous accomplisment of being able to come to a place like UCLA."

Is there a chance you could get involved with another JC kid, like an offensive lineman?

"I don't have anything like that on the horizon right now. We'll wait and see if something were to occur in the future."

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