Presley Gets UCLA In the Building

The commitment of Morrell Presley is a big one for Rick Neuheisel's UCLA program, not only because of how good Presley is, but what it could mean to UCLA's recruiting in terms of validating the program for the 2009 class and beyond -- and for winning a recruiting battle against USC...

UCLA getting Morrell Presley is big.

Very simply, Presley is an elite, five-star tight end/wide receiver prospect. He is one of those guys that legitimately can be characterized by the word "freak"; at 6-4 and 220 and running a 4.5 40, he's a match-up nightmare. If you line him up outside, he's too big for cornerbacks to guard, and if you line him up inside or in the slot, he's too fast for linebackers to cover.

He appeared to be the typically elite type of recruit that USC has been getting in recent years under head coach Pete Carroll. USC has practically been hand-picking them in Southern California. And they don't usually lose players that have committed, especially guys who commit at the end of their sophomore years in high school, as Presley did.

For 18 months, Presley, the Carson tight end who is considered the #1 prospect at his position in the country, was a solid commit to USC. With only two months to go until Signing Day, and with his graduation from Carson imminent, it looked like another case of UCLA missing out on an elite Southern California prospect to USC.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Heritage Hall: Presley made the switch to UCLA Wednesday (Story on Presley's Commitment to UCLA).

What does this mean? Is it potentially bigger than just one commitment?

From a perception standpoint, Presley coming to UCLA is significant, for a number of reasons.

Anytime you get the #1 player at a position it's a considerable coup. The fact that it's a position that is crucial to Norm Chow's offense makes its impact even greater.

Secondly, any time UCLA can land a player from the City Section, it helps with UCLA's profile among the L.A. inner-city schools. In fact, UCLA has done well in the last several years in terms of recruiting the inner-city, with this being the third year in a row UCLA has gotten the top prospect from the City. In 2007, it was defensive tackle Brian Price from Crenshaw, who was a Freshman All-American in 2007 and this season was named First Team All-Pac-10. In 2008, it was safety Rahim Moore from Dorsey, who started all 12 games for the Bruins as a true freshman this season, was an honorable mention all-Pac-10 pick and honorable mention Freshman All-American.

In terms of the 2009 class, the Presley commitment could reap dividends. Presley has relationships with many of the elite players UCLA is recruiting in the west. He and UCLA-committed quarterback Richard Brehaut (who Presley says he's close to) will be playing in the UnderArmour All-American Game January 4th in Orlando. That means Presley and Brehaut will be able to recruit Stan Hasiak, the UCLA-committed elite offensive lineman that has been waivering a bit, as well as elite offensive lineman Xavier Sua-Filo and the #1-rated linebacker in the country, Manti Te'o, all of whom are also playing in that game. Having a UCLA-committed Presley recruiting alongside Brehaut will make the UCLA pitch for these prospects that week in Florida all the more powerful.

Whether Presley will generate recruiting momentum for UCLA and be a pied-pier type of commitment for the 2009 class is difficult to say. We've heard from one major UCLA target just this morning, who wanted to remain anonymous. He said that Presley's commitment "means a lot" to him.

Presley is close to a number of USC-committed prospects. There are a few of them visiting UCLA officially January 11th. We would assume that Presley will be around on an unofficial visit that weekend to help facilitate any other commitment switches.

It definitely gives Neuheisel more ammunition in his crosstown recruiting war with the Trojans. It's not much of a stretch for Rick Neuheisel now to sell the fact that he achieved something that is unprecedented in at least a decade at UCLA – getting an elite prospect to de-commit from USC and commit to UCLA. It's definitely an indication, at least, that Neuheisel is attempting to take on USC, and has won a small battle in the war. It's an indication that UCLA has the artillery – Neuheisel, Chow, etc. – to be able to compete with USC in recruiting. In many ways, from a recruit's standpoint (and Presley's), it is possible for the first time in a very long time to reasonably understand why a recruit would pick UCLA over USC. You can play in Chow's offensive scheme, as opposed to playing under a new coordinator at USC with a relatively unknown scheme. Presley has hard facts: UCLA's tight end, Ryan Moya, made second-team All-Pac-10, with 38 receptions on the season, as opposed to USC's starting tight end, Anthony McCoy, who finished the season with 18 catches.

It's natural for people – and recruits – to be drawn to a program they consider up-and-coming, as opposed to one that is trying to stay near the top, and that could find it hard-going in the next couple of years to do so. USC is undoubtedly very talented and will be for years, but the idea might be sneaking into the minds of recruits that USC isn't what it was when it had Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Mike Williams. And most importantly – Norm Chow. It has a new offensive scheme, it could be losing some coaches from its staff this season, and there are the potentially impending NCAA actions as a result of the on-going Reggie Bush investigation hanging like a dark cloud over the program. We know first-hand that many USC-committed recruits have been keeping the door of other options ajar just in case the USC program was hit with NCAA sanctions.

This commitment is kind of a double-whammy on both sides of the momentum mountain – validating Neuheisel's UCLA program as indeed "up-and-coming," even after a 4-8 season, and raising doubts about the longevity of USC's success and whether it's slipping.

The premature UCLA advertisement this season that said that USC's recruiting "monopoly" was over was a great deal of bravado, but Presley de-committing from USC and committing to UCLA Wednesday very well could be the first step in backing up some of that bravado.

Even beyond the UCLA-USC ramifications of the Presley commitment, there also could be a sense that the commitment is a break-through, watershed type for Rick Neuheisel's program. It could be a Jordan Farmar-type for Neuheisel, one that not only puts him on the battle field with USC, but validates him with the 2009 class, and beyond.


From UCLA's Official Release:

Presley Enrolls for Winter Quarter

Morrell Presley, the No. 1 prep tight end in the nation, has signed a "Statement of Intent to Register" at UCLA and has enrolled in classes for Winter Quarter, which begins on Jan. 5, 2009.

Presley, who just graduated from Carson (CA) High School, is rated the nation's top tight end by Scout.com and ESPN.com. He is scheduled to play in the UnderArmour All-America Game in Orlando, FL, next month.

"I am obviously thrilled with Morrell's decision," said UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel. "He is a quality young man with tremendous upside as an athlete.

"Morrell personifies the new age tight end," Neuheisel said of the 6-4, 215-pound Presley. "He is physical, so he can mix it up, yet agile enough to create mismatches with opponent defenses.

"He will love UCLA," Neuheisel concluded.


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