Sanford rings in another strong class

UNLV coach Mike Sanford had some company when he made his home visit with key defensive end recruit B.J. Bell in Tustin Calif.

Joining Sanford and Bell's mother, Joanne Wilson, were a couple of B.J.'s big brothers, former UNLV starting linebackers Beau and Zach Bell.

A slam-dunk for the Rebels, right?

"The thing that was great is those guys handled it right," Sanford said. "They didn't pressure him. They didn't tell him what to do, but they also helped him with the whole process. They acted like mature, good brothers like you would expect them to. They handled the thing very well."

And in the end, Bell brother No. 3, a pass-rushing defensive end who drew early interest from Pac-10 and Big 12 schools en route to first team J.C. Gridwire All-American honors, decided to sign a national letter of intent with the Rebels on Wednesday.

Bell is one of 22 new recruits in what Sanford is calling his best recruiting class since taking over for John Robinson five years ago. Although he doesn't arrive on campus until the fall, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Bell is expected to fill a big void on a UNLV defensive line that managed just 11 sacks last season. That ranked the Rebels in a tie for 115th nationally.

"Without a doubt," Sanford said when asked if Bell would compete for a starting job right away. "We needed to get a pass-rushing defensive end. Getting B.J. Bell was a huge get for us."

Bell was just one of a number of heavily recruited national prospects who comprise what was generally rated one of the top four recruiting classes in the Mountain West Conference by most recruiting gurus.

"I would say it's the best class since I've been here," Sanford said. "I feel very good about what we've done with this recruiting class."

Perhaps the biggest goal was plugging a secondary that managed a Mountain West Conference low seven interceptions while tying New Mexico for a league worst 24 touchdowns allowed.

The Rebels signed eight defensive backs including four from the junior college ranks. Three of the JC transfers — corners Warren Zeigler (6-foot-1, 180) of College of San Mateo and Kenny Brown (6-0, 180) from College of the Canyons and safety Alex DeGiacomo (6-1, 190) from El Camino College in Torrance, Calif. — enrolled at midyear and will take part in spring practice drills that begin March 9. Another junior college corner, Mike Grant (5-10, 180) of Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif., will arrive in the fall.

"Improving our secondary was a big thing for us," Sanford said. "We wanted to improve the competition and improve our depth. I feel like we addressed that issue."

Another big focus was improving team speed.

"We've got some exciting speed players," Sanford said. "Mark Barefield, Warren Zeigler, Charles Childers, Bradley Randle, Marcus Sullivan, Irshad Stolden, John Therrell, Sidney Hodge — we've got some guys who can really run. I think that's a real plus to get some people that can run like that."

Sanford said he expected all four junior college defensive backs as well as Bell to be immediate contributors.

The high school class, which featured five Las Vegas High School area products, was led by running back Bradley Randle (5-10, 190, 4.4) of Vista Murrieta High in Murrieta, Calif., quarterback Caleb Herring (6-4, 180) of Citrus Hill High School in Perris, Calif., and linebacker Jordan Barrett (6-3, 230) of southern California prep powerhouse Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks.

Barrett was regarded as one of the top 50 prospects in southern California entering his senior year by and received early scholarship offers from Notre Dame and Washington.

"We put him aside almost in a class by himself early in the recruiting process," Sanford said. "We just felt like he was a guy that no matter what happened that we wanted to take. He's a big, athletic, smart, fast physical linebacker who can play a lot of things and contribute in a lot of ways. It's great to get a guy with that kind of ability from that kind of program."

Randle, the son of former big leaguer Lenny Randle, caused a big stir among Internet video watchers with a highlight package that brought some Reggie Bush comparisons.

"He's a dynamic runner who can make you miss and has the speed to go the distance," Sanford said. "I think he's a special runner. I think he's a Barry Sanders-type of runner."

Sanford also had high praise for Sullivan, a Cheyenne High product who figures to play immediately as a freshman.

"He's a dynamic player with the ball in his hands and one of the three of four fastest players in the state," Sanford said.

The Rebels had to withstand a strong late push from Oregon to keep Herring, a quarterback who led his team to back-to-back 14-0 records and CIF titles.

"I think he has a tremendous upside," Sanford said. "The number one thing is that he is just a tremendous kid from a great family. His dad, Michael Herring, played quarterback at Long Beach Poly back in the '80s and also played point guard there. A lot of guys that I recruited back then when I was at Long Beach State were friends of Michael. So there's a lot of history there.

"Caleb is really, really good now but has a tremendous upside. He's accurate with a strong arm and tall. He can run. We're very excited about him."


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