Commentary

Bruins' bright future

With a beautiful campus, great history and an elite coach, what's not to like about UCLA

Originally Published: November 18, 2009
By Jc Shurburtt | Scouts Inc.

UCLA is one of the highest-profile collegiate athletic programs in the country. It's as well-known of an institution as there is when it comes to collegiate sports and is located in one of the largest cities in America, which happens to be the greatest talent-producing metropolitan area in California that produces more football prospects than any other.

There is a beautiful campus, home games played in one of the most historic stadiums in America (the Rose Bowl) and some winning tradition. When you blend those built-in factors with one of the top recruiting coaches in America in Rick Neuheisel, chances are the talent is going to start flowing in for the Bruins -- and it has. That makes for a bright future in Westwood.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
Matt Brown/Icon SMIRick Neuheisel has verbal commitments from five four-star prospects and one five-star prospect in the Class of 2010.

With a five-star athlete, two elite running back prospects and the recent commitment of an ESPNU 150 linebacker prospect, there is no question that UCLA is one of the hottest recruiting teams in the country for this recruiting cycle. This comes on the heels of the Bruins signing the nation's No. 14 and No. 17 classes during Neuheisel's first two cycles.

Those classes currently are the backbone of the Bruins' program.

"We've signed 47 players since we've been here," UCLA director of on-campus recruiting Angus McClure said. "Of those, 13 are currently freshman that are redshirting. That leaves 34 players. Of those, 33 are seeing playing time either on offense, defense or special teams. We had 18 freshman and sophomores start the last two games. That makes us one of the youngest teams in the country."

While there is certainly talent on campus, a look at this year's class is even more reason for optimism. Earlier this week, the Bruins reached across the country to snag four-star ESPNU 150 linebacker prospect Aramide Olaniyan (Woodberry Forest, Va./Woodberry Forest). Olaniyan joined five-star athlete Tony Jefferson (Chula Vista, Calif./East Lake), and four-star ESPNU 150 running backs Jordan James (Corona, Calif./Corona) and Malcolm Jones (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian).

"I was blown away by the coaches, the campus, everything," Olaniyan said. "Coach Neuheisel gave my family and I a personal tour of the campus and that meant a lot to me. It was the first place I had been where I had no questions about the academics, athletics or anything and I really liked Los Angeles."

Olaniyan's commitment is an aberration. While UCLA does comb the country for players like any other school, Neuheisel and his staff are focused on the Golden State and Los Angeles in particular. They have been successful in doing so both in this and previous classes, signing a total of six Under Armour All-American/ESPNU 150 prospects from the Los Angeles area in the 2008 and 2009 cycles.

"The idea is first of all, to do a very good job locally," Neuheisel said. "We are located in a city of 20 million people, so it doesn't make much sense for our guys to get on a lot of airplanes. The key is to be very good at home. Ideally, we would like for 75-80 percent of our roster to be from in-state."

McClure added that UCLA will always recruit "the sons of Californians" first, but that they ultimately are looking for the best players in the country. Such is the case with a player like Olaniyan. When UCLA goes to look for out-of-state talent, they have to make sure first and foremost that the player is a fit for the school, which is competitive from an admissions standpoint. Neuheisel said that the Bruins do some "pretty extensive mailing" to find out what prospects are interested and then they whittle down the list to the prospects with legitimate interest.

[+] EnlargeTony Jefferson
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comTony Jefferson will be staying close to play his college ball at UCLA.

The staff also points to several examples of players who have come to UCLA from other parts of the country and succeeded. One of the best examples was Super Bowl-winning offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. He signed with the Bruins out of Washington, D.C., won the 1995 Outland Trophy and was a first-team All-American.

Olaniyan is the third player that hails from east of the Mississippi River to commit to UCLA in this cycle. The number of prospects from the East seriously considering Pac-10 programs has increased this season. It used to be that USC was the only program that could go east with any sort of success, but now some of the top prospects from that side of the country are making official visits, committing and signing with places like Oregon, California, Stanford and UCLA, in addition to USC.

"The country is getting smaller because of the ability to travel and because of the Internet," Neuheisel said. "It gives families a liaison to all schools, regardless of location. Certainly, the Pac-10 is as competitive as any conference in the country and that's a selling point."

McClure made mention of UCLA's high visibility as an institution and technology.

"(UCLA) is a worldwide brand," he said. "Plus, with the technology, it's easier for coaches to evaluate prospects, whether it's on YouTube or somewhere else like that. That makes the process much easier than sending off tape to a coach, getting him to copy it and then him sending it back or something like that. We can identify players faster."

USC, located 14 miles away, has established itself as one of the top programs in the country this decade, and routinely signs the top talent from Los Angeles, the Golden State and across the nation. The Trojans' large presence in Los Angeles, however, isn't something that McClure sees as an obstacle.

"Obviously, USC is in the same town," McClure said. "But, everybody in the country recruits Los Angeles. Every school has guys recruiting California, so everybody's picking our pocket, so to speak. We just focus on getting ours and if they are UCLA types or not."

At this point, the Bruins have two of the top three prospects in the state of California (Jefferson and James) committed for this cycle. The Trojans have four-star receiver Robert Woods (Gardena, Calif./Serra) committed and are one of two finalists for five-star defensive end Ronald Powell (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde), but landing two of the top three is still impressive and is another example of how the Bruins are a program on the rise because of stellar work on the recruiting trail.

Leaderboard

The Memphis job came open when Tommy West was fired last week. There are several names with strong recruiting backgrounds in the mix including, Tennessee assistant Eddie Gran and LSU assistant Larry Porter (a Memphis alum), among others.

There is little doubt that whoever the new coach is will have a good base to recruit from, but one former Tigers assistant believes that it's important to also hit some of the South's top talent hotbeds as well.

"I think that there is some talent right in the Memphis and Mississippi area to get about 10 players a year (at Memphis)," South Carolina tight ends coach Jeep Hunter said. "Then, I think you have to work over into the Atlanta area and then go down to South Florida. While I was there, that was part of my recruiting area. You have to go get over into Georgia."

Hunter coached current Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams when he was at the school under West from 2003-05 as the running backs coach.

On average during each recruiting cycle, the Memphis area produces between 15-20 FBS-level prospects. The area is not as heavily-recruited as some other metropolitan areas in the Southeast, but many of the SEC heavy hitters like LSU and Alabama recruit it, in addition to Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Memphis, the schools that are geographically tied to it.

"Just in the city of Memphis, you are going to have five-to-10, then right across the border in Mississippi you will have another 10 or so," Hunter said. "Then, out of that, Tennessee is going to get some, Ole Miss is going to get some and Memphis is going to get some."

Hot Sell: Florida

The defending national champions pulled off another impressive feat on the recruiting trail this week when four-star Under Armour All-American cornerback Joshua Shaw (Palmdale, Calif./Palmdale) made a verbal commitment to the Gators over USC, LSU and Ohio State, among others. This was a major feat for tight ends coach Brian White, Shaw's recruiter of record. The Buckeyes were long considered the team to beat for the No. 3 overall cornerback, but his official visit, on top of another unofficial visit to Florida, sealed the deal. This type of get is one of the big reasons why the Gators have become the most dominant college football program in the country under head coach Urban Meyer. They have no fear when it comes to signing the best players in America.

Coast-to-Coast Notes

Texas getting back in it?

ESPN's Gerry Hamilton broke the news Tuesday that Under Armour All-American wide receiver Darius White (Fort Worth, Texas/Dunbar) was making an official visit to Texas this coming weekend. Though Oklahoma has been considered the team to beat for the five-star prospect -- and likely still is -- the word out of the Lone Star State has been to not count the Longhorns out. They will get their chance to improve their position this weekend for the 6-foot-3, 195-pound star.

Fulton set to announce

Under Armour All-American cornerback John Fulton (Manning, S.C./Manning) will announce his decision on ESPNU's Recruiting Insider show on Dec. 17. The four-star prospect is basically down to South Carolina and Alabama with the Gamecocks holding an edge after his official visit to Columbia this past weekend.

Short stuff
Stanford continues to do well on the recruiting trail in the Southeast as four-star tight end Davis Dudchock (Birmingham, Ala./Oak Mountain) switched his commitment from Vanderbilt to the Cardinal. ... Five-star Under Armour All-American Jeff Luc (Port Saint Lucie, Fla./Treasure Coast) will be making an unofficial visit to Florida State this coming weekend when the Seminoles host Maryland. ... Sources familiar with the recruitment of five-star Under Armour All-American cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Saint Thomas Aquinas) are still confident that Joyner will end up with the Seminoles when all is said and done.

JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at jcsespn@aol.com.