Serving Notice: UCLA Recruiting Reset

Let’s zero in on the biggest news of the week. No I am not talking about the expected mauling from our Ben Ball warriors last night at Pauley, I am talking about the commitment of Morrell Presley of Carson High – only the number 1 TE recruit in the nation – to Rick Neuheisel’s UCLA football program (HT to muircoach for first posting the blockbuster news on BN). Not only was this a commitment to Neuheisel, to make it even more delicious this was Morrell decommiting from the Humanitarian of college football:

Presley was a USC commit, but said he made the switch because he has liked UCLA for a long time.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder, who has been clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, had 35 catches for 604 yards and five touchdowns for the Colts this season.

Uhm, I guess Morrell wasn’t all that impressed by the propaganda from 60 Minutes and more swayed by the fact how TEs play a huge part in Chow's offense as evidenced by Moya's season (in which he finished 3rd in the team in receptions and 4th in receiving yards). More from WWL on the significance of this development:

ESPN's Craig Haubert added, "UCLA threw a little gasoline on what was the flickering fire of a rivalry between cross-town foes. The battle for LA has been basically all USC in recent years, but yesterday head coach Rick Neuheisel struck his first real blow in the showdown by landing a commitment from No. 1-ranked tight end Morrell Presley who was a longtime USC commit."

"While USC will move on this is a big blow for the Trojans as they were on course to land the No. 1 rated tight end in the country for the second straight year and were going to potentially have one of the top tight end tandems in all of college football with Presley paired alongside Blake Ayles. That is no more has Presley is slated to enroll at UCLA early."

"This is a big get for UCLA on two fronts. The first is the recruiting victory over USC. This switch is not a complete shock, but still a big steal as Presley was one of USC's top recruits. In addition to the USC / UCLA battle and more importantly this was big because Presley is an excellent prospect. He is an athletic tight end with good size. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow can use Presley as an in-line player or flex him out and use him like a wide receiver. He has good hands and speed and can be a player that creates some match-up problems and can add a dimension to the UCLA attack. While he is a tight end that can catch his fair share of balls, Presley is also a productive in-line blocker who can stay on the field and help UCLA's ground game."

Here are the youtube highlights of Morrell.

Honestly, I am somewhat surprised by this. I knew CRN was going hard after Morrell even though he was a Trojan commit (more on that in a bit) but I didn’t think he had a snowball chance in hell in prying Morrell away from Petey’s grasp given the tough (but expected) rebuilding season we experience, and the 24-7 Trojan/Rose Bowl propaganda all around the Southland traditional media. Simply an incredible effort on the part of CRN and his staff if Morrell’s commitment sticks through signing day (you know Petey and his cronies will be relentless over next few weeks).

What I think is the most important aspect of this news is the message Neuheisel and his staff is sending across town and rest of the college recruiting world. UCLA will no longer just sit back and accept Trojan domination in the recruiting world. Sure the guys across town have a great football program (albeit drenched in scandals). But no longer UCLA is going to let them go uncontested on the recruiting front. Unlike the previous regime, Neuheisel and his staff whenever they find the slightest daylight, they are going to make those guys compete for every elite recruit. Keep in mind Morrell is not the only Trojan recruit CRN is after. He is also going after Trojan commit receiver DeVon Flournoy of Birmingham High of Lake Balboa (alma mater of Milton Knox, who I am hearing is talking up UCLA to every local recruit he can talk to). Per BlueReign (who nailed the significance of this news) DeVon also happens to be a cousin of our JetSki Franklin.

Plus we have also set up visits of number of elite recruits who have already committed to other programs. Per Dohn here are some of the players who will be visiting Westwood during the weekend of January 9-11:

TE Zach Ertz of Danville Monte Vista (Stanford commit)
DE Devon Kennard of Phoenix Desert Vista
CB Marlon Pollard of San Bernardino Cajon (Notre Dame commit)
DE Iuta Tepa of Long Beach Poly (Hawaii commit)
LB Marquis Simmons of Compton Dominguez (USC commit)
TE/DE Billy Sanders of Coeur d'Alene Lake City (Miami commit)

Remember Marlon Pollard had committed to us earlier only to decommit and switch over to the Irish during summer. Given the instability in the Irish program right now, can’t fault the kid for looking at us. As for Zach Ertz, keep an eye on Harbaugh and the San Diego Chargers (rumors are percolating in the background). I think Simmons and Kennard are total long shots. But we will have a shot with Tepa and Sanders.

Just how relentlessly CRN is recruiting Tepa from Long Beach Poly? From Robert Morales’s report in Long Beach Press-Telegram on the eve of Friday’s state battle royal between Poly and De La Salle Sacramento Grant:

As Jackrabbits coach Raul Lara sat with reporters at Home Depot Center on Monday, he received a text from UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel.

Lara said Neuheisel sent a congratulatory note regarding the success of the Jackrabbits.

A reporter jokingly asked Lara if Neuheisel was being sincere, or just buttering him up because he wants to recruit some of his players.

"I think he wants my players," Lara said, laughing.

Lara said that although defensive end Iuta Tepa has verbally committed to Hawaii, there are several other teams "all over" Tepa.

UCLA is one of them.

And that’s not all (just like you hear in those infomercials).

Norm Chow has been out in Hawaii shoring up our three stud recruits from the Island and also staying on pursuit of Manti Te’o:

UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow was in Hawaii recently and from what I'm hearing did well with the Bruins' trio of commits, as well as highly regarded linebacker Manti Te'o.
Chow was able to visit with Punahou of Honolulu receiver Roby Toma and running back Dalton Hilliard, and Kapolei High offensive lineman Stanley Hasiak.
Chow also spent time with Te'o, who plays at Punahou.

Manti is going to be another uphill challenge just like Kennard and Simons. But after Morrell’s commitment, I am not going to count our staff out. These guys clearly won’t give up given how they have been relentless.

I don’t ever recall reading stories like this about UCLA coaches being this intense in their recruiting. Toledo was piling up those top-10 classes thanks to Cade engineered 20 game winning streak. Dorrell was cruising through his early years concentrating on remember people’s birthdays until Walker came in towards the end and a lit a fire on the defensive recruiting front. But I just don’t remember UCLA coaches gunning so hard after the Trojans in recent years.

Meanwhile, if you are wondering how UCLA is going to enough rides (we are already at 17) to accommodate scholarships for all these recruits, here is a clue from Dohn’s report today:

The Bruins will have a new kickoff specialist next season after walk-on Jimmy Rotstein informed coach Rick Neuheisel during a meeting last week he was not coming back for a fifth season.

Rotstein spent the past two seasons kicking off. Neuheisel said Rotstein will graduate in the spring with a degree in communications.

Also, Neuheisel said reserve tight end Adam Heater will not return for a fifth season. Heater also will graduate in the spring. Heater, who played on special teams, will graduate in the spring. His leaving frees up a scholarship to be used in the 2009 class.

Good luck to Jimmy and Adam.

Another note to keep in mind which is already out on message boards and I have heard this from a good friend of mine. CRN also has a high profile “silent verbal” locked up from a recruit who is committed to another program. Needless to say from what I have read about this kid, when he makes it official, the news will serve notice to rest of the college football just like Presley’s commitment did last night.

So with Pressley’s commitment UCLA’s class has already jumped into top-25 rankings per both Scout.com and Rivals.com. Our class is now ranked number 22 per Scout.com and 19 according to Rivals.com. Here are the rankings for UCLA’s recruiting classes dating back to Dorrell’s first year:

Year

Scout.com Rankings

Rivals.com Rankings

Avg. Rankings

2002-03

35

36

36

2003-04

24

34

29

2004-05

24

26

25

2005-06

20

17

19

2006-07

36

40

38

2007-08

10

13

12

2008-09

22

19

21

 

Again keep in mind Dorrell inherited an 8 win team that was just 4 years removed from an appearance in the Bowl game. I’d give him a pass for his mediocre first class but the effort that was shown in the way the second class was put together was a complete joke. I shudder to think what kind of class we would have had in Dorrell’s second year if he inherited a program devoid of talent at OL and disastrous situation at QB.

In contrast when CRN came in he immediately went all in by teaming up with Walker and Chow to hold on to the good class from last year (which was Dorrell’s first true elite class after six years on the job). And now despite facing uphill challenges in a rebuilding season CRN has us positioned for a great finish. I can only imagine the kind of recruiting we might see from our current staff if we can somehow scratch and claw our way into a winning season in his second year, and then make a run for the conference title in the third season.

If Neuheisel is serving notice on the recruiting front with a 4-8 record, imagine the possibilities when (not if) the program becomes viable.

GO BRUINS.

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