As crazy as things have been at Bruins Nation over the past few days with the return of the Lavinoma and the continuing vacancy at defensive coordinator, there is a bit more to do with our incoming class of football players. Though we have a relatively small incoming class, there are enough players to split the review of the class into tow parts - today we will give the defense some love by discussing their recruits first; the recruits projected to see time on offense will come up tomorrow.
As noted, this is a smaller than normal incoming class, with 15 high school seniors and 1 junior college player committing to UCLA. Coach Neuheisel touched upon this fact in UCLA's signing day press release, while empathizing the quality of the class.
"We filled several areas of need with this class, including offensive line and quarterback," said Neuheisel. "We feel this is a quality group of young men, both on and off the field, who will fit well with the classes we have signed the past few years. It's not as large as some of our classes because we did not have a lot of scholarship seniors but we think it has great upside."
While this is a group of young men that we should be proud to welcome to our university, it is not at the same level as the two previous classes that Neu had brought to Westwood. After a 4-8 season with some uncertainties in the football staff, a down year in recruiting cannot be a shock. Nevertheless, Rick saw success in filling some key program needs with this class; bringing in an elite QB with Brett Hundley's January enrollment, and working to fill deficiencies in line depth, signing three defensive linemen and five offensive line prospects. The 16 players who signed with UCLA are ranked 53rd nationally by scout.com and 48th by rivals, but has a number of elite players:
Two members of the class - Hundley and wide receiver Devin Lucien - were members of PrepStar's Dream Team. Defensive tackle Kevin McReynolds earned All-America honors from PrepStar while offensive linemen Jacob Brendel, Torian White and Ben Wysocki, running back Steven Manfro, tight end Raymond Nelson, defensive tackle Brandon Tuliaupupu and linebacker Aaron Wallace earned All-Region Acclaim.
The class is tilted toward offense, with ten players recruited mainly for that side of the ball, compared to six players seen as possible defensive standouts - one of whom is likely to switch to offense in the near future.
Kevin McReynolds: Defensive Tackle, Washington, DC (St John's College High).
For the second straight year, the Bruins nabbed a highly regarded defensive recruit from Nestor's neck of the woods. Arguably UCLA's top defensive recruit, and rated as one of the top-30 defensive tackles by Scout and Rivals, Kevin passed up offers from (nearly) hometown Maryland, Kansas State, Syracuse and Oregon to come to Westwood. At 6 foot 3 and 280 lbs, he is a physical force in the trenches, but according to his rivals.com scouting report is quite athletic for his size, with quickness to match. Despite missing half of his senior year due to a high ankle sprain, he was rated the 5th best defensive tackle of this year's class by Tom Lemming.
Kevin discussed signing day and his decision to come to UCLA with Jon Gold, as published in the Daily News blog. You really should read Jon's interview to get a better feel for the kid, but forget 10 minutes, after reading this excerpt from the interview:
"I run a mentor program at home and I have this kid who looks up to me who I love, and I don't want to let that kid down. I want to help him. I want to help people. That's the biggest thing in this world. I have to help people."
He certainly passes the Lane Violation test for being a Bruin.
Brandon Tuliaupupu: Defensive/Offensive Tackle, Claremont, CA (Claremont High).
Continuing on in the trenches, Brandon was one of several late gets for Neu, with the 3-star tackle switching his commitment from Washington State to UCLA on the day before National Signing Day. While the coaching staff has been onto Brandon for quite a while, Neu held off on offering him due to academic concerns. After becoming convinced that he could succeed academically at UCLA, he received a scholarship offer just before signing day.
Rated as the 90th-best California recruit by rivals.com and rated as a defensive tackle by the recruiting services; while Neuheisel did describe him as a defensive tackle in the presser, there is a chance that he gets handed over to Coach Palic to reinforce the offensive line - which fits into the late rush in recruiting offensive linemen by the football staff.
Sam Tai: Defensive End, Henderson, NV (Liberty High).
Continuing with the coaching staff's attempt to replenish the lines with this year's incoming class, Sam is one of three defensive lineman entering UCLA in this class; after rejecting entreaties from Colorado, Fresno State, Nevada and hometown UNLV among others, he graduated high school early and made a final decision to come to UCLA over accepting Arkansas's scholarship offer, and has enrolled for the Winter Quarter.
While a bit small for a DE at 230 lbs (6 foot 3), he will have time to develop more of a proper build, though as Gold also noted in his signing day review of Tai, I would not expect him to be an early contributor. The Las Vegas Sun noted that after playing QB earlier in high school, Tai is still learning to play defense, but has a raw athletic ability which promises a high upside.
Aaron Wallace: Linebacker, San Diego, CA (Rancho Bernardo High).
Like Tai, Aaron is one of three members of this recruiting class that have already enrolled at UCLA. Having emerged as a top prospect on the west coast after his junior year at Rancho Bernardo, he became one of the first members of Coach Neuheusel's recruiting class, passing over offers from Texas A&M and Washington. After having missed his senior season due to a torn ankle ligament, Wallace will be looking to get back to speed beginning with spring practice, though is a good bet to redshirt. In a Wallace quote passed along via Gold's review, he mentions part of what drew him to Westwood.
"I just really like UCLA. It's a good fit for me in terms of the education they offer and how close it is to home for my family to see me play. ... I also either want to study business or something in the medical field - or possibly even sports journalism."
Mike Orloff: Linebacker, Danvers, MA (Lawrence Academy)
Mike is another recruit that made a late switch to the Bruins; having originally planned to enter the Univerisity of Iowa along with prep teammate Marcus Grant, Orloff switched his verbal commitment to UCLA after making a visit to Westwood just a few days before signing day. Having played both quarterback and inside linebacker while at Lawrence, Mike will be focusing on the defensive side of the ball, with maybe some early opportunities to see action on special teams. In his signing day presser, Neu described how one of his old teammates who now coaches in Massachusetts first brought Mike to his attention.
Ryan Hofmeister: Linebacker, Riverside, CA (Riverside City College)
The lone JC transfer in this year's class, Ryan is a 6 foot 1 outside linebacker/safety who rivals.com rated as one of the top 50 junior college prospects of the 2011 class. A 2010 graduate of Vista Murrieta High, Ryan will be enrolling at UCLA in the Spring Quarter as a sophomore-to-be, having three years of eligibility plus a redshirt year remaining. Coach Neuheisel's remarks on Ryan, via Gold.
"Ryan is a versatile athlete who can help us in several areas. He can play linebacker but can also play safety, giving us flexibility for different alignments. In addition, he is an outstanding special teams performer."