Today, Bruins Nation finishes our two-part review of this fall's incoming class of football recruits. Yesterday, I discussed the players recruited on defense; today, it is the offense's time to shine. The signing day press release from Morgan Center is here, while video of Coach Neuheisel's press conference is here. Please join me in welcoming all these young men to UCLA, and congratulate them on deciding to become Bruins!
Brett Hundley: Quarterback, Chandler, AZ (Chandler High).
At this point, there is not much else to say about Brett - we have discussed him at length over the past several months. He is arguably the top QB recruit in the western US, and one of the elite prospects in the nation this year. He is the single biggest get of the Rick Neuheisel era at UCLA, and the most highly regarded prospect at the position at least since Cade McNown came to Westwood 15 years ago, and is the first 5-star QB recruit to enter UCLA from high school. Having graduated from high school early, enrolling at UCLA for the current Winter quarter, Brett has already been a positive influence on UCLA football not due to any performance on the practice field or in the weight room, but in acting as an extra recruiter for the program ever since his commitment.
Jerry Neuheisel: Quarterback, Los Angeles, CA (Loyola High).
Like his counterpart at QB in this recruiting class, Jerry is also quite well known to Bruin fans. In his case, it is not so much the prodigious talent or the media attention that Brett has drawn, but the fact that Jerry is the son of UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel. The fact of this family relationship has drawn some negative comments from portions of the UCLA fan base, questioning whether he will or should be a scholarship player, and claiming concern about having a quarterback playing for his father (see Colorado and Cody/Dan Hawkins).
While some have wondered whether either Neu would pay for his son's expenses out of pocket, or if UCLA can pull a Hackett in accounting for his tuition, the turmoil (if there really is any) is not entirely fair to either Neuheisel. The UCLA quarterbacking situation, with a pair of rising juniors with starting experience and a bona-fide star incoming freshman, does not have a short-term opening for the younger Neu; while Jerry is a solid recruit, rated among the top 30 pro-style QB's in this year's class. Additionally, the scholarship issue has some time to play out, as he is expected to grayshirt, enrolling later in the academic year. Along with a possible redshirt year, Jerry would be a redshirt freshman in 2013, the fall after Brehaut and Prince are set to graduate, and providing depth to a prospective junior Brett Hundley (as well as future QB recruits).
Steven Manfro: Running Back, Castaic, CA (Valencia High).
Staying in the backfield, the Bruins will be bringing Steven Manfro down the 5 and the 405 to Westwood. With the large number of quality backfield recruits that Coach Neuheisel has brought in to the program in the last couple of years, there was not a huge need for running backs in this class, and waited until late in the recruiting season to offer the Southern Section's leading rusher. Despite leading all California high school players in all purpose yards in 2010 while playing in a strong league, Manfro was not a sought-after recruit, with no other scholarship offers from BCS-conference programs.
Steven is a smaller back, listed at 5 foot 10 and under 190 lbs, but with the success of smaller runners at UCLA (like MJD) and elsewhere in the conference (Quizz Rodgers at OSU as one example), his stature should not be a limiting factor to his potential in Westwood. In talking to Jon Gold after committing to UCLA last month, Steven talked about his pleasure to become a Bruin:
"That's my favorite school," Manfro said. "It's been my favorite school for many years now. It's great ot have the opportunity to play for team. And my parents are definitely happy that I'm only 40 minutes away."
Devin Lucien: Wide Receiver, Encino, CA (Crespi High).
Along with Kevin McReynolds, Devin was the biggest of UCLA's signing day triumphs. One of the top recruits of this year in California, Devin was named first-team all state, and features advanced route-running skills and a hard work ethic that could allow him to take advantage of early opportunities for playing time in the Bruin offense. In spurning offers from Miami, ASU and Colorado, along with most of the remaining Pac-12 schools and many other national programs, the opportunity to play close to home, and alongside Brett Hundley was a major factor in his decision to become a Bruin:
"There’s a lot of young talent and you can’t go wrong with that degree," Lucien said. "I expect to get a lot of hate mail on Facebook. I did what was best for me and my family."
"Me and him [Hundley] are going to do something special," Lucien said. "I expect to turn things around next season. There is so much talent there that people don’t know about."
Raymond Nelson: Tight End, Modesto, CA (Modesto Christian High).
The Bruins welcomed a second recruit with family ties to Westwood in Raymond Nelson, the younger brother of Reeves Nelson. Having played both tight end and defensive end at Modesto Christian, Raymond will be focusing on the offensive side of the ball at UCLA, and is advanced in his approach to the passing game, but is said to be a work in progress in terms of run blocking. With Joseph Fauria and Cory Harkey set at tight end for 2011, he is a likely redshirt candidate (although such an intent has not yet been voiced by the coaching staff), but has the ability to be a solid contributor later in his time in Westwood. I'll let you all decide how to take Neu's comment on Raymond:
"I think if you watch Reeves play and imagine him being a tight end, that’s what you get with Raymond. It will be fun."
Jake Brendel: Center, Plano, TX (Plano East High).
One of a group of offensive linemen to give early verbal commitments to UCLA, Jake will be bringing his Texan talents to Westwood over offers from Cal, Stanford, Arizona, Arkansas and Northwestern among several others. Named first team all-state in Texas's class 5-A division of high school football, Jake is not only comfortably among the top-100 Texas high school prospects, but carries a 4.0+ GPA and has a quite mature view of the recruiting process.
"In the back of my mind, I know that college football is a business, and I realize that the only reason colleges have sports is to bring in money," Brendel said. "That's part of the reason why they're trying to recruit the best players, sure. But to me, I didn't look for how impressive the school is or how amazing they used to be. It was about how well I could bond with the coaches and the students who are already there. I'm that type of person. That's what set my mind on UCLA."
In his signing day post on Jake, Jon Gold added another observation on Jake's play:
I've seen some video on him, and what stands out is his footwork and drive - he seems to get out of his stance quickly, even from the shotgun position - and his aggressiveness. In the video I link to on his ESPN profile (see below), there is one play early in the film where he just smashes the crap out of a guy 15 yards deep. That can't be taught.
Ben Wysocki: Guard, Los Alamitos, CA (Los Alamitos High).
Ben was another early member of the 2011 incoming class, committing to the Bruins over the last 4th of July weekend, passing over scholarship offers from Oregon State and Stanford. Rated a 3-star recruit by Rivals and Scout.com, Wysocki had a strong high school career with a very high upside, named second-team all state by rivals.com's high school arm at tackle, though he is expected to move to guard at UCLA. After committing to the Bruins last summer, Ben talked about his decision to the Daily News' Jon Gold:
"At first, I went into the recruiting process not having a favorite school. I just wanted to see what happened. I said I would wait it out, go through all the official visits, and make my decision going into league. But I came to realize, where else would I want to go? I want to play for this awesome program. I want to go to UCLA. It's such a relief now that I know where I'm going.
Conor McDermott: Tackle, Nashville, TN (Ensworth High)
Signing day must have felt like family day at Morgan Center, with a third relative of a UCLA athlete or coach joining the Bruins. One of two last-minute offensive line recruitments that surprised even close followers of the UCLA football program, Connor is the brother of walk-on tight end/long snapper Kevin McDermott, and due to the family connection was known to Neu and the UCLA staff. He played mostly tight end at Ensworth-Nashville, but saw some time at tackle - it was the potential that came through the game film - along with his 6 foot 8 frame that caught attention. His collegiate path was best seen as a mid-major level basketball prospect; as such, his natural athleticism is great for the position, but has a lot of work before being a viable option on the line. Coacn Neu's presser comments on Conor (emphasis mine):
"He has the natural footwork, natural athleticism to pull and block the edges," Neuheisel said. "Certainly lots of growth potential, goes about 245, but over course of maturation, he’ll be a 300-, 310-pound man. We have to start developing tackles."
Will Oliver: Tackle, Brentwood, CA (Heritage High).
The first of two surprise offensive linemen arising in the final week before signing day, Oliver was a virtual unknown before news of his UCLA commitment broke - to UCLA fans as well as to those in the recruiting business. Like McDermott, Oliver is a very raw line prospect with a 6 foot 8 frame to grow into - having seen little playing time before a senior year that saw him earn all-league honors at tackle, with strong individual efforts late in the season against strong opponents - including national power De La Salle-Concord - being the key to drawing the attention of higher level collegiate programs.
Before his senior season, Oliver had committed to FCS (D-1AA) program Sacramento State, and despite late interest from Fresno State and Nevada had stayed true to that commitment until assistant coach Angus McClure stopped by his high school two weeks before signing day, with Coach Neuheisel following soon after. After a trip to Los Angeles to visit Westwood and the Rose Bowl, Will returned to eastern Contra Costa having given his verbal commitment to play football for the school that he wanted to attend all along.
"I’m still kind of in awe about it," Oliver said. "UCLA was my No. 1 choice of a college during summer. To hear from them so last minute, it felt like it was meant to be."
Torian White: Tackle, Lakewood, CA (Lakewood High).
In becoming both the first player to commit, and the final recruit to ultimately commit to UCLA, Torian became the player that caused the most confusion around the Bruin recruiting picture through the early hours of signing day. After being considered a strong lean to UCLA, Torian unexpectedly committed to USC on a noontime TV appearance where the look of shock among his family members upon hearing the decision was trumped only by the sadness exhibited by Torian on what should have been one of the happiest moments of his life so far. The confusion that came to light during that announcement continued later in the afternoon when Heritage Hall had failed to receive his LOI. Late in the afternoon came news that Torian was looking to to recommit to the Bruins, a decision which became official just before Coach Neuheisel's 4pm signing day presser. Greg Biggins' story covering Torian's signing day is itself a good read, and closes with as good a way as any to wrap up signing day:
"They have some good young talent and I have faith in the coaching staff," Torian said. "We have a great quarterback coming in and I don’t think anything will be more rewarding in a couple of years than looking back and seeing that I was one of the guys responsible for making UCLA a winning program again. That’s my dream and I’m just relieved that things worked out the way they did. I didn’t mean to embarrass anyone or disrespect the USC coaches by switching. At the end of the day, I just want to be happy and right now, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time."