UCLA Football Signing Day Wrapup, Part 2: Defense


Jon Gold talking recruits with Coach Mora, via InsideUCLA's Youtube Channel.

After last night's Bruin basketball loss in Seattle, Bruins Nation could use a bit of a pick me up. Thankfully, Coach Jim Mora and his staff did well enough closing on the recruiting trail (as well as Coach Neuheisel's efforts earlier on) that my Signing Day wrap-up had to be divided into two parts. Yesterday, I looked at the recruits that are initially slated to play on the Offense. Today, my focus will be on the defensive players that are headed to Westwood.

With the new staff and the shift from a base 4-3 defense to a 3-4, there were more changes in the defensive recruiting targets than even the change in coaching staffs would have led to, as well changes in how the new guys will fit together with our existing personnel. With that said, the quantity of this class came at Defensive Back, where the roster certainly needed reinforcing.

Defensive Line

Eli Ankou - Bear, DE (Red Lion Christian Academy)

Rivals: 3 Star, #27 Strongside Defensive End, #1 Delaware recruit; Scout: 2 Star, #140 Defensive End.

Eli is a Canadian native who came to the States last Fall to play football, enrolling at Red Lion Academy, which over the past few years has begun building a football program which aims to emulate Oaks Christian's. Prior to that, he played club football in Canada, and by the end of the recruiting season had also received scholarship offers from Vanderbilt and UVa. A brief scouting report from the SIgning Day press release.

Moves well and has good quickness, strength, and pure speed

Ellis McCarthy - Monrovia, CA (Monrovia)

Rivals: 5 Star, #4 Defensive Tackle, #3 California, #21 Overall; Scout: 5 Star, #2 Defensive Tackle, #23 Overall

This was the big one for the Bruins to bring in this year, literally (at 6'5, 326 lbs) as well as figuratively. As a consensus 5 Star recruit coming out of Monrovia, and having been named to USA Today's 1st team All-USA high school team, and ESPN's 3rd team All-American team, Ellis had committed to Cal at the Army All-America bowl in January, but in the wake of Cal Coach/ace recruiter Tosh Luopi's jump to Washington and the disintegration of that recruiting class, he flipped his commitment to UCLA. He was the key target for the new coaching staff to bring in, and the best recruit to come to Westwood since Brian Price. The early BN discussion on Ellis's commitment and his high school highlights are here.

Linebacker

Jeremy Castro - Murrieta, CA (Vista Murrieta)

Rivals: 4 Star, #17 Weakside Defensive End, #40 California; Scout: 4 Star, #21 Outside Linebacker, #211 Overall

Jeremy was another of the late-season flips that the Bruin coaches were able to pull off, getting Castro away from Oregon. He had offers from seemingly everywhere, in the Pac-12 as well as Clemson, LSU and Oklahoma. The player evaluation on Scout.com describes him as a player who can play Defensive End as well as linebacker, and that the end may be his more natural position. The Bruin coaches are likely seeing him as a great fit as a DE/OLB hybrid for the 3-4 defense. As it turns out, while Jeremy had grown up rooting for the Bruins, he was not considering coming to Westwood until late in the process, after the change in coaching staffs.

"UCLA just felt like home," Castro told Greg Biggins of ESPN Insider. "Originally, I didn't even want to take this visit. My mom is the one who wanted me to because she loves UCLA. Right away, I just felt so comfortable and loved it there. UCLA is the school I grew up rooting for and being on campus was pretty special for me."

Castro said he was enamored by the new coaching staff, particularly defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin, who recruited Castro while Martin was coaching the secondary at Washington.

Nate Iese - Sacramento, CA (Sheldon)

Rivals: 3 Star, #72 California recruit; Scout: 3 Star, #61 Defensive End.

Like Jeremy, the Bruin coaching staff is looking at Nate to play a hybrid OLB/DE role in the 3-4 base defense that is being implemented, and committed to UCLA after considering Nebraska and Oregon State. He also played Tight End in High School and was told during the recruitment process that he might be used there if the need arises. We talked about Nate when his verbal commitment was announced, and he talked to the Daily News (Jacob Ruffman) after committing last month about Coach Mora as well as some other aspects of the recruiting process.

To be honest I didn't even know who coach Jim Mora was - I knew who his dad was, but when I met him I could tell he was very determined to come out and recruit me and a couple of other kids. He's really committed to what he's doing and I really respected him a lot for that."

... It seems like it's all about the recruits when you're getting recruited because everyone wants you but you have to remember that there are players already there and everyone is going to fight for their spot. I know that coach Mora is going to give everyone a fair shot to fight to play at their position so I can't wait to get out there and compete."

Kenny Orjioke - Marietta, GA (Lassiter)

Rivals: 3 Star, #65 Athlete, #61 Georgia; Scout: 3 Star, #53 Outside Linebacker

Kenny is the youngest player in this recruiting class (16, turning 17 in June), and has only played organized football for a couple of years, but his maturity together with his athletic upside had his High School coach in Georgia raving after just one game.

Orjioke was born in Nigeria, and has lived in Australia, California and Chicago, among other places. "He has a tremendous upside in football," Irwin said. "He’s only played one game for us, but he has showed that he loves contact since he began practice with us. He has a nice burst of speed. I know academics are important to him and his family. He’s a great kid from a great family."

Despite being new to football, his upside led to offers coming in from ASU, Cal, Georgia Tech and North Carolina before making the decision to become a Bruin. That decision came from a broad consideration of the benefits of UCLA, in terms of football but also in life after football.

... I have always been interested in UCLA but I didn't look too hard until I got the offer.

JR: What made you jump on the offer so quickly?
KO: You know, there's nothing at UCLA I could find anywhere else. It was the whole package. I love the campus, it has a great education, coach Mora is an excellent coach, it's in a place where there's a lot of national exposure and UCLA is in the top 5 for getting jobs post-graduation.

For the Twitter users out there, he is waiting for you @KennyOrjioke.

Aaron Porter - La Habra, CA (La Habra)

Rivals: 4 Star, #22 Outside Linebacker, #36 California; Scout: 4 Star, #11 Middle Linebacker, #268 Overall

Aaron was one of the key early commitments made to Coach Neuheisel that rode out the storm of the 2011 season and coaching upheval. While Oklahoma made a hard push to flip him during the coaching transition and in the stretch leading to Signing Day, he was all Bruin at the end. Scout.com gives us a taste of his style of play.

Porter plays faster than his speed might suggest because he anticipates and reads the play so well. He's a good pass rusher, because he times snap counts and makes plays in the backfield as he gets off the ball so well.

Scout also mentions his athletic honors, including having been named the Defensive Player of the Year by the CIF as a Junior, and starting as a freshman on a stacked high school team.

Defensive Back

Note, while Trayvon Watson is/was a verbal commit to UCLA, he has not signed an LOI and may be looking elsewhere.

Ishmael Adams - Westlake Village, CA (Oaks Christian)

Rivals: 4 Star, #10 Cornerback, #18 California, #117 Overall; Scout: 4 Star, #7 Cornerback, #81 Overall

While having been born in Inglewood, Ishmael spent most of his life in Georgia before returning to California and enrolling at Oaks Christian before his junior year of high school. Whether it comes out in Track competitions (he won a state championship as part of the Oaks Christian 400 Meter relay team) or on the Football field, he is a determined competitor.

When he goes up to receivers at the line of scrimmage and stares them in the eyes, they know they're about to face a focused, determined competitor.

"It's a great feeling if you're up to the challenge," he said. "You just have to come out and play your best. You can't control that many things. You control how you transition, how you play the ball, your effort. It's the hardest position on the field, because you're guarding the fastest player on offense."

While the mental focus and determination is a great trait by itself, he has the skill to make him an elite football player. Adams capped off his senior season by standing out at the Army All-American game.

Justin Combs - New Rochelle, NY (Iona Prep)

Rivals: 2 Star; Scout: 2 Star, #133 Cornerback

Most of the attention surrounding Justin's recruitment and commitment has come from the fact that he is the son of the iconic rapper P. Diddy. The PR effect of his commitment to the Bruins has overshadowed his football bonafides; while he will not come to Westwood as the type of elite prospect that Ishmael Adams and Marcus Rios are, having earned scholarship offers from Illinois, UVa and West Virginia, he is a legit BCS conference-calilber recruit. Not only did he stay tight with UCLA during the coaching search, but was one of the most prolific recruiters among the Bruin commits during that time. Whether it is in spite of his fame, or the desire to make his own name, Justin earned the respect of his high school coaches and peers with his work ethic and drive to earn a Division 1 football scholarship.

Quirolo told the New York Post Combs is the most dedicated player he's ever coached.

"It’s just his drive," the coach said. "I remember his freshman year he said he’s gonna play Division I football. He’s done everything in his power to do that."

Darla James, a Quirolo assistant, agreed.

"He could be like every other rich kid, but you have to give him credit, he works hard," James told ESPN. "His work ethic is tremendous, he is not a great football player because of his dad, it’s because of all the work he puts into his game."

What all this means for Diddy Riese, I just can't predict...

Randall Goforth - Long Beach, CA (Long Beach Poly)

Rivals: 3 Star, #37 Cornerback, #52 California; Scout: 3 Star, #25 Cornerback

One of Coach Mora's signing day pickups, Goforth (which is a really cool name, btw) came to UCLA after having previously committed to ASU, and holding offers from Cal and Washington among others. With the large number of defensive backs in this class and the lack of depth at wide receiver, he is a candidate to switch to receiver at some point in his UCLA career. Despite his high ranking among high school Cornerbacks, Scout thinks that he is best suited as a receiver.

Probably best suited to play in the slot in college. ... As an offensive player, good hands and quickness. Defensively, good instincts and change of direction. Needs to get better in coverage. -Brandon Huffman

While Huffman sees his future as a reciever, as we mentioned on Signing Day, that is not a universal assessment.

Taylor Lagace - Arcadia, CA (Arcadia)

Rivals: 3 Star; Scout: 3 Star, #45 Safety

Taylor was a Washington commit - and Boise State offeree - who flipped to UCLA after the new staff came on board in December - including his would be UW position coach/will be UCLA coach Demetrice Martin. He closed out his senior season by being named his league's MVP. As AHMB wrote, he is another player who could end up playing in hte secondary or at a reciever.

Paul Perkins - Chandler, AZ (Chandler)

Rivals: 3 Star, #40 Athlete; Scout: 3 Star, #85 Cornerback

Paul is one of two high school teammates of Bruin QB Brett Hundley to sign with UCLA on Tuesday, verbally committing in December after being pursued by Colorado and Northwestern. Another high-level athlete joining the Bruins in this class, he could play running back or come out of the slot for the Bruins in place of lining up in the secondary. Paul was one of a few recruits who committed to UCLA in the period before Coach Mora was hired, but his decision was inspired by more than just the football program.

Despite the absence of a head coach for the Bruins, Perkins said his decision to commit was based on the school, not just the coach.

"It's a great school and I like the atmosphere of the players there," Perkins said. "Even though they don't have a coach, football won't always be here but my education will."

Marcus Rios - Elk Grove, CA (Cosumnes Oaks)

Rivals: 4 Star, #21 Cornerback, #35 California; Scout: 4 Star, #22 Cornerback, #267 Overall

Marcus was an early Boise State commit who held offers from much of the Pac-12, as well as Nebraska and Notre Dame, before verbally committing to the Bruins in mid-December. As the first player to commit to Coach Mora hiring, his decision was a key signal to other elite recruits that UCLA was a viable and worthy option to consider. He had already visited Westwood and was strongly considering becoming a Bruin regardless of the coaching situation, but held a positive opinion of Coach Mora and his staff coming in. From the Daily News after Marcus's commitment.

... "The process didn't really change. I was going to there whether Neuheisel was there or not. I wanted to go to UCLA no matter what, it didn't really have a major effect on me."

JR: So what are your thoughts on coach Mora?
MR: "I met coach Mora a couple of weeks ago and he seems like a really good coach. He's coached in the NFL so I know that the program is going to change a lot and it's going to become a lot stronger than it was in past years."

JR: How did coach Mora and coach Martin say you were going to be used?

MR: "They want me to come in and be a major impact player at the corner position. I know that they have a few returning corners but I'm going to come in there and compete. I'm going to get there in March and work hard to earn a spot. I am open to redshirting though."

Special Teams

Ka'imi Fairbairn - Honolulu, HI (Punahou)

Rivals: 2 Star; Scout: 2 Star

After the struggles that we saw in the kicking game last fall - resulting in Jeff Locke having to multitask at times as a placekicker, and ending with calling up the Soccer team's student manager to placekick in the second half of the season. Coach Neuheisel offered Ka'Imi in October, gaining his verbal commitment the next month. While he briefly reopened his commitment and was subjected to a late push by Cal to flip him, he reaffirmed his tie to the Bruins in the week before Signing Day.

As Hawaii Prep World stressed in their feature story on Fairbairn last fall, he is not only a very well prepared football player, he has a ridiculously powerful and accurate leg.

... Fairbairn has drilled nine field goals this year with a long of 53 yards.

Then there was the Buffanblu’s trip to San Diego, Calif., to play powerhouse Vista, a town located 500 feet above sea level. During one workout, he made a 67-yard field goal. That came with the use of a standard 1-inch tee.

In another workout, this time at dead noon in Aloha Stadium, kicking coach Eric Hannum held the ball on the 50, smack dab on the University of Hawaii athletic logo. Fairbairn nailed the 60-yarder, and Hannum, a former UH kicker, put the video online.

... but his value goes far beyond field goals. He is practically 100 percent on sending kickoffs into end zones and giving his team a decided advantage in field position against most opponents.

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