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The Morning After Signing Day

Let’s get right to it. Lots of signing day related stories in Southern California’s two main local papers zeroing on UCLA’s best recruiting class in last five years. Chris Foster from the LA Times writes about the ‘talent infusion’ from this class headlined by two blue chip running backs from Texas and UCLA’s own backyard:

The talent infusion was needed for a program that has meandered in recent seasons. UCLA was 6-7 in 2007.

"We addressed a lot of critical needs, especially at skill positions, both on offense and defense," Neuheisel said.

Particularly at running back. Besides Knox, the Bruins landed Aundre Dean of Katy, Texas, who was ranked among the top 10 running backs nationally. Dean had 4,609 yards rushing and scored 53 touchdowns the last two seasons.

"He's a ready-made physical player," Neuheisel said. "He's a prototype tailback."

Add to that Knox, who scored 103 touchdowns in four high school seasons. He was twice selected the Los Angeles City Section player of the year.

"We're excited to have both of these guys," Neuheisel said. "It's a huge deal for [Knox] to be staying home."
A huge deal indeed. DN’s Ramona Shellbourne has a feature on Knox’s stressful day. The kid was going back and forth all day while deciding between UCLA and Notre Dame. He was getting lobbied from both directions. However, it appears that a clutch phone call from DeWayne Walker shifted the tide in favor of UCLA:
On Tuesday, UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker called him in a last-ditch effort to keep the star running back from Birmingham High in Lake Balboa at home.

It worked.

"He just said: 'You're one of the best high school players ever in this city. You already have a legacy. If you go to college in this town, it's just going to be that much more. You can rule this place,' " Knox said, just moments after announcing his decision to sign with the Bruins on Fox Sports Prime Ticket.

"That sold me. This is my home. All my family is here.
Well he will have few thousands to add to his extended family now. We can’t wait to see MK ripping it up in (Bruin) blue and gold.

The class features blue chippers in a number of other positions. From Dohn:
UCLA signed three quarterbacks, but none are in the same class.

Quarterback Nick Crissman of Edison High of Huntington Beach will enter as a true freshman but Prince must decide whether he will enroll in January 2009 or go on a two-year Mormon mission and enroll in time for the 2010 season.

Kraft, who originally went to San Diego State before attending Mt. San Antonio College, has two years of eligibility remaining, but could compete with seniors Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan for the starting position. With junior Osaar Rasshan next on the depth chart, Neuheisel said it could leave UCLA in a precarious spot, which is why Kraft was recruited.

"When you name a starter, if you're not named a starter, kids can do different things when they're left and their eligibility is to a point where there's not much time," Neuheisel said. "You have to protect against the possibility maybe one or two might say, `I'm going to play someplace else.' I certainly hope that doesn't happen, but you have to protect against it."

UCLA secured a few of the top defensive backs in Southern California, led by Dominguez of Compton's Aaron Hester, Crespi's E.J.Woods and Moore.

The Bruins also brought in size at receiver in 6-foot-4 Nelson Rosario of El Camino of Oceanside, 6-3 Jerry Johnson of Venice and 6-3 Antwon Moutra of Culver City.
After it was all said done our class was ranked number 10 by and number 13 by Offensive Line stands out as the main question mark coming out of this class. Over at Bruin Roar CPBruinFan has written up a solid analysis of this class, which includes the following grade for OL:
Offensive Line: D+

Jeff Baca (OG)
Connor Bradford (OT)

OK, so not everything is peaches in this class. The offensive line was a real let down. Not to say that all the players are bad, they aren't, but the small number of commits and the lack of overall talent was a big disappointment. What makes this hurt even worse is that the Bruins really have a glaring need in this category.

What's kind of scary is that UCLA didn't pick up many guys in the 2007 class either. Only one kid committed last season, Mike Harris, and he wasn't that highly rated. The Bruins did pick up a number of guys in the 2006 class, including Micah Kia and Nick Ekbatani, but the other guys in that class (including Jake Dean, Sean Sheller, and Sonny Tevaga) haven't stepped up as serious candidates for starting time.

The absolute #1 priority in the 2009 recruiting class has to be offensive lineman, just to make up for the last two classes.
Pretty much agree with that assessment. And the priority is evident to CRN:
Neuheisel said that the Bruins could have signed up to 25 players, but with 21 in and perhaps one more coming, "I think we’re in good shape right now." He’s not unhappy to have a few more scholarships to award next year. "There’s optimism currently and I think optimism a year from now can be even higher. So to have more ‘golden tickets’ as I like to call them, isn’t a bad thing."

In terms of priorities for 2009, it’s linemen. "I think it’s something we desperately need to address in the next class. I think it’s true on both sides of the ball. We’ve got two great young guys on the offensive line in Connor Bradford and Jeff Baca; I think both will be bona fide players here. We need to go out next year and make that a point of emphasis, to go and get some quality, quality interior defensive linemen and offensive linemen."
Well I have no doubt CRN is not going to waste any time to hit the trail for 2008-09 and focus on bringing in talented reinforcements for battle in the trenches. Something tells me he is not going to wait till his 5th season to put together a monster recruiting class.

As for the class he was successfully able to keep intact his first season here are some of his thoughts from yesterday:
>> "When I went into Anthony Dye’s home, I saw all the hockey pictures. The guy was hitting slap shots when he was he was seven years old and liked to ‘muck it up’ in the corners, in the terms they use. That’s an unusual athlete. I think he’ll find a home in our secondary in the very near future."

>> "Johnathan [Franklin] would like to start at tailback. You know, his nickname is ‘JetSki.’ And why he got the name is the dirt kicks up from his feet when he starts digging in and starting turning up [for] the hard yards. So if JetSki wants to play tailback at the outset, we’re going to give him a chance to do that. But he’s of those kinds of guys that – and I told him this in his home – if I see a line that’s a little shorter that he might be able to get on the field a little faster, he’ll do that in a New York second. He just wants to help our football team. He’s a great kid." Franklin is also considered an outstanding defensive back and could play at either position.

>> "Aaron Hester has just blossomed; he’s a speedster from Dominguez High School. He’s grown by leaps and bounds in the last year. Now he’s got a great set of shoulders on him and he’s got that great wingspan that’s such a weapon for shut-down corners."

>> On Damien Holmes, he said "One of the hard parts in recruiting is finding your defensive linemen, finding guys that are big enough and aggressive enough and also carry the grade-point average to get into a place like UCLA. Damien Holmes is a poster child for those three things. He enjoys the contact, he enjoys playing with his pads low and doesn’t have any problem with his hands being on the ground and playing very physical at the point of contact. But he’s also a bona fide great student."

>> "Rahim Moore from Dorsey High is a very versatile secondary player because he can play free safety and he can play the corner. He’s got a long wingspan and he’s got a frame that – coming from the NFL, which I just did – I know they’re looking for. He could be a rangy type, like back from my era, Kenny Easley or Don Rogers."

>> "Datone Jones is a great-looking defensive end prospect. When you’re playing in a four-down [linemen set], you’ve got to create pressure off the edges. We just witnessed the New York Giants win the Super Bowl based on the pressure that was brought by those front four guys. Datone Jones is a guy that can grow – if he does all the things that are necessary – to be eventually on a New York Giants front four. He’s that kind of body, he’s [got] that kind of intensity that he brings and that kind of speed."
As I said yesterday it is refreshing to see a UCLA football head coach have this kind of command over details. It certainly reminds me of the head coach of our other major revenue athletic program.

One more recruiting related article to share and this one comes from Jill Painter in the Daily News. Jill was at the Serving Spoon yesterday. If you haven’t heard by now Serving Spoon is a restaurant in Inglewood owned by the parents of Bruin recruit Jerry Johnson. 13 Bruin recruits showed up there yesterday am (which included Nelson Rosario who left San Diego with his Dad at 5 am to be there for the 8 am event) to sign their UCLA LOIs. One of the recruits who was front and center among this group was blue chip safety Rahim Moore from Dorsey High:
On UCLA's big recruiting weekend in December, there was no head coach. So Moore, who put his head in his hand and cried well after he signed, gave a fiery pep talk to fellow recruits.

"I just told everyone, "Let's finish what we started,"' Moore said.

"Let's make everyone become one. It wasn't going to get better anywhere else. I told them, `Down the line, we can be the best."'
Rahim reminds me a lot of AA. Hopefully he and his boys can replicate what AA started four years ago in the greatest university in the world.