UCLA Bruins have stepped up their recruiting game

They are challenging USC when it comes to landing top local high school players.


There's an intriguing new dynamic surfacing in the USC-UCLA football recruiting rivalry.

It's called competition.

For much of this decade, USC Coach Pete Carroll has called the shots, picking and choosing and not having to worry about whether UCLA was interested in a high school prospect he wanted. Inevitably, the player usually ended up at USC.

That's changing. UCLA is putting up a fight again, challenging the Trojans and even starting to win a few battles.

Morrell Presley, Carson High's star tight end, switched from a commitment he'd made to USC as a sophomore and enrolled this week at UCLA -- the most powerful evidence yet that the Bruins under Coach Rick Neuheisel are no longer going to sit back and let Carroll dictate who controls the Southland prep scene.

In another sign of UCLA's renewed vigor, the Bruins this weekend are bringing in on recruiting visits two players who long ago committed to USC, receiver De'Von Flournoy of Lake Balboa Birmingham and receiver Randall Carroll of Los Angeles Cathedral.

It's not only Neuheisel's aggressiveness that is driving the competition. USC has stockpiled so much talent that some players are less willing to accept Carroll's recruiting pitch promoting competition as the way to bring out the best in a prospect.

The potential for more playing time is one reason Flournoy and Carroll are taking a look at UCLA. And it's the reason several former high-profile recruits, such as receiver Vidal Hazelton and running back Emmanuel Moody, have transferred from USC.

But Carroll loves competition, and he's not about to let the Bruins simply swoop in without a response. Remember, it was USC who took away Byron Moore Jr., a Harbor City Narbonne player who had committed to UCLA.

USC is putting on a full-court press trying to outduel the Bruins, Notre Dame, Brigham Young and Stanford for All-American linebacker Manti Te'o from Honolulu Punahou.

And Carroll made it clear that the Trojans are going to remain aggressive and visible by encouraging assistant Ken Norton Jr. to speak out with an allegation that the Bruins were telling prospective players that Norton would be joining the UCLA staff if DeWayne Walker left.

Neuheisel denied the charge, and several recruits and their coaches who were supposedly fed the misinformation denied the allegation when contacted by The Times.

So there's no doubt Neuheisel has gotten the Trojans' full attention, and for good reason. UCLA recruiters are laying the groundwork for what they think is the biggest prize -- the recruiting class of 2010.

This year's high school seniors won't officially sign letters of intent until Feb. 4, but the Bruins and Trojans have already been eyeing next year's class with great interest.

USC has a commitment from running back D.J. Morgan of Woodland Hills Taft. UCLA has a commitment from receiver Paul Richardson Jr. from Los Alamitos.

The competition is picking up intensity and urgency, with the focus on defensive back Robert Woods from Gardena Serra, running back Malcolm Jones from Westlake Village Oaks Christian, running back Anthony Barr from Los Angeles Loyola and linebacker Hayes Pullard from Los Angeles Crenshaw.

Recruiters from both local universities keep running into each other at games and on high school campuses.

The edge still belongs to USC, but it's clear Neuheisel has the Bruins back in the recruiting game and no longer afraid to compete for the best.


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