Brett Hundley is on the UCLA campus, where he's beginning to get recognized… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
Brett Hundley strolled up Bruin Walk on the UCLA campus as fellow students scurried past. None stopped to gawk.
He plopped himself down by the bear statue next to the UCLA athletic offices and chatted idly about the great weather. No one rushed up seeking an autograph.
The quarterback from Chandler (Ariz.) High who is expected to rescue the Bruins from all their ills is able to relax — for the moment — under the hype radar.
Bruins fans very much know his name. But they don't yet know his face.
"The first day in my philosophy class we were talking about scholarships," Hundley said. "I mentioned that I was on a football scholarship and the volleyball girls sitting in the back said, 'You're Brett Hundley, the savior?' I was like, 'Nooooo.' "
Of course, the way the UCLA masses see it, what else is there to feel good about?
UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel promised the moon but delivered a swoon last season, leading to an upheaval on the coaching staff. The push toward Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA signing period for football, has produced only nine oral commitments thus far.
Neuheisel is sticking to his vision: "I liken it to a foundation on a house. You drive by a home, and it looks like the foundation takes forever. But you have to get it right. … The next thing you know, the house is finished."
The foundation of UCLA football under Neuheisel has been built not with 2-by-4s but with 4-by-8s. UCLA was 4-8 in 2008 and again last season, which has led to speculation that 2011 could be a make-or-break season for the gung-ho coach.
Into the eye of that storm has stepped Hundley, who is ranked second in the nation among quarterback recruits by Rivals.com.
UCLA fans felt their hearts go pitter-pat when Hundley committed. It became puppy love when he enrolled early to participate in spring practice. And when Hundley won the quarterback pass challenge at the Under Armour high school all-star competition in January, then threw a 58-yard touchdown pass in the game, obsession set in.
"Other students joke with me, and sometimes I really sort of enjoy it," Hundley said. "But I haven't done anything and I'm the savior?"
Hundley, though, was something for UCLA fans to grasp during stumbles on the recruiting trail, such as when Point Loma High's Christian Heyward, rated a top-10 defensive tackle, dumped UCLA from his finalist list and kept San Diego State.
"This recruiting class would definitely be perceived as a disaster by the Bruin faithful without Hundley," said Rick Kimbrel, publisher of BruinBlitz.com, a Rivals.com website.
Hundley never reconsidered his UCLA commitment — "My dad told me, 'Once you find the school, you'll know it's the right school,' " he said — but his dedication was often tested.
After he committed but before he enrolled, the Bruins lost six of their last seven games. Then defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough and wide receiver coach Reggie Moore were fired. Then the Norm Chow saga dragged on for nearly two months before he was replaced as offensive coordinator and negotiated a buyout.
Through the tumult, Neuheisel remains positive, saying he thinks UCLA is in good recruiting shape. "I like the kids in our class," he said. "I like how we'll finish. There are a couple big fish still to come."
So far, there mainly have been big ones who got away.
The Bruins failed to land Portland Central Catholic High defensive end Brennan Scarlett and Vista, Calif., defensive back Stefan McClure (California); Absecon (N.J.) Holy Spirit linebacker Anthony Sarao and Scottsdale, Ariz., offensive lineman Cyrus Hobbi (USC); and Fontana Summit wide receiver Devon Blackmon (Oregon).
All are high-end recruits who had UCLA as a finalist.
Kimbrel said UCLA's class "may end up a good one down the road with the offensive linemen they are bringing in."
But, the recruiting expert added, "What has hurt Rick more than anything is he can't sell the future now. … He can say all he wants about turning this thing around, but recruits are hearing in the other ear from USC, Oregon and Arizona State that, 'If you go there, you'll be introduced to a new coach next year.' "
UCLA should have 15 to 20 scholarships to offer. Among nine current commitments, three are offensive linemen — an area of need — but only three players who show up in the Rivals.com national rankings at their positions.
What has kept perceptions from plummeting is Hundley.
"It signals, not only to other recruits but everybody paying attention, that UCLA football may have been through a tough year, but the future is very, very bright," Neuheisel said.
A college football who's-who list made a play for Hundley, who passed for 2,348 yards and ran for 856 yards as a senior. In the end, UCLA beat out Washington.
What's there to like? "His size, arm, speed, those things that are hugely attractive in today's world of quarterback," Neuheisel said.
Toss in brains. Hundley's grades could have taken him to Stanford.
And he showed one other thing.
"Backbone," Kimbrel said. "People kept recruiting him after he committed. He decided UCLA was the place he was going to make it happen. That kind of backbone makes a quarterback special."
For Hundley, the choice was a no-brainer.
"A lot of people said, 'Why didn't you go Oregon or one of the bigger schools?' " Hundley said. "To me, UCLA has it all — academics, a football team on the rise. Things will get better from here. I had no doubt that this was the right school for me."