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NATIONAL SIGNING DAY

Seeing a future with the Bruins

Coach Jim Mora's first recruit class is highly regarded. Jordan Payton's case illustrates the pressures of choosing.

February 02, 2012|Chris Foster
  • Oaks Christian wide receiver Jordan Payton signed a letter of intent with UCLA on Wednesday.
Oaks Christian wide receiver Jordan Payton signed a letter of intent with… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Jordan Payton said he was on the telephone with UCLA Coach Jim Mora until 1 a.m. Wednesday, unsure what to do.

Nearly six hours later, the coveted receiver from Westlake Village Oaks Christian called again after deciding -- for the fourth time -- where he would go to college.

"He called about 6:50 a.m., right after he got out of the shower, and said, 'Coach, I'm going to follow my heart,' " Mora said.

Mora's 26-member first recruiting class was ranked 11th nationally by Scout.com and 12th by Rivals.com at the end of the day. It included Monrovia defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy and quarterback Devin Fuller, both considered among the best at their positions.

But the attention was centered on Payton, who at different times communicated his intent to play for one-third of the teams in the Pac-12 Conference -- twice on television.

"It's crazy, but people have to understand this process is crazy," Payton said. "You're giving an 18-year-old kid a decision of a lifetime. I wanted to make sure I made the right decision."

Payton's situation underscores the pressure put on high school players during recruiting, though not always by college coaches.

"I don't even know what the word 'commit' means," Mora said. "It doesn't mean anything now. There is so much pressure on kids to make commitments on TV to push ratings up."

Mora said Payton "is a heck of a kid" who had been in "the limelight ... for a long, long time."

Payton was ranked 15th nationally at his position by both Scout.com and Rivals.com. Top programs such as Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Florida were after him, as well as nearly everyone from the Pac-12 Conference.

He committed to USC but said he dropped the Trojans after learning how NCAA sanctions would affect the program. Payton said he would attend California during the U.S. Army All-American game Jan. 7, then committed to Washington on ESPNU on Tuesday.

Payton backed away from Washington after discussing the choices with his parents and deciding "I'd be most successful at UCLA."

Oaks Christian Coach Bill Redell said that Payton's situation leaves the entire recruiting process open to criticism.

"A kid commits, it doesn't slow anything down," Redell said. "There's no such thing as your word anymore. I'm so mad at the situation. He shares some of the blame, but it's not 100% on his shoulders. It's the whole recruiting situation. It's not fair to the players. It's not fair to the coaches."

Getting Payton helped Mora address an area of concern. In addition to Payton, the Bruins signed wide receivers Javon Williams from Chandler (Ariz.) High and Kenny Walker from Richmond Kennedy.

The Bruins also needed to increase their numbers at offensive tackle and cornerback. They signed tackles Colby Cyburt from Mission Viejo, Simon Goines from Keller, Texas, and Lacy Westbrook from Compton Dominguez. Alexandru Ceachir, who is from Santa Monica College, had already enrolled for the spring quarter.

Ishmael Adams of Oaks Christian and Marcus Rios of Elk Grove Cosumnes Oaks are expected to have an impact at cornerback.

But the main topic Wednesday was Payton.

"I told him to block out the noise and follow his heart," Mora said. Payton said that in the end that's what he did.

"It's a blessing to go through this process," Payton said. "I have to go through things to figure it out. I saw everything you could see in recruiting."

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chris.foster@latimes.com

Times staff writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

UCLA signings

*--* PLAYER POS. HT. WT. LAST SCHOOL Ishmael Adams DB 5-10 190 Oaks Christian HS Eli Ankou DL 6-3 284 Bear (Del.) Red Lion Christian Academy Jeremy Castro LB 6-3 253 Vista Murrieta HS Alexandru OL 6-5 305 Santa Monica College Ceachir** Justin Combs DB 5-9 165 New Rochelle (N.Y.) Iona Prep Colby Cyburt OL 6-4 265 Mission Viejo HS Ka'imi PK 6-0 171 Honolulu Punahou HS Fairbairn Devin Fuller QB 6-0 195 Old Tappan (N.J.) Northern Valley HS Randall Goforth DB 6-0 180 Long Beach Poly HS Simon Goines OL 6-6 314 Keller (Texas) Central HS Ahmaad Harris WR 5-8 170 Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge HS Carl Hulick OL 6-2 296 Anaheim Esperanza HS Nate Iese LB 6-4 240 Sacramento Sheldon HS Taylor Lagace S 6-1 205 Arcadia HS Ellis McCarthy DT 6-5 326 Monrovia HS T.J. Millweard* QB 6-4 225 Forth Worth All Saints HS Fabian Moreau RB 6-0 185 Davie (Fla.) Western HS Kenny Orjioke LB 6-4 225 Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter HS Jordan Payton WR 6-2 205 Oaks Christian HS Paul Perkins RB 6-0 195 Chandler (Ariz.) HS Aaron Porter LB 6-2 230 La Habra HS Marcus Rios DB 6-0 185 Elk Grove Cosumnes Oaks HS Ian Taubler TE 6-5 250 Fresno Bullard HS Kenny Walker WR 6-0 175 Richmond (Calif.) Kennedy HS Lacy Westbrook OL 6-4 320 Compton Dominguez HS Javon Williams WR 6-5 195 Chandler (Ariz.) HS *--*

*Early (spring) enrollee. **Early (spring) enrollee counts against 2011 scholarship total.

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