UCLA football Coach Jim Mora leads basketball fans in the Bruins 'Eight… (Danny Moloshok / Associated…)
If you want to know how badly UCLA football recruiting had fallen, let me tell the story from Harbor City Narbonne Coach Manuel Douglas. He said that during the City Section playoffs in 2010, a UCLA recruiter was on campus and didn't know who the best player was at Crenshaw High.
"He didn't know who De'Anthony Thomas was," Douglas said. "If you don't know in your backyard who the best player in the City was, you're doing a crappy job recruiting."
Fast-forward to 2012. New UCLA Coach Jim Mora hasn't held a single practice, but in recruiting, he's getting an A on an early report card thanks to his hiring of assistant coaches Adrian Klemm, Steve Broussard, Eric Yarber and Demetrius Martin. They played high school football at St. Monica, Manual Arts, Crenshaw and Pasadena Muir, respectively. They don't need a GPS device to figure out how to drive to Long Beach Poly or Dorsey High. Most important, they have connections to the people who matter most in recruiting in the era of the Internet — the private advisors, the combine specialists and high school coaches.
Klemm came from Southern Methodist, where he offered a scholarship to Carl Hulick, a 6-foot-21/2, 290-pound offensive lineman from Anaheim Esperanza who was most valuable player at a B2G summer camp held at UCLA. A camp advisor recommended that Klemm take a look at Hulick.
Esperanza Coach Greg Kemp said UCLA "hadn't shown any interest" in Hulick before Klemm's hiring. Once Klemm arrived in Westwood, he started recruiting Hulick, who changed his commitment from SMU to UCLA.
"A lot of schools held off on him because of his height, but he's a great kid, a leader and plays 100 miles an hour," Kemp said.
What a concept, recruiting a player who goes hard every play instead of seeking players who are put on All-America teams based on potential.
"He really believed in me and believed in my abilities," Hulick said of Klemm.
USC dominated UCLA in recruiting during the Pete Carroll era, and Lane Kiffin hasn't let anything slide when it comes to landing the best in Los Angeles. His success in taking away receivers Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and George Farmer from Gardena Serra could lead to the Trojans' contending for a national title this fall.
But USC is also about to enter uncharted territory. The Trojans kept postponing the worst part of NCAA sanctions — scholarship limitations. And starting with this year's recruiting class and for three years, they can't sign more than 15 players.
The combination of UCLA's new recruiters and the NCAA scholarship limitations could be the opening for UCLA to begin to get on a more even playing field in the recruiting game with the Trojans. Martin's connections have already helped UCLA get a commitment from standout defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy of Monrovia, whom USC wanted, and from defensive back Ishmael Adams of Westlake Village Oaks Christian, an MVP at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
On Sunday, former Oregon commit Jeremy Castro, a defensive end from Vista Murrieta, revealed he has switched his commitment to UCLA. And last week, UCLA made a scholarship offer to Narbonne junior quarterback Troy Williams, the City Section Division I player of the year. Scout.com has UCLA's recruiting class ranked No. 12 in the nation.
Of course, former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel had some early success recruiting too, with recruits buying into his vision of the future. Then the losses mounted on the field, and it became harder to sell.
UCLA's new recruiters will have to show they are good coaches too. If that happens, it will be a whole new game in Southern California recruiting. Even USC's workaholic recruiter, Ed Orgeron, might feel he's getting a little competition from the guys wearing blue and gold.