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Bruins' football recruiting class is good but not great

UCLA will have the stamp of Coach Jim Mora, who is looking to reach the next level. But Bruins miss out on some coveted players.

February 05, 2014|By Chris Foster
  • Coach Jim Mora guided UCLA to a 10-3 record, including a 42-12 victory over Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Coach Jim Mora guided UCLA to a 10-3 record, including a 42-12 victory over… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

UCLA is certainly Jim Mora's team.

His third — and arguably least successful — recruiting day came and went. The players he recruited now outnumber the ones he inherited — although quarterback Brett Hundley is a handy guy to still have around.

So where the Bruins are now headed has Mora's coaching DNA.

"We talked last year about consistency," Mora said. "Now I'm looking to go win some games that people don't think we can win on a more consistent basis. I don't want to make excuses about going to Stanford and losing or going to Oregon and losing. That's the next step we have to take."

Fortunately for the Bruins, they have Stanford and Oregon at home next season.

But Mora's instinct about the next step is correct. A coach's third season is often a watershed moment.

The third year means three recruiting classes. Next season, there will be only 15 scholarship players on the roster who arrived at UCLA before Mora.

"You have a longer relationship with the players you recruit," Mora said. "You start the relationship in high school. You evaluate the type of person they are, the type of player, their character."

Those Mora inherited, he learned as he went.

"We tried create a plan for them as we went," Mora said. "It's been fun to see the guys who were here jump on board."

There were also 10 others who transferred. Another 10 had to take medical retirements because of chronic injuries. That allowed Mora to accelerate a replenishment program.

That process continued on national signing day Wednesday, with the end result open for interpretation.

Mora said the class "was outstanding" and "filled a lot of needs."

Recruiting websites saw the Bruins' class as good but not great. UCLA was ranked anywhere from 18th (Rivals.com) to 26th (ESPN.com). The Bruins' 2013 class was ranked in the top 10 by Rivals.com and Scout.com.

Mora and his staff signed 17 players, and were waiting on a couple of other possibilities. It includes six players ranked among ESPN's top 300 high school players — Carmel (Ind.) High receiver Austin Roberts (184), Gardena Serra linebacker Dwight Williams (180), El Cerrito (Calif.) cornerback Adarius Pickett (184), Galena Park (Texas) North Shore linebacker Zach Whitley (192), Lompoc defensive tackle Ainuu Taua (210) and Bellflower St. John Bosco cornerback Jaleel Wadood (288).

The class was augmented by defensive back Mossi Johnson and tackle Malcolm Brunche. Johnson signed with UCLA last season but waited until December to enroll as he was recovering from a knee injury. Bunche is a transfer from Miami who will enroll as a graduate student this spring and be immediately eligible.

Mora said the class brings big wide receivers — Roberts is 6 feet 2 and Alex Van Slyke is 6-4 — and quality linebackers, including Whitley, who had committed to Alabama before flipping to UCLA. It also added depth to the defensive line and secondary.

Still, it was also a day of watching high school players put on caps from other schools.

UCLA secured only one player who had yet to commit to a school before Wednesday. Kenny Young, a linebacker from River Ridge (La.) Curtis Christian High, picked the Bruins.

There were disappointments elsewhere.

Solomon Thomas, a defensive end from Coppell (Texas) High, picked Stanford. Receiver Malachi Dupre, a high school teammate of Young, stayed home with Louisiana State. Rashaan Evans, a linebacker from Auburn, chose Alabama.

"We were bridesmaids, might even been the ring girl on a couple players," Mora said. "But we were in the wedding."

The plan, Mora said, was "to get ourselves on the map. We're going to keep fighting for those guys."

Closer to home, there were more close-but-no-recruit moments. Three of the Southland's top players picked USC — defensive back Adoree' Jackson (Serra), Juju Smith (Long Beach Poly) and offensive lineman Damien Mama (St. John Bosco).

"We have egos like everyone else," Mora said. "So we do look at the rankings."

But, he said, "I don't want UCLA fans to be disappointed that we didn't get all those guys. I want UCLA fans to be excited about the guys we did get. This is an excellent team. It's growing up fast."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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