Coach Jim Mora and his staff are working hard to control their home region first, and their state second. But when there is a special need to address, or special player they want, they are not afraid to stretch out nationally and fight more established college football powers on rival turf.
It's an approach that has worked here before — across town at
UCLA's work is led by Mora, associate head coach Adrian Klemm and recruiting coordinator Angus McClure.
Two of the Bruins' best players, quarterback Brett Hundley — who was already at UCLA when Mora was hired — and linebacker/running back Myles Jack came to Westwood from out of state,
UCLA also has achieved some success in
The Bruins also caused a stir when T.J. Simmons, a highly regarded running back from Lakeland, Fla., recently gave them a verbal commitment.
Simmons' commitment is non-binding — he still has his senior season at Lakeland Christian High left to play — but his choice is yet another reminder of UCLA's growing national pull. Simmons has good size at 6 feet, 195 pounds, and explosive speed. He is a sprinter who plans to also compete for the Bruins' track and field team.
Mora and other UCLA coaches are prohibited by
In 2010, UCLA had 21 players from outside California on its football roster. This summer, it has 35.
As Carroll did at USC, Mora managed to create some momentum by winning immediately and is now trying to build on it.
Carroll was 6-6 in 2001, his first season at USC, but then went 82-9 over the next seven seasons. UCLA was 4-8 and 6-8 in the two seasons before Mora took over. Mora's first team went 9-5, and the Bruins were 10-3 last season.
For Simmons, UCLA was recruiting against dozens of strong programs, including Ohio State,
That was no average recruiting effort, said Mike Farrell, an analyst for Rivals.com.
"If you go in there after a T.J. Simmons, you're beating your chest and you're saying, 'I don't care. We're going to try to get this kid,'" Farrell said. "And that's what makes these UCLA recruiters so good."
But taking that chance is worth it for a team trying to reach national prominence. Farrell noted that
"It's one of those things where schools say, 'We've got to try. California's great, we're going to recruit California kids first and foremost and West Coast kids, but we've got to try to get some of these Southeast kids on our roster because they can be absolutely difference-makers,'" Farrell said.
Mora cited UCLA's academic reputation and the team's family atmosphere as draws for recruits when the Bruins go national. He said the campus' location also helps his pitch.
"We're in Westwood, one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and they come to this campus and it's very different than what they would expect," Mora said. "It doesn't sit downtown. It sits pressed up against the mountains, five miles from the beach. The topography is beautiful. It's hilly. It's green. It's healthy. It's safe. It's an amazing campus."
Simmons said he felt a connection to UCLA because he quickly saw how he could fit in.
"I mainly felt at home as soon as I got on campus and really wasn't [thinking] a lot [about] how am I going to be able to act while I'm out here," Simmons said in a phone interview. "They just welcomed me as family."
A big part of fitting into a football family at any school is building rapport with coaches. For Simmons, UCLA hit all the right buttons and being far from home wasn't an issue. He had a different priority.
"Having a personal connection with the coach really has to mean a lot in your recruitment," Simmons said, "because you're going to be with that coach for about four years of your college career, so you want to have a good relationship with him."