UCLA announced its presence early on national signing day Wednesday.
Before the sun rose — at least on the West Coast — Avon (Conn.) Old Farms' Chris Clark, considered the best tight end in the nation, had announced he was attending UCLA for television cameras.
The morning continued that way, as the Bruins picked off a handful of undecided recruits, the makings of a high-end recruiting class.
By the end of the day, the focus was more or less on two people: Macon County (Ga.) High linebacker Roquan Smith and UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.
UCLA signed 17 players Wednesday, landing three players who were ranked No. 1 at their positions by Scout.com — Clark, Plano (Texas) West High running back Sotonye "Soso" Jamabo and Honolulu St. Louis High center Fred Ulu-Perry. The Bruins already had Bellflower St. John Bosco's Josh Rosen, the No. 1-ranked quarterback, enrolled.
Yet the intrigue of the day centered on Smith, ranked by Scout as the No. 1 middle linebacker.
Smith announced that he would attend UCLA on ESPNU, citing Ulbrich as a big reason. He decided not to fax his letter of intent after learning that the defensive coordinator might coach elsewhere.
Ulbrich was contacted by new Atlanta Falcons Coach Dan Quinn. Ulbrich, who is under contract through 2016, said nothing has been "agreed on or signed" and that he was undecided on whether to accept the job.
Ulbrich called recruits, UCLA Coach Jim Mora said, "when it became something more real than just a concept." Still, Smith hedged.
Larry Harold, Smith's coach at Macon County, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that Smith reopened his recruitment.
"The [recruiting] process was well down the road before it became a topic," Mora said. "Jeff did the right thing and reached out to kids. Jeff has assured me he has not come to a decision yet. He is contemplating whether or not he wants to do that. I'm going to fight tooth and nail to keep him here."
It became the one glitch in what was otherwise a perfect day for Mora and his staff.
UCLA ended up with a class that was ranked seventh by 247Sports.com, though that ranking included Smith in the calculations. Even if Smith goes elsewhere, the Bruins will wind up with the best collection of high school talent since Mora was hired.
And the perception was as noticeable as the talent.
A year ago, UCLA languished on signing day, just missing on a handful of players. This time, the Bruins were part of the TV script. Oklahoma City Casady High guard Josh Wariboko, Las Vegas Gorman High receiver Cordell Broadus and Clark picked up UCLA baseball caps for the cameras. Jamabo brought two.
"Last year we thought we had a productive recruiting class, even though it was a smaller class," Mora said. "This year, it had a little more oomph because on national TV guys were pulling out UCLA hats. I'm not going to lie, that feels pretty good when there is an Ohio State hat and they pick up that beautiful UCLA hat."
Mora had no reason for the reversal this season, other than, "things happen that are supposed to happen."
UCLA fortified two areas — offensive line and the secondary.
The Bruins brought in four offensive linemen to go with Orange Coast College's Zach Bateman, who has already enrolled.
"One of our objective was to get bigger up front, add more mass," Mora said.
The Bruins added more height in the secondary, with San Bernardino San Gorgonio's Nate Meadors, San Marcos Mission Hills' DeChaun Holiday and Long Beach Poly's Colin Samuel all 6 feet 2 or taller.
"I like bigger, longer corners because I like to play bump and run," Mora said. "The college game is a little more lenient about putting hands on guys."
Mora said he would have preferred more defensive linemen — the Bruins signed only Santa Margarita's Rick Wade. But he was pleased with the class as a whole. Mora just had more reason than some to be happy.
"We're at the place now, because of some of the success we've had on the field, that we're able to draw from a broader talent group," Mora said.
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