Wednesday started well and ended even better for UCLA football Coach Rick Neuheisel.
With 21 incoming freshmen already signed and delivered early on national letter of intent day, the Bruins got one last piece of good news in the evening when Lake Balboa Birmingham running back Milton Knox announced he was joining the Bruins.
The last-call recruit was the final piece to a class that is ranked ninth nationally by Scout.com and 13th by Rivals.com. It also ended a day of speculation, as a late push by Notre Dame nearly wooed Knox away.
“I’m going to live and die with this decision,” said Knox, who orally committed to UCLA last spring. “Its a chance for family to see me at home.”
It followed the trend of the day for the Bruins, as Neuheisel and staff managed to hang on to nearly all the players who had orally committed.
“This is a very competitive market, and lots of people would love for kids to come look at their schools,” Neuheisel said. “Some of ours went and looked and that they kept together was a credit to the great place we work, UCLA.”
It was also a product of the closeness that has developed among the incoming freshmen. That was evident at a small strip mall in Inglewood, where 13 players gathered in the morning for a signing ceremony outside Serving Spoon, a restaurant owned by the family of Bruins recruit Jerry Johnson, a wide receiver from Venice High.
There, the talk was all about big plans for the future.
“We’re going to take over one city at a time,” said Johnathan Franklin, a defensive back and running back from Los Angeles Dorsey High. “When it started, whoever thought Microsoft would be as big as it is today? I see us winning Pac-10 championships. If we work hard enough, we can win a national championship.”
The talent infusion was needed for a program that has meandered in recent seasons. UCLA was 6-7 in 2007.
“We addressed a lot of critical needs, especially at skill positions, both on offense and defense,” Neuheisel said.
Particularly at running back. Besides Knox, the Bruins landed Aundre Dean of Katy, Texas, who was ranked among the top 10 running backs nationally. Dean had 4,609 yards rushing and scored 53 touchdowns the last two seasons.
“He’s a ready-made physical player,” Neuheisel said. “He’s a prototype tailback.”
Add to that Knox, who scored 103 touchdowns in four high school seasons. He was twice selected the Los Angeles City Section player of the year.
“We’re excited to have both of these guys,” Neuheisel said. “It’s a huge deal for [Knox] to be staying home.”
Tailback is an iffy spot for the Bruins. Leading rusher Kahlil Bell suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee late in the season and Raymond Carter, a promising freshman, suffered a similar injury before the season.
“Given our depth situation, I think we may have one tailback play,” Neuheisel said. “I wouldn’t say it was outlandish to say one or two secondary players will play next fall.”
The Bruins landed three defensive backs ranked in the top 10 nationally by Rivals.com -- Aaron Hester of Compton Dominguez, Rahim Moore of Dorsey and E.J. Woods of Encino Crespi.
“It is amazing how much talent there is in this class,” said Nick Crissman, a quarterback from Huntington Beach Edison. “I think the fact that we stayed together as a unit shows we know how special this class we have is.”
Crissman is among three quarterbacks who signed. The others were Kevin Prince, from Crespi, and Kevin Craft, a transfer from Mt. San Antonio College.
The class was thin on the defensive and offensive lines, which Neuheisel said “is something we desperately need to address in our next class.”
UCLA’s spring football game will be played at the Rose Bowl on April 26, university officials announced.
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(D1)In a class of their own
The nation’s top 10 recruiting classes, according to Rivals.com (UCLA is 13th):
2. Notre Dame
7. Florida State
8. Ohio State