Marlon Pollard had given up on his “dream school,” UCLA.
He committed to accepting a football scholarship from the Bruins before his junior year at San Bernardino Cajon High, but then Karl Dorrell was removed as coach and Pollard switched his choice to Notre Dame.
Only Dorrell’s replacement, Rick Neuheisel, didn’t give up.
And, just last month, Pollard reversed field again -- back to UCLA.
“Coach Neuheisel did a great job,” Pollard said. “I felt like [UCLA] was the place to be.”
Over the span of a month, the prized defensive back was among four recruits UCLA managed to flip its way. Billy Sanders, a tight end and defensive end from Idaho, changed from Miami; Taniela Maka, a linebacker from Long Beach Jordan, switched over from Arizona.
The coup de grace, though, was Carson tight end Morrell Presley, who initially committed to USC, then enrolled at UCLA. That seemed an indication that while the college football monopoly in Los Angeles is still far from over, there is a game afoot.
“Think about it, when was the last time UCLA ever pick-pocketed USC?” said Rick Kimbrel, western recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “That hasn’t happened in quite some time.
“Rick Neuheisel is like a bulldog. He doesn’t care about USC’s reputation. He’s going head-to-head with them.”
USC is set to gather another nationally ranked recruiting class today, but UCLA isn’t picking through leftovers.
Pollard, Sanders and Presley, as well as Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos High quarterback Richard Brehaut, give the Bruins a recruiting class better than a program coming off a 4-8 season should rightfully expect.
Two prominent recruiting websites rate the Bruins’ projected class among the nation’s top 20. And it’s a group that addresses immediate needs on the offensive line, with community college transfers Shawn Johnson (College of the Canyons), Ryan Taylor (Tyler, Texas) and Eddie Williams (Mt. San Antonio).
But it is the head-to-head battles the Bruins are winning against other schools that is a sign of change from the more passive recruiting days under Dorrell, Kimbrel said.
“Recruits have told me that once they committed to another school, UCLA stopped recruiting them,” Kimbrel said of the former staff. “This staff is persistent.”
Pollard is Exhibit A, but there are other examples.
UCLA is still chasing Randall Carroll, a wide receiver from Los Angeles Cathedral High who has committed to USC. And the Bruins are still believed in the running for Manti Te’o, a Honolulu Punahou linebacker considered so good that ESPN asked him to hold off announcing his choice until today so the network can televise it.
There’s also hope that Stanley Hasiak, a lineman from Hawaii’s Kapolei High who changed his commitment in the opposite direction -- from UCLA to California -- might reverse course after a visit from Bruins offensive coordinator Norm Chow, a Hawaii native.
Neuheisel is not allowed to speak about specific recruits, but in general terms said, “If someone is committed elsewhere, and they are sure, we wish them well. If they are not and want to learn more, we tell them, ‘We’d love to show you UCLA.’ ”
As for other schools trying to poach UCLA recruits, Neuheisel said, “We have zero fear. But we tell them, ‘If they’re talking about their own school, pay close attention, but if they start talking about us, you got to start asking yourself, why?’ ”
How much progress the Bruins have made in Los Angeles, where USC has dominated recruiting in recent years, is to be seen. But an indication that they have USC’s attention came when Morrell flipped.
Trojans Coach Pete Carroll and linebackers coach Ken Norton accused UCLA of bait-and-switch tactics, claiming recruits were being told Norton would join the Bruins’ staff if defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker left. Neuheisel denied the allegation.
Walker since was hired as head coach at New Mexico State, but Norton remained at USC and there has yet to be a recruit to confirm USC’s claim.
Meanwhile, Neuheisel hasn’t backed off a bit.
“You have to understand that these young people are making a very important decision,” Neuheisel said. “You have to keep fighting to the finish and can’t assume anything.”
Pollard is proof of that.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Recruits who have committed to sign letters of intent with UCLA (NCAA signing day is today):
QB: Richard Brehaut, Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos
OL: Eddie Williams, Mt. San Antonio College
OL: Nik Abele, Irvine
OL: Ryan Taylor, Tyler (Texas) JC
OL: Shawn Johnson, College of the Canyons
OL: Greg Capella, Visalia El Diamante
TE: Billy Sanders, Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Lake City
TE: Morrell Presley, Carson
WR: Roby Toma, Honolulu Punahou
WR: Ricky Marvray, Corona Centennial
RB: Dalton Hilliard, Honolulu Punahou
FB: Jayson Allmond, Bloomington
DT: Brandon Warner, Compton College
DE: Luta Tepa, Long Beach Poly
DE: Keenan Graham, Las Vegas Silverado
LB: Taniela Maka, Long Beach Jordan
LB: Todd Golper, Arcadia
LB: Isaiah Bowens, La Puente Bishop Amat
DB: Alex Mascarenas, Mission Viejo
DB: Brandon Sermons, Pomona Diamond Ranch
DB: Stanjarivus McKay, Long Beach Poly
DB: Marlon Pollard, San Bernardino Cajon
DB: Sheldon Price, La Puente Bishop Amat