One recruit backed out of his commitment. Then another. And another.
In the span of a week, UCLA’s football team lost five prospects who had said they would sign with the Bruins. The defections added up to what seemed like an obvious conclusion: UCLA’s struggles on the field and the uncertainty it created over the fate of the coaching staff were leading to more than lost games.
“Five in a one-week span isn’t very common at all,” said Brandon Huffman, director of recruiting for Scout.com. “Usually, when you see that, a coaching change just happened.”
Coach Jim Mora is still on the job despite the Bruins losing three of four games heading into Saturday’s Pac-12 Conference game against Arizona State at the Rose Bowl. Mora cannot comment directly on recruits who have not signed letters of intent, but said there were additional layers to the situation unrelated to the team’s 4-5 record.
“When you read about the decommits, you worry about it,” Mora said, “but there’s a hidden reality to it, I guess I should say.”
Huffman notes that three of the recruits hailed from the South — defensive backs Kendrick Torain of Tampa (Fla.) Jesuit High, Ken Montgomery of Tampa Hillsborough and Dayven Coleman of West Mesquite (Texas) — and fit a pattern of prospects from that area reneging on commitments to UCLA after changing their minds or being more strongly pursued by colleges closer to home.
“I don’t think any of those three you were 100% confident [the Bruins] were going to sign,” Huffman said. “Even if UCLA was 7-2 right now, those guys were probably still going to end up elsewhere.”
Another factor might have been the Bruins’ depth at defensive back after restocking their ranks with their last recruiting class. Torain told 247Sports that UCLA coaches “weren’t really communicating well with me,” but Huffman said that might have been by design after the coaches realized they could land a comparable or better player from Southern California.
Mission Viejo cornerback Olaijah Griffin is considered one of the jewels of the Bruins’ recruiting class, along with Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the likely successor to Josh Rosen. Thompson-Robinson said he remained strongly committed to the Bruins.
“Just a commitment in general means you committed for a reason and the right reasons at that,” Thompson-Robinson said in a text message. “Not for records and coaches but for academics and an opportunity to play. That’s why I’m 10,000% committed.”
Huffman acknowledged that offensive linemen Blake McDonald and Jason Dickson recently backing out of their commitments could be troublesome for the Bruins considering their need to add depth at the position. McDonald told Scout.com that his decision wasn’t solely football related, that he wanted to find a school that “best suits me.”
Marco Brewer of Corvallis (Ore.) High, another offensive lineman who has committed to UCLA, faces first-degree rape charges that could preclude him from playing in college, and offensive tackle Chris Bleich of Plymouth (Pa.) Wyoming Valley West and center Trey Stratford of Allen (Texas) are not considered locks to end up at UCLA, Huffman said. That leaves what might be a thin blue line for the Bruins.
“They went from having five linemen that they felt they were secure with in June,” Huffman said, “to they may not hold on to any of those offensive linemen.”
Whoever winds up in Westwood may consider the team’s difficult times as part of the enticement.
“I think fans take the losing season harder than recruits do,” Huffman said. “Recruits, in their mind, think, ‘Well, they’re not going to be 4-5 when I get there next year; I’m going to be the difference-maker.’ ”
Let’s go bowling
If the Bruins qualify for a bowl, count Rosen in.
The quarterback wants to participate in any postseason game — “absolutely, no question,” he said — despite high-profile players such as Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Louisiana State’s Leonard Fournette sitting out bowls in recent seasons.
“I mean, bowl games are just fun,” Rosen said. “I like going out there with the guys and you’re in another city for a week and you have a good time.”
Rosen said he remained on track to play against Arizona State so long as he passes the concussion protocol after he was knocked out of the game against Washington on Oct. 28. Rosen said he was injured on the Bruins’ first drive when Huskies defensive lineman Vita Vea sacked him.