Chip Kelly scheduled his meeting with reporters before noon Wednesday, an unusually early time on a day that often keeps college football coaches engaged from sunrise to sundown.
It was as if the UCLA coach already knew what was — and wasn’t — to come on national signing day.
By the time Kelly stepped before a small group of reporters inside the Wasserman Football Center, the Bruins had received letters of intent from the three high school players expected to sign with the school. Two other prospects who were strongly considering UCLA had announced they were headed elsewhere. Later in the day, a linebacker with a scholarship offer from the Bruins opted to stay close to home and attend Washington, as a walk-on.
After enhancing his team’s depth by just the slightest of margins, Kelly all but planted a help wanted sign.
“We’ll take anybody anywhere,” Kelly said after UCLA announced a 19-player class, 16 of whom signed in December. “I mean, we think we’ve addressed needs so we don’t have any gaps anywhere, but we’re obviously looking for more players if they fit the profile both academically and athletically.”
Kelly acknowledged holding out hope for one or two more players joining the class, but there would be no pleasant surprises before day’s end. Lawndale High running back Jordan Wilmore announced in the afternoon that he would go to Utah. Orem (Utah) High receiver Puka Nacua, who is considering UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington and Oregon, told reporters he was delaying his college decision.
The largely drama-free day left the Bruins with what might ultimately be their lowest-rated class in nearly a decade. 247Sports rated UCLA’s class No. 43 nationally and No. 7 in the Pac-12 Conference, their worst figures since finishing No. 45 nationally and No. 8 in the Pac-12 in 2011.
Those rankings would have been nudged upward had the Bruins not lost out on Corona Centennial High linebacker Tuasivi Nomura and Long Beach Poly defensive back Kenyon Reed, who were both strongly considering UCLA. Nomura picked USC and Reed opted for Kansas State.
Predictably, Kelly shifted the focus to the trio of three-star prospects who chose his school.
“We brought in three new guys I think at positions that will really help us,” Kelly said of Santa Ana Mater Dei High tight end Michael Martinez, Wayne (N.J.) Hills High receiver Charles Njoku and Gainesville (Fla.) Buchholz linebacker Noah Keeter.
Kelly said Martinez, who stands 6 feet 6 and weighs 245 pounds, was “one of the bigger tight ends I’ve ever had the opportunity to recruit” and raved about the upside of the 6-4 Njoku, who has two brothers playing in the NFL. At 6-5 and 225 pounds, Keeter also features good size and will add sorely needed depth at outside linebacker.
The Bruins got thinner at that position Wednesday when sophomore Rahyme Johnson, who played sparingly despite a rash of injuries, announced on Twitter that he was transferring.
Johnson is one of about 30 players with remaining eligibility who have left the program since Kelly’s arrival in November 2017, creating openings that the coach has begun to fill with his two recruiting classes. UCLA’s 2018 class, which included some recruits initially targeted by coach Jim Mora, was ranked No. 19 nationally and No. 4 in the Pac-12 by 247Sports.
Kelly said the Bruins could add more players via transfers.
“We feel really comfortable where our depth is and where we’re at right now,” Kelly said.
While UCLA’s underwhelming haul Wednesday sparked a message board meltdown among fans, Kelly said he was pleased with his recruiting approach and results based on the players the team has landed.
“I think the class we brought in last year was outstanding,” Kelly said, “and I feel really good about this class.”
Kelly confirmed that he had hired Nevada’s Jason Kaufusi as outside linebackers coach and said tight ends coach Derek Sage would also be the team’s special teams coordinator, filling the vacancies created by the departure of outside linebackers coach-special teams coordinator Roy Manning. Manning left UCLA recently to coach cornerbacks at Oklahoma.