Chip Kelly’s recruiting approach at his last college stop could have been described as few stars, just talent.
He was known for making players who weren’t considered top prospects wildly successful as part of a spread, up-tempo attack. Oregon went 46-7 in four seasons, reaching four major bowl games with a roster dotted with players who had been mid-level recruits.
Access to a deep cache of highly rated prospects won’t be an issue in his new job at UCLA.
Kelly can now directly tap into a Southern California recruiting base that Greg Biggins, national football recruiting analyst for Scout.com, ranks as second in the nation for its depth of talent, trailing only south Florida. What happens when a coach known as a developmental genius finally gets to stock his roster with some of the nation’s top players?
Some of those recruits seem as eager as UCLA fans to find out. A recruiting Twitter feed not affiliated with UCLA on Sunday posted a picture of a smiling Kelly standing next to Brendan Radley-Hiles, a highly coveted cornerback from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Radley-Hiles was once strongly considering the Bruins before his interest waned in the months before Kelly’s hiring Saturday; a day later he posted pictures of himself striking various poses in a UCLA uniform on Twitter.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the quarterback from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High who is considered the Bruins’ top prospect, reaffirmed his commitment Saturday when he tweeted a photo of actor Will Smith dancing along with the caption “Mood: 4sUp,” referring to the UCLA recruiting slogan.
Bryan Addison, a receiver-defensive back from Gardena Serra High who is scheduled to visit UCLA in early December before announcing his college choice, said there was an uptick in his interest in the Bruins after Kelly was hired.
“It boosted it a little bit,” Addison said, adding that he wanted to know who Kelly would hire as defensive backs coach and offensive coordinator.
Biggins said Kelly would be wise to strongly consider retaining UCLA defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin and defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Angus McClure, who have reputations as tireless recruiters with deep connections throughout the West Coast.
There is increased urgency for Kelly to announce his coaching staff because of the new early signing period that starts Dec. 20. The recruiting class Kelly inherited from Jim Mora includes 18 players who have committed to UCLA, according to Scout.com, including six who were awarded four stars on the recruiting service’s five-star scale.
Most college coaches disregard the star rankings of prospects, though few seem to do so with as much vigor as Kelly.
“He’s got a system that he’s going to fit,” Biggins said. “At Oregon, they never really had a top recruiting class. They’d always get guys and you’re going, ‘Who the heck is this guy?’ Then he goes to Oregon and blows up.”
Biggins said the players already committed to UCLA are mostly good fits for Kelly’s style. Thompson-Robinson is the kind of dual-threat quarterback who typically thrives while running Kelly’s offense and the 5-foot-11, 176-pound Kyle Philips fits the small, speedy receiver mold that Kelly seems to prefer.
Kelly also favors offensive linemen who are lighter and more mobile than the behemoths widely viewed as the prototype. The one glaring need in Biggins’ estimation that has not been filled either by UCLA’s recent recruiting efforts or its roster is the kind of running back that Kelly likes.
“The guys they have are more Big Ten-style backs,” Biggins said. “They need someone who can just maybe catch a five-yard hitch and go 50 yards with it. I think getting an explosive running back is huge for offense.”
UCLA fans may notice an appreciable difference in the team’s returning players by the 2018 season opener against Cincinnati on Sept. 1 at the Rose Bowl, because of Kelly’s emphasis on developing speed and stamina.
“I think you’ll see a huge jump in players who will look faster, more quick and explosive,” Biggins said. “Part of it will be system, part of it will be scheme, part of it will be because that’s how he develops them.”
Developing local connections shouldn’t be a challenge given Kelly’s previous recruiting success in Los Angeles. One of his biggest coups at Oregon was landing Crenshaw running back De’Anthony Thomas after Thomas originally committed to USC.
That could make Kelly’s arrival at UCLA feel like a homecoming of sorts.
“I think he has great West Coast ties from what he did getting all those L.A. kids go up to Oregon,” said Jason Negro, the coach at Bellflower St. John Bosco High “And it’s a lot easier getting L.A. kids go to UCLA than Eugene. He’s going to have a great advantage.”
A list of the 18 high school players who have committed to play for UCLA next season:
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman
Olaijah Griffin, CB, Mission Viejo
Jahan Dotson, WR, Nazareth (Pa.)
Abdul-Malik McClain, DE, San Juan Capistrano JSerra
Cam’ron Jones, S, Mansfield (Texas)
Stephan Blaylock, S, Bellflower St. John Bosco
Kyle Philips, WR, San Marcos
Devon Cooley, WR, Bellflower St. John Bosco
Chris Bleich, OT, Plymouth (Pa.) Wyoming Valley West
C.J. Parks, WR, Santa Ana Mater Dei
Trey Stratford, C, Allen (Texas)
Kolin Demens, LB, Franklin (Mich.) Detroit Country Day
AJ Carter, RB, Many (La.)
Isaiah Johnson, ATH, Modesto Thomas Downey
Aaron Maldonado, DT, La Puente Bishop Amat
Matthew Tago, ATH, Lancaster Quartz Hill
Niti Liu, DT, Sacramento Grant Union
Lentivone Lesane, RB, Hialeah (Fla.) Mater Academy Charter