UCLA’s strong recruiting class gets stronger on signing day

UCLA’s strong recruiting class gets stronger on signing day

North Torrance High linebacker Mique Juarez announces his committment to UCLA during National signing day on Feb. 3.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Sitting in class with his phone off much of Wednesday, Breland Brandt didn’t know the excitement he was missing.

The UCLA freshman, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound tight end from Los Angeles Windward High who is already enrolled in college in anticipation of participating in spring practice, soon found out he had plenty of company as part of the Bruins’ incoming football recruiting class.

When he turned his phone back on, “my Twitter was just blowing up,” Brandt said.

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UCLA knew it had achieved recruiting success in the days leading up to the first day high school seniors were allowed to officially accept scholarship offers. But another contingent of eight players Bruins coaches had targeted were undecided heading into late Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Once he plugged back in, Brandt discovered UCLA had signed most of them. Around noon, North Torrance High’s Mique Juarez, one of the nation’s best linebackers, picked the Bruins. A few minutes later, Concord De La Salle defensive lineman Boss Tagaloa announced he too was headed to Westwood.

Of the eight, six committed to UCLA.

The Bruins signed 29 players in a class that ranked seventh nationally and first in the Pac-12 Conference, according to Scout.com. Another player, offensive lineman Jake Raulerson, has announced he will transfer to UCLA from Texas.

“We’re headed in the right direction,” Coach Jim Mora summarized. “We’ve just got to hurry up and get there.”

It was the second year in a row the Bruins enjoyed one of the nation’s strongest signing days.

At the top of the class was Juarez. With the departure of Myles Jack, who left school early after declaring he would enter the NFL draft, the Bruins needed an impact linebacker.

“He’s a freak athlete,” Brandt said. “He’s huge.”

At a ceremony at his high school, Juarez pulled a UCLA cap over his head, picking the Bruins over Alabama.

Juarez committed to USC before Steve Sarkisian was fired. He’s now the fourth consecutive Los Angeles Times player of the year to sign with UCLA.

The Bruins also forayed into territories typically controlled by USC. Gardena Serra defensive back Brandon Burton committed to UCLA on Tuesday and signed Wednesday.

“When you talk about Serra, we all assume that that’s just a stronghold for another program in this area,” Mora said. “But we’ve done OK there.”

The recruits should offer quarterback Josh Rosen much-needed new targets, because UCLA is losing four of its top five receivers from last season. Theo Howard, an early enrollee, was rated the No. 7 receiver in the nation by Scout.com. He said he has already begun working with Rosen.

Damian Alloway, another incoming receiver, said signing with UCLA to play with Rosen was “kind of like going to the NFL and getting drafted to play with Tom Brady.”

Mora harbored hopes that this class would add size and strength to a team that gave up five 200-yard rushing games last season.

The Bruins signed three offensive linemen — two of more than 300 pounds — and will add Raulerson. They also added six defensive linemen, including Tagaloa, who should help fill the vacancy left by Kenny Clark.

Four incoming linebackers — Juarez, Brandt, Bakersfield Liberty High’s Krystopher Barnes and Rialto Carter High’s Lokeni Toailoa — are “all big, good-looking, well developed guys,” Mora said.

UCLA beefed up its backfield with fullback Jalen Starks and running back Brandon Stephens. Both weigh more than 200 pounds.

Stephens is the second back from Plano, Texas, to sign with UCLA in the last two seasons, Soso Jamabo was a freshman last season.

UCLA also completely renovated its special-teams unit. The nation’s No. 2-rated kicker, JJ Molson, and No. 2 punter, Austin Kent, both signed, as did the nation’s top long snapper, Johnny Den Bleyker. Mora said he expects all to play immediately.

To Brandt, it all sounded good.

Having finally sifted through all the news, he said, “Wow, we’re really building something here.”

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand