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Late recruiting push has UCLA flipping over its signing-day successes

UCLA head coach Chip Kelly in the second half against Colorado.
UCLA head coach Chip Kelly in the second half against Colorado on Nov. 7 in Boulder, Colo.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

It’s not you, it’s them.

In a 2020 twist on the standard breakup line, a handful of high school prospects told their original college choices they weren’t coming Wednesday because they had found something better: a future with the UCLA Bruins.

Defensive ends Christian Burkhalter, AJ Campbell and Quintin Somerville formalized their commitments to UCLA on the first day of the early signing period after having previously said they were headed elsewhere. Safety Josh Moore signed with the Bruins after having once committed at different times to Stanford and USC. And in perhaps the wackiest development of the day, wide receiver-defensive back Devin Kirkwood signed with UCLA … after having decommitted from UCLA earlier this month.

Bruins coach Chip Kelly said those signings that came as a result of so-called flips were a sign of the COVID-19 times.

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“A lot of kids were pressured into commitments early, you know, with COVID, and not visiting [schools] and all those other things,” Kelly said. “And then sometimes they get a chance to reassess where they were and what they were doing. We had stayed in touch with them, you know, they’re kids that we’d been recruiting for a while. And then as things got closer to the signing date, they decided that UCLA was the best spot for them.”

Tracking the high school football players from the 2021 recruiting class who are officially signing with USC or UCLA as the early signing period opens.

As one letter of intent after another arrived via DocuSign, the Bruins significantly bolstered a class that 247Sports once had ranked next to last in the Pac-12 Conference. By dusk, UCLA had risen to No. 6, with a chance to climb as high as No. 3 by the February signing period, according to 247Sports national recruiting analyst Greg Biggins, should the Bruins snag a few more players they were pursuing, including running back Deshun Murrell.

The Bruins announced the signing of 15 players but would have liked to trumpet the arrival of a few more, including quarterback Jaxson Dart, who picked USC. That left San Jacinto High’s Kajiya Hollawayne as the only quarterback in the class.

Kelly said he watched the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Hollawayne throw a winning touchdown pass in a camp and celebrate with a backflip.

“He’s that type of athlete,” Kelly said, “where he’s kind of off the charts when it comes to athletic ability.”

The Bruins signed four receivers, not including Texas A&M transfer Kam Brown, and four offensive linemen. The additions along the offensive line prompted Kelly to say his team was adequately stocked at the position for the first time since his arrival.

Kelly said the Bruins intentionally did not sign the maximum allowable number of players to leave room for an expected bonanza of transfers who will be available in the wake of a likely new rule granting transfers immediate eligibility.

Somerville and Kirkwood were the only new Bruins who received four stars on the 247Sports’ composite five-star scale, but Biggins said a few others, including Burkhalter and Campbell, could get nudged into that territory upon the recruiting service’s next ratings update.

Asked about his inability to land anywhere near the number of four- and five-star prospects that line the rosters of teams that have qualified for the College Football Playoff, Kelly said he only needed more players like safety Quentin Lake, a former three-star high school player who has become a star of the team’s secondary.

“You know, that type of person and kid that has attention to detail and, you know, is taking himself to the next level,” Kelly said. “I think sometimes when you get caught up in that you may miss out on a Josh Kelley. I don’t think the Los Angeles Chargers cared how many stars Josh Kelley had, you know, so I think we’re always going to take the best players.”

The Bruins’ 2021 class goes into the start of the early signing period Wednesday ranked No. 11 in the Pac-12. But UCLA could make a dramatic rise.

Some of the Bruins’ latest additions picked them after having second thoughts about other schools. Campbell was initially committed to Vanderbilt, Burkhalter to Oregon and Somerville to Michigan. Moore vacillated on multiple occasions, the Bruins becoming his third Pac-12 choice after he previously displayed allegiance to the Trojans and Cardinal.

Kirkwood originally picked UCLA only to back out and then come back, telling 247Sports that the school was always where he wanted to be. Kelly said landing players who once said they were headed elsewhere is never a result of backstabbing other suitors.

“We don’t talk about the other schools,” Kelly said, “we’ve always just talked about our own school and our ability to develop. A lot of times, you know, in these instances, the kids reach out to us.”

It’s a hello leading to a goodbye elsewhere.


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