Advertisement
Share

Content to raid transfer portal, UCLA won’t run out of ink on early signing day

UCLA coach Chip Kelly gathers with players on the sideline to celebrate a touchdown against rival USC
UCLA coach Chip Kelly joins wide receiver Kyle Philips and others in celebrating a touchdown during a win over USC on Nov. 20.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

Describing his recruiting philosophy, Chip Kelly likes to say that big people beat up little people.

When it comes to class size in a college football landscape swarmed with transfers and super seniors, smaller can lead to heftier returns.

Kelly’s speck of a 2022 recruiting class will leave ample room for the team’s veterans who want to return via COVID-19 eligibility extensions as well as a parade of transfers ready to contribute immediately.

Advertisement

UCLA wants to retain football coach Chip Kelly after he guided the team to its best season since 2015 and hopes to agree to a contract extension soon.

The Bruins (8-4) are about to complete a season in which they logged their best record in six years in large part because of high-impact transfers such as Zach Charbonnet, Brittain Brown and Qwuantrezz Knight. Some of those players, including Charbonnet and quarterback Ethan Garbers, were players Kelly tried — and failed — to land out of high school only to have them circle back to the school through the transfer portal.

“They’re basically saying, ‘We’re not going to get that elite, elite kid out of high school, let’s wait until we can get him in the portal,’ ” Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com, said of the Bruins’ approach. “UCLA’s not going to put in the work to do what it takes to get the guy out of high school, which is, you’ve got to roll out the red carpet, you’ve got to wine and dine the kid, you’ve got to be all over his Instagram, you’ve got to DM him every day, you’ve got to just do all this stuff that maybe you don’t want to do, but these kids nowadays, they want to be loved up and recruited heavily.”

Those same requirements don’t apply to transfers seeking more playing time or a better experience, Biggins said, providing UCLA built-in advantages because of its location and academic reputation, among other factors.

“They can get a Charbonnet out of the portal because if that guy they miss in high school goes somewhere else, then when he comes out of the portal,” Biggins said, “UCLA becomes an attractive option.”

Things are expected to play out in a similar manner over the next few months. The Bruins have only 12 high school players who have publicly announced commitments heading into the early signing period that starts Wednesday, putting them on pace for their smallest class since Kelly’s arrival before the 2018 season.

Kaufusi is the second member of the Bruins’ staff to leave in recent weeks.

“They look to be pretty content just waiting on the portal and aren’t pushing that hard on any remaining high school players,” Biggins said.

UCLA landed its first transfer Tuesday when Jake Bobo, a wide receiver who caught 74 passes for 794 yards and a touchdown this past season for Duke, announced on Twitter that he had committed to the Bruins.

The Bruins can take up to 32 scholarship players via high school or transfer thanks to a recent wave of 11 defections to the transfer portal. NCAA rules allow teams to exceed the usual limit of 25 incoming scholarship players based on the number of players who leave via transfer, up to a limit of seven additional spots.

UCLA’s class was significantly bolstered Tuesday by the commitment of Kamari Ramsey, a four-star safety from Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High who recently decommitted from Stanford.

As it currently stands, UCLA’s smallish class is big on quality, with the six four-star players representing Kelly’s most since he landed nine in 2018 with a major assist from predecessor Jim Mora’s coaching staff.

Four-star tight ends Jack Pedersen of Vista Murrieta and Carsen Ryan of American Fork (Utah) should continue the Bruins’ legacy of excellence at the position. Four-star wide receiver Jadyn Marshall of Stockton St. Mary’s could contribute quickly, and four-star quarterback Justyn Martin is one of three Inglewood High players expected to sign with the Bruins, alongside four-star defensive back Clint Stephens and three-star running back Tomarion Harden.

UCLA defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia will declare for the NFL draft and likely miss the Holiday Bowl later this month.

Kelly’s flirtation with Oregon over its coaching vacancy before the Ducks hired Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning does not appear to have cost the Bruins any recruits, but the departures of assistants Johnny Nansen and Jason Kaufusi — two of the coaching staff’s most dogged recruiters — might.

Linebacker DeAndre Gill of Kent (Wash.) Kentwood High, who committed to the Bruins after being recruited by Kaufusi, is not making his choice official until the February signing period while he waits to see who will coach his position at UCLA, Biggins said.

Biggins said the losses of Nansen and Kaufusi might have deeper recruiting ramifications unless their replacements are equally tireless. In a potentially promising development, Ikaika Malloe, Washington’s co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach, attended UCLA’s practice Monday, meaning he could be in line to fill one of the Bruins’ vacancies.

“If they replace one of them with him,” Biggins said of Malloe, “you’re not dropping anything, you’d feel OK with that.”

The most glaring holes in UCLA’s class are on the offensive and defensive lines. The team has no defensive linemen committed, and Sam Yoon, an offensive tackle from Los Angeles Loyola High, represents its only newcomer on the offensive line.

UCLA is hemorrhaging football players to the transfer portal as part of a process that may prove more beneficial to the schools than the players.

Yoon committed shortly after watching the Bruins defeat Louisiana State in early September at the Rose Bowl in one of their top wins of the Kelly era.

“That game was just an incredible indication that the UCLA football program was moving in the right direction,” said Yoon, who picked the school over USC, California, Princeton, Harvard and Columbia.

Yoon raved about his official visit that included door-to-door pickup from his Pasadena home and an outdoor barbecue featuring chicken, brisket and pulled pork.

“I’m really looking forward to eating that UCLA food for the next four years,” Yoon said, “or however long it is.”

Those wondering where’s the beef on the offensive and defensive lines — Biggins said it’s usually smart to have four players per class at each position — probably only need to wait. There figures to be plenty available via the transfer portal, where UCLA has helped itself to heaping portions of whatever it’s needed.


Advertisement