Advertisement
Share

UCLA signs 11 players, but Chip Kelly is still searching for QB of the future

Central Florida quarterback Dillon Gabriel throws against Boise State on Sept. 2.
Central Florida quarterback Dillon Gabriel throws against Boise State on Sept. 2. UCLA is pursuing Gabriel, who is in the NCAA transfer portal.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

The biggest development in UCLA football recruiting Wednesday wasn’t the players who said they were coming on the first day of the early signing period, but the one who might be on the way.

Several recruiting analysts from 247Sports.com projected the Bruins to land Central Florida transfer Dillon Gabriel, one of the nation’s most prolific quarterbacks during his first two college seasons before a broken collarbone limited him to only three games in 2021.

The Bruins heavily pursued Gabriel once he entered the transfer portal late last month, with quarterbacks coach Ryan Gunderson traveling to Gabriel’s native Hawaii for a recruiting visit. A 6-foot left-hander with a strong arm who completed 60.7% of his passes for 8,037 yards with 70 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions, Gabriel could be the successor to Dorian Thompson-Robinson if the UCLA senior quarterback heads for the NFL draft after this season. Gabriel has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

By all measures, UCLA should dominate Alabama State on Wednesday, but this could game could cost the Bruins dearly if they don’t win by a blowout.

Advertisement

Officially, the Bruins signed 11 high school players Wednesday as part of a class that’s ranked No. 5 in the Pac-12 and No. 46 nationally. But coach Chip Kelly said the class was small by design to leave room for the juniors and seniors with remaining eligibility who want to return as well as a handful of transfers.

“We just don’t have a lot of scholarships, so the quantity isn’t what I think it is with some [teams],” Kelly said. “But I really believe that the quality is outstanding.”

The class included six four-star players, the most under Kelly at UCLA since he brought in nine as part of an initial recruiting class that was partially assembled by predecessor Jim Mora’s coaching staff. Jack Pedersen and Carsen Ryan could continue the school’s legacy of top tight ends, and Jadyn Marshall could push for immediate playing time at wide receiver.

Kelly said his dalliance with Oregon — the coach acknowledged speaking with the school about its coaching vacancy that was filled by Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning — had no impact on the class because he discussed the situation with his players and recruits.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly shouts at a referee during a win over USC on Nov. 20.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“I think the one thing our players know from me is we’ll shoot them straight and we’ll talk about real-life things, they don’t have to read things online or in a paper, they can get the straight scoop from us,” Kelly said, “so I don’t think we had any issues with it and it affected us at all.”

Kelly said the Bruins had 17 or 18 available scholarships, though that number could change based on how many seniors with remaining eligibility decide to return and how many juniors contemplating the NFL decide to forge ahead with pro football. Thompson-Robinson, running back Zach Charbonnet, left tackle Sean Rhyan and tight end Greg Dulcich are among the players with decisions to make about their future.

“We have kept up an opportunity that we’d take them all back right now and if we could, we’d feel pretty good about where we are,” Kelly said, “but I don’t think every single one will come back. I think some kids will opt to go.”

UCLA’s recruiting class is particularly light at two spots, with Los Angeles Loyola offensive tackle Sam Yoon representing the only player to sign along the offensive or defensive lines. Kelly said that was a function of the team not losing many players at those positions.

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

The Bruins could add a few players during the February signing period in addition to the expected infusion of transfers. Duke wide receiver Jake Bobo already announced he was headed to UCLA via the transfer portal and Gabriel could be next, significantly bolstering what qualifies as a work in progress.

“Overall, it’s kind of incomplete right now because you don’t know how it’s going to finish,” said Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com. “I like the guys that they have brought in, but they have a lot more holes. We’ll see. Are they able to get Dillon Gabriel, one of the top mobile quarterbacks, and bring in some big guys up front? Then, all of a sudden, it’s like a pretty good class.”


Advertisement