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Amid transfer portal upheaval, the Dillon Gabriel era at UCLA ends before it begins

UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel wears a sling while walking on the sidelines.
UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel wears a sling while walking on the sidelines during the first half against Navy on Oct. 2, 2021, in Annapolis, M.D.
(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

The quarterback who left his team, saying he was coming to UCLA, is now headed to Oklahoma, presumably replacing a quarterback who entered the transfer portal but may come back.

Got all that?

It was hard to keep track of all the comings and goings Monday after Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams entered the transfer portal, touching off a mad scramble by the university to keep him while prompting Central Florida’s Dillon Gabriel to switch his allegiance from the Bruins to the Sooners.

Eighteen days after posting social media pictures of himself in a UCLA jersey amid palm trees and in front of the Hollywood sign while also looking to throw a pass at the Rose Bowl — got all that? — Gabriel deleted those images in favor of ones showing himself in an Oklahoma jersey.

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“They say life’s a gamble like rolling the dice,” wrote Gabriel, who led the nation by averaging 357 passing yards per game as a sophomore in 2020 before a broken collarbone ended his junior season after only three games. “DIMETIME.”

Gabriel was believed to be lured by the departure of Williams and the arrival of new Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who was Gabriel’s quarterbacks coach at Central Florida. Williams referenced the coaching turnover at Oklahoma involving the exit of coach Lincoln Riley for USC in his message about entering the transfer portal.

“With all of the recent changes,” Williams wrote on Twitter, “I need to figure out what is the right path for me moving forward.”

UCLA pulled out of the Holiday Bowl because some players would have had to play out of position, increasing risk of injury, a source told The Times.

Williams’ move touched off what amounted to an open recruiting letter from Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione and coach Brent Venables trying to keep the true freshman who passed for 1,912 yards and 21 touchdowns with four interceptions last season after replacing Spencer Rattler as the team’s starter. Williams threw for three touchdowns last week during the Sooners’ 47-32 victory over Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.

“OU’s commitment to student-athlete development and its powerful track record of preparing players for the next level, including quarterbacks for the NFL, is unparalleled,” the letter read. “Jeff Lebby is one of the most elite offensive coordinators and quarterback developers in the country. With the players we know are returning and new ones on the way, we will continue to be explosive on offense under his direction.”

UCLA’s best-in-the-Pac-12 offense may or may not suffer with Gabriel apparently headed elsewhere. Senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has not announced whether he will depart for the NFL draft or return for the extra season of eligibility granted all players because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bruins also have promising redshirt freshman Ethan Garbers, redshirt junior backup Chase Griffin and incoming freshman Justyn Martin, who starred at Inglewood High and is considered a four-star prospect.

There’s also the possibility that there could be more big moves made in the transfer portal, the entity that taketh away later giveth the Bruins their next quarterback.


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