How does UCLA improve on a perfect start? Alum Caleb Wilson has a suggestion

UCLA coach Chip Kelly talks with his players during a break in the action against Utah in the second quarter.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly talks with his players during a break in the action against Utah in the second quarter on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Caleb Wilson sees one way to improve UCLA’s undefeated football team.

The former Bruins tight end tweeted this week that the team could use a name, image and likeness collective to lure top recruits and compete with other programs lavishing riches upon their players.

“Cause honestly,” Wilson wrote, “other schools are willing to pay.”

Wilson’s tweet came on the same day that UCLA’s highest-rated recruit, four-star running back Roderick Robinson II, flipped his nonbinding oral commitment from the Bruins to Georgia. Robinson did not mention NIL when asked about his change of plans, telling that he liked the way he would fit in with the Bulldogs’ physical style, among other factors.


But Wilson expressed concern that his beloved team was putting itself at a disadvantage without a robust NIL collective that could compete with those at other schools. Across town, USC boosters recently unveiled plans to try and pay every football player $50,000 per year through the collective Student Body Right.

Earlier this year, UCLA introduced Westwood Exchange, which helps connect businesses with athletes in all sports interested in NIL deals. There’s also a collective run by the Bruin Fan Alliance designed to benefit athletes in all sports, as well as the Men of Westwood collective that’s exclusively for the men’s basketball team.

Several football players have had notable NIL success, including wide receiver Kam Brown and quarterbacks Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Chase Griffin. But the team remains without its own collective, something that coach Chip Kelly said he was powerless to change.

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“Collectives have nothing to do with us, so I can’t have a collective,” Kelly said Wednesday, referencing NCAA rules. “Football, the coaches, the administration here, the collectives are all outside of the university. … If there are some programs that have more active boosters, then there are some programs that have more active boosters, but that’s nothing that the universities are involved in.”

Kelly acknowledged that some schools have touted their NIL success in recruiting even though it’s not supposed to be used as an inducement for high school prospects.


“I think everybody’s noticed that,” Kelly said of the weaponization of NIL, “but according to the NCAA rules, you cannot have pay for play, so I’m just curious to see how that actually works.”

Wilson, who rose from a two-star high school recruit to play for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles during the 2020 season, said he was open to running a UCLA football collective. Count his old college coach among those who are on board with the idea.

“If Caleb wants to do that,” said Kelly, who coached Wilson during the 2018 season, “then Caleb’s an awesome representative of this program.”

Take a bow

With the No. 11 Bruins (6-0 overall, 3-0 Pac-12) off to their best start since winning their first eight games in 2005, cornerback Azizi Hearn said a teacher in his intellectual history class recently congratulated the team on a victory by asking for a round of applause.

Did Hearn stand up to be recognized?

“No,” he said. “I acted like I was taking notes.”

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Kelly on what new outside linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe had brought to the team that it was missing previously: “Latu. The Murphy twins,” Kelly deadpanned, referring to edge rushers Laiatu Latu and Gabriel and Grayson Murphy. “You know, Ikaika was critical in recruiting all three of those guys, so he’s a great recruiter, but he also is a really, really good teacher.” … The Bruins are scheduled to practice Friday, their third and final session of the bye week. Kelly said the team was targeting fundamentals such as tackling, blocking and handoffs as part of what he dubbed “improvement week.”