UW-UCLA recruiting rivalry heats up

UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. and Washington's Steve Sarkisian are locked in fierce recruiting battles for elite talent. Icon SMI, AP Photo

SEATTLE -- Jermaine Kelly stood on the sideline with a broad smile across his face and a purple-and-white Washington scarf wrapped around his neck.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound cornerback (Los Angeles/Salesian) soaked up the scene as Washington and Stanford prepared to play in a nationally televised matchup at CenturyLink Field last week.

He was on an official visit, enjoying the moment. He was flanked by two high-profile prospects -- USC cornerback commit Chris Hawkins (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga) and uncommitted cornerback Johnny Johnson Jr. (Fresno, Calif./Central East).

Farther down the sideline stood Myles Jack, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound linebacker, who was at the game on an unofficial visit with his Bellevue (Wash.) teammates Sean Constantine, a Washington commit, and Bishard “Budda” Baker, a member of the ESPN Watch List.

Jack and Kelly are currently committed to UCLA, but that hasn’t stopped the Huskies from making a play for the prospects.

“Even though I committed, just to see their persistence and everything, it catches my eye,” Jack said. “I like that. They’ve been going even harder since I committed, so that was cool.”

One week earlier, Jack was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., to watch the Bruins. It was the same day offensive lineman Poasi Moala (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde) flipped his commitment from Washington to UCLA.

In the standings. On the recruiting trail. As the Bruins and Huskies try to take the next step toward the top of the Pac-12, they continue to clash.

Whether it is recruiting the same player, such as cornerback Jalen Ortiz (Peoria, Ariz./Centennial), who committed to UCLA in September, or fighting for prospects already committed to the other school, the two programs have become wrapped up in a recruiting rivalry.

“I really like UCLA,” Kelly said before his official visit in Seattle. “I like Washington a lot, too. As of right now, I don’t really know what’s going to be that one thing that’s going to send me over the top. Right now, I just want to get out there and see what it is.”

In many ways, it makes sense that the Huskies and Bruins have become recruiting rivals. Both programs are trying to make their move in the conference. Both programs want to control California and push USC for the state’s top talent. UCLA coach Jim Mora has ties to the Huskies’ backyard, while Washington coach Steve Sarkisian made his mark in SoCal as an assistant with the Trojans.

In addition to having played at Washington, Mora once called coaching the Huskies his “dream job.” And he has close connections with state power Bellevue High School. In fact, one of his children once asked for a Wolverines football jersey for Christmas instead of requesting something from a college or NFL team.

When Mora took over as UCLA's coach, he knew he had a chance to be in the mix for some of Washington’s top talent. So far, he has landed Jack, while pursuing Baker, the state’s top 2014 prospect.

Sarkisian, on the other hand, has made California a priority throughout his tenure in Seattle. He has gone into the Los Angeles area to land four-star recruits like quarterback Troy Williams (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne) and receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde).

It is no secret the Bruins want to flip Stringfellow like they did his teammate Moala, and the Huskies would love to return the favor by poaching Jack or Kelly.

As these two universities try to pry away current commits while working on a few prospects who are still trying to decide whether Washington purple or UCLA blue fits best with gold, what will be the deciding factor?

Kelly and Jack haven’t been able to answer that question yet. It is something they continue to struggle with. For Moala, it was the ability to stay closer to home that swayed his decision.

The Huskies made a statement last week when they upset Stanford 17-13. Kelly and Jack were able to storm the field, experiencing something they both said they never had before.

While they enjoyed the game and the attention they have received from Washington’s coaching staff, Jack and Kelly remain committed to UCLA. As long as the athletes are interested in both programs and as long as there is time before signing day, this recruiting rivalry between the Huskies and Bruins will continue.