UCLA starting to put together a solid 2009 class

Updated: October 24, 2008

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Rick Neuheisel's reconstructed Bruins are beginning to show signs of life.

Bruins Making Waves On The Recruiting Trail

UCLA has endured an up and down season thus far in 2008, but it appears the program is heading in the right direction -- at least in the eyes of top 2009 prospects.

In his return to Westwood, former Bruins quarterback Rick Neuheisel is putting together a solid recruiting class and has created a positive buzz around the once-prominent program's future. In his first year of coaching at UCLA, he has conveyed to recruits that the turnaround will not happen overnight, but prospects still are buying into his long-term philosophy -- evident by the great week UCLA enjoyed on the recruiting trail.

Following its win over Pac-10 foe Stanford on Saturday, UCLA gained significant pledges from Under Armour All-American guard Stan Hasiak (Kapolei, Hawaii), well-rounded corner Brandon Sermons (Pomona, Calif./Diamond Ranch) and powerful fullback Jayson Allmond (Bloomington, Calif.). Both Hasiak and Allmond are top-15 positional prospects in ESPN.com's player rankings, and the athletic Sermons is no slouch with his No. 30 positional ranking.

The Bruins have a modest class in terms of numbers, but its quality is strikingly high; nine of the ten committed prospects have a Scouts Inc. grade of 77 or better. It still pales in comparison to the No. 14 class Neuheisel basically inherited and signed this past February, thanks in large part to retained assistant coach DeWayne Walker. Yet, we expect many more momentous weeks for the Bruins between now and signing day. It appears Neuheisel's message is strong and appealing to future prospects.

Hasiak is the No. 3-rated player in Hawaii this year, and he passed up offers from most of the top Pac-10 schools to play for the Blue and Gold. The 6-foot-6, 340-pound guard believes in the program's new direction; he wants to be part of the rebuilding process.

"The UCLA coaches have a different mind-set of how they want to run their program compared to other schools," said Hasiak, who committed after his official visit this past weekend. "They know what they want and know how they will get there."

UCLA is in need of offensive-line depth in this class, and Hasiak said the Bruins' coaches feel he has the physical ability to play early in Westwood. More importantly, he is excited about being an integral part of the program's transformation as it looks to restore its former Pac-10 glory.

"The coaching staff said I could quite possibly start as a freshman and be part of the rebuilding process," Hasiak said. "They are a young team now and have a ways to go but had a great recruiting class last year and will have another one this year.
"I think UCLA will be a contender for the Pac-10 within a few years, and I will be part of something special."

Sermons, a local product, also chose UCLA over some good Pac-10 programs such as Oregon and Arizona State. Like Hasiak, Sermons told ESPN's West Coast recruiting blogger Greg Biggins he believes in the future of the program.

"Early on, I wanted to take my visits, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized UCLA was the place for me," Sermons said after his verbal. "I just felt the time was right for me to commit now, and I like the direction the program is going in."

Most of the UCLA recruits with whom we have spoken, including top pledge Richard Brehaut (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Los Osos), have pointed to offensive coordinator Norm Chow, in addition to Neuheisel, as an important influence on their decisions. Both Hasiak and the 262-pound Allmond said this week that the coach who has groomed three Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks affected their final decisions.

This most recent success on the recruiting trail is a testament the entire staff's resilient effort and certainly is an auspicious sign for the program as it looks to improve to .500 on the season with a win over Cal on Saturday. Although we agree with the optimism, aside from Brehaut, ESPN's No. 4-rated signal-caller, this class does not boast any other ESPNU 150 prospects or real difference-makers at this point. In the battle for the top West Coast talent, there still is no real contest between UCLA and the mighty Trojans.

It is clear Neuheisel and his staff have their work cut out for them, both on and off the field, in order to start competing for Pac-10 championships, something they have not done in quite some time. But there certainly is a strong mind-set and foundation to build upon in Westwood.

Giles Versus Oku

This past week, the Tennesse Vols landed a commitment from ESPN's No. 13 running back, David Oku (Midwest City, Okla./Carl Albert). The Oklahoma native is regarded as one of the better all-purpose backs in the country, but on its current commit page, it looks like Tennessee already has a runner with a similar size and skill set.

Presently sitting at the top of UT's class is another ESPNU 150 running back, Jarvis Giles (Tampa, Fla./Gaither). We went back to the film room this week to take a closer look at how these upper-tier runners stack up against each other and whether there will be a crowded backfield in the future in Knoxville.

Giles shows slightly better acceleration and separation speed in the second level.
Oku is a bit of a short-strider in the second level and appears to be quick, not fast.
Scouts Inc. edge: Giles
Giles displays great body control and decisive cutting but is a bit straight-lined without real loose hips in space.
Oku is very slippery to wrap up in the open field and has excellent balance, vision stop-start and jump-cut skills.
Scouts Inc. edge: Oku
In-line running strength
Giles has a stronger frame (5-foot-11, 180-pounds) and is a bit more sturdy, and his rare explosiveness through the hole allows him to break initial contact more consistently
Oku runs with good determination, but we question his true power -- at 5-foot-9, 178-pounds -- body composition and durability if asked to carry the load in Knoxville.
Scouts Inc. edge: Giles
Better multipurpose skills
Giles can create mismatches when he gets in space, but his hands and ability to catch the ball in stride need some polish.
Oku has soft hands out of the backfield and very refined overall receiving skills and is an excellent "space player."
Scouts Inc. edge: Oku

Overall, the runners show some striking similarities on film but might complement each other more than take away carries from each other. At this time, we feel Giles projects to be more of the featured back, but Oku could be the bigger home run threat and bring the most versatility to the position. Not exactly a perfect thunder and lightning-type duo, but Tennessee is landing two much-needed playmakers at the running back position.

Johnson's Yellow Jackets Striking On And Off The Field

First-year Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson quietly has his Yellow Jackets sitting atop the ACC Coastal division at 6-1 and is building a strong recruiting class off the field. Johnson closed well on the near-complete class he inherited last year upon his hiring in December, but it looks likes he is on his way to surpassing its C-plus rating with this year's group.

You won't find many upper-echelon positional prospects like No. 8 guard Will Jackson (Knoxville, Tenn./Farragut) on Georgia Tech's current commit page, but you will find some solid football players -- many with undervalued talent and minimal national hype, like safety Jemea Thomas (Fitzgerald, Ga.).

The athletic Thomas had a few BCS scholarships offers from schools like Clemson and Vanderbilt before making his pledge this week, but the numbers and overall status of those scholarships do not add up to the talent we see on film. Thomas has good range, takes direct pursuit angles to ball and is equally impressive breaking down sharply and mirroring in space. What makes Thomas an even more significant prospect for Johnson and his potent option attack are his fluid hips, great foot speed and overall skill set needed to fit into his scheme as a potential wingback. The versatile athlete plays in a similar offense, so the transition could be smooth.

Johnson's top-25 Yellow Jackets have won four straight as they head into their homecoming tilt versus a surging Virginia team. The nation's No. 9 rushing attack is still potent without a roster filled with system-fitting players. Unfortunately for opposing ACC programs -- Johnson is doing a good job addressing that area.


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On The Trail

Kicker Fera drops Michigan for Penn State

Under Armour All-American kicker Anthony Fera has decommitted from the Wolverines and pledged to the Nittany Lions. Penn State now has 19 commitments.

His father said Michigan's 2-5 start this season did not influence the decision.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound prospect from St. Pius X (Houston, Texas) had offers from Penn State, Michigan and Kansas State. He also had a grayshirt offer from Ohio State.

ESPN's Bill Conley said of the news: "Obviously, Anthony Fera saw a chance to step in and be the starting kicker as a freshman in a premier program when he chose Penn State over the school he had first opted, Michigan. Kevin Kelly leaves the Nittany Lions at the end of the season, and the only player Fera has to beat out is local kicker Collin Wagner. This is a big blow for the Wolverines, even though they do have a good kicker, Brian Wright, in the wings.

"Fera has a powerful leg and is consistent in both kickoffs ands field goals. He easily gets his kickoffs into the end zone and has even made a 58-yard field goal. This Under Armour all-star has great extension and follow through as a place kicker. He is a two-for-one kicker/punter that excels as a kicker and could be a very solid backup punter."

• Fera's On The Trail archive

Loston's coach: "He's going to LSU"

Under Armour All-American safety Craig Loston's coach, Ray Evans, told ESPN affiliate Web site TigerGumbo.com Thursday, "He's going to LSU; his mind is made up. I don't think it is switching. That's pretty much what he has told me."

Loston previously committed to Clemson but dropped that pledge after the exit of former coach Tommy Bowden. Following his decommitment, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oregon emerged as possible destinations along with LSU.

ESPN's Bill Conley elaborated on the news: "To no one's surprise, Craig Loston's high school coach confirms Loston is headed to LSU. The rumors started weeks ago, even before Tommy Bowden was released at Clemson. Loston becomes the Tigers' -- that's LSU, not Clemson, Tigers' -- 17th commitment in a class that is getting stronger and stronger.

"Loston is without a doubt one of the most versatile athletes in the 2009 class. He is an exceptional pass-defender from the safety position. Loston possesses the valuable combination of technical skills and leaping ability. He can go vertical to high point the football and has the soft hands to haul it in to his body. As good as he is in zone coverage, he shows equal ability to blanket a receiver man to man."

• Loston's On The Trail archive
• Complete On The Trail updates

UCLA Commit Stan Hasiak

Chat Wrap: Bill Conley Talks Recruiting

Brian (Fresno, Calif.): How do you see USC finishing up this year in recruiting? Any potential verbals coming? Odds on getting Kevin Greene or William Campbell?

Bill Conley: They already have a great class as long as they sign everyone on signing day. With guys like Matt Barkley, Morrell Presley, and Vontaze Burfict, they will be hard to beat.

Bill Conley: I'm don't think Greene is high up on theire radar and Campbell is a little bit of a mystery. There's no doubt Pete Carroll would love to find Shaquelle Evans and Manti Te'o under his Christmas tree.

Raymond (Bristol, Tenn.): Bill, do you think Tennesse will have a top 10 class, and what's the chance of them landing Marlon Brown and Tajh Boyd out of Va.

Bill Conley: Tennessee always has a chance to have a top 10 class. They already have a good one as long as they stay solid. We have them in the top twenty and if coach Fulmer can ride out the wave they should finish strong. The Vols have a good shot at Boyd if they go after him hard; especially since Josh Nunes verballed to Stanford. Brown will be tougher to land; watch out for Georgia and Ohio State.

• To read the full chat, click here.

Meet Morgan Newton

Morgan Newton knows he's not close to the finish line.

As a quarterback, he has a long way to go before he can be considered a finished product. His coach at Carmel says the senior can improve his passing accuracy, speed up his release, make quicker decisions and clean up his footwork.

Newton knows this, and that's what makes him so scary. Despite his relative rawness, he is the most dangerous player in the state. At 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, Newton possesses 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash and as strong an arm as anyone in the area can remember.

"Physically, there's nothing that can hold him back," Carmel coach Mo Moriarity said. "He's a freak athlete. He can throw the ball as far as anybody I've seen, and he's got the speed to run it. As far as athleticism, he's probably as good as I've ever had. And I'd be surprised if there's another 17-year-old as athletic as him anywhere."

Last season, Newton began the process of putting the pieces together and turning his talent into production. He led the Greyhounds to a 13-2 record and a Class 5A state championship in his first year as the full-time starter, earning All-State honors in the process.

• Click here to read the full story.

Tracking Georgia Tech's Class

With this week's commit from safety Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech is putting together a surprisingly solid class. Here's a look at some of the standouts in Paul Johnson's first season on the recruiting trail.
Georiga Tech's 2009 verbals
Name Pos. Grade
Will Jackson OG 80
J.C. Lanier DT 79
Roderick Sweeting S 79
Daniel Drummond FB 79
Jordan Luallen QB 79
• Click here to see more commit lists