Recruiting is a crazy game. Coaches scour the country to find the best talent, with hope that one day they will contribute to a winning product. In this day and age, finding the talent is easy. Wooing the talent is tough. 17 and 18 year old boys make life changing decisions each February when they sign a letter of intent and place their talents in the hands of a coaching staff that will help them grow, a university that will help them succeed, and a fan base that will overreact to every positive and negative thing that they do.
When Jim Mora was hired by UCLA, the first thing he did was hire a coaching staff around him that will recruit well. Led by Adrian Klemm and Demetrice Martin, UCLA has recruited well under the new regime. The only problem- crosstown rival, USC, has recruited better.
The recruiting process is long and top high school recruits often change their minds. A staff must make an impression while the player is young. They must stay in touch. They need to stay on the mind of the recruit. They must build a relationship. They need to convince the player of his possible role on the team. They need to get them on an official visit. They need a verbal commit. Lastly, they need a signed letter of intent.
Sounds like a lot, right?
That’s not it. They need to make a splash that no one else can match. Every recruit looks for that “WOW” moment. The moment that they finally see their future. It’s as clear as the skies on a beautiful California night. This moment is especially crucial for out-of-state recruits. Without this moment of absolute clarity and commitment, an out-of-state recruit will usually lean towards the local school.
UCLA may have had this moment with quite a few recruits this past Saturday against Nebraska. In the past, UCLA recruits in attendance would sit and watch the game in the seats close to the 50 yard line. For whatever reason, Jim Mora and staff decided that they would sit in section 2 this game. Perfect for me, I also sit in section 2. The list of over 50 recruits in attendance, sitting just a few rows in front of me, was headlined by 5 star defensive back Priest Willis and 4 star offensive lineman Kenny Lacy.
As is the usual protocol for major recruits, most of the players in attendance were quiet early. Unlike everyone else in attendance, they aren’t fans. They have to make a logical decision. They must observe. Unlike what we’ve seen in the past, they loved what they saw. Paying close attention to the recruits all game, I noticed them learning the cheers, jumping up and down, high-fiving, celebrating, hugging, yelling, losing their voices, and possibly experiencing that “wow” moment. When the game was over, five recruits got on the shoulders of others so they could look across to see the Bruins celebrating in front of the student section. This wasn’t a normal game for recruits. They weren’t texting and tweeting all game. They were engaged. They saw passion from the team. They saw an exciting team and most importantly, a team on the rise.
What remains to be seen, however, is how many of them saw a team they want to play for. Early indications say quite a few. The first to make it official- the aforementioned 4 star offensive lineman Kenny Lacy.
I can’t wait to see.