Continuing on in Go Joe Bruin’s 26-part recruiting profile series, we take a look at Isaac Savaiinaea, a 4-star inside linebacker who committed to the Bruins on National Signing Day. Savaiinaea is the fourth UCLA football signee featured on GJB, following fellow 4-star defenders Priest Willis, Tahaan Goodman and Kylie Fitts.
The 6’3″, 230-pound Under Armour All-American is the highest-rated LB in the Bruins’ 2013 class, and is the No. 1 recruit out of the State of Hawaii.
Landing Savaiinaea and Priest Willis gives head coach Jim Mora two top-ranked out-of-state prospects, as Willis is the best overall player from the State of Arizona. As UCLA’s recruiting power continues to grow with in-state California recruits alongside Southern Cal’s decline, the Bruins should be in the mix for the nation’s top class year-in and year-out.
Savaiinaea hails from the famed Punahou School in Honolulu, which boasts notable alumni like U.S. President Barack Obama, Super Bowl champion Mosi Tatupu, professional golfer Michelle Wie and former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. UCLA’s rising sophomore kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn is also a Punahou alum, as is graduating senior safety Dalton Hilliard. Given the sustained level of talent coming out of the Buff n’ Blue program, it’s no wonder Mora and Co. are trying to establish a presence with Punahou.
The race for Savaiinaea’s signature came down to two finalists, with UCLA and rising SEC power Texas A&M fighting for the former Stanford commit’s pledge. The Aggies looked to have a very legitimate chance until TAMU assistant coach Brian Polian (Savaiinaea’s primary recruiter) left College Station to become the head coach at Nevada. The coaching change definitely swayed Savaiinaea’s decision towards Westwood, but geography likely played a role as well. After all, Los Angeles is roughly 1,500 miles closer to the islands than the Texas A&M campus.
But regardless of what sold it for Savaiinaea, the Bruins get an absolute beast that should fit perfectly in defensive coordinator Lou Spanos’ revamped 3-4 scheme. UCLA returns the majority of its linebacker corps, which could end up being a team strength with the likes of Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt starting again.
In spite of the clogged depth chart, there still could be space for Savaiinaea to work his way into the rotation as a true freshman based on his size and speed alone. Savaiinaea plays with a high-powered motor, and flashes a top-end speed that earned him a stellar 4.66 40-yard dash time. Just watch his junior year highlight tape and you’ll see…this kid loves to fly around and put the hurt on the opposing team. Savaiinaea’s gritty, blue-collar mentality is exactly what Mora is looking for as he attempts to permanently change the culture of UCLA football.
With Savaiinaea in the fold, UCLA has begun to prepare itself for an enormous graduation in the front seven after next season. I won’t be surprised at all if this top-flight linebacker is the centerpiece of the Bruins’ defense come 2014.