Jul 10, 2014; Beaverton, OR, USA; A general view of a helmet worn during Nike Football
The Opening, Nike’s ultra-prestigious, invitation-only camp for the best high school football recruits in the country, takes place this week and, as has become commonplace under Jim Mora, UCLA is doggedly recruiting many of these blue-chip talents.
With so many names to consider, the most significant ones can get lost in the shuffle, but Go Joe Bruin is going to narrow things down to the five main names to watch as the week progresses at the Nike World Headquarters:
Five To Watch
Boss Tagaloa: The 4-star nose tackle from high school power program De La Salle in Concord, CA is, by far, the most important recruit in UCLA’s 2016 recruiting class. Just read the top item from this piece written in February about UCLA’s positional recruiting needs to understand exactly why.
For this week though, Tagaloa’s performance is far more important than his recruitment. Tagaloa established himself as a consensus top-100 recruit in the country on the back of a junior season in which he admits he was playing at around 75% due to the residual effects of a leg break the previous summer. Now much closer to full health, it is going to be fascinating to see and read about how the Big Bossman performs going up against the best offensive line recruits in the country.
Oluwole Betiku: Betiku, a 5-star defensive end from (the dreaded USC factory known as) Gardena Serra HS, is one of the most incredible high school athletes in the country. They just don’t make too many quite like this wunderkind from Nigeria, who is built like a college junior already and still can extract more from himself physically as he becomes more involved in advanced weight training and proper nutrition.
Having only played football for only one year of his life to date, he is still incredibly raw, but by all accounts grows by leaps and bounds in terms of technique and understanding each time coaches and observers get the chance to watch him. Even in his first season playing the sport, he still racked up 11.5 sacks as a complete novice going up against some of the best teams in the CIF-Southern Section. There is no better marker of the amount of raw talent that Betiku possesses than that.
Much like we mentioned with Tagaloa, seeing Betiku go up against the best offensive line recruits in the country will give us a much better idea of where Betiku stacks up at the moment and how far he has to go in order to maximize his near-limitless potential.
Krys Barnes: A 4-star inside linebacker from Bakersfield who was one of UCLA’s earliest commits in the class of 2016, Barnes received his invitation to The Opening when he came down to the Los Angeles regional Nike Camp early in the spring and really impressed with his ranginess and athleticism. A solid performance in individual drills and covering receivers in 7-on-7 against the best skill position recruits in the country will solidify Barnes as one of the best linebacker talents in the country.
Taleni Suhren: A totally new name for UCLA recruiting followers, Suhren is a 3-star offensive tackle from Charlotte, NC who is currently committed to Wake Forest. However, since returning from his suspension, UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has established a good relationship with the big North Carolinian and has Suhren considering a flip from the East Coast and the Demon Deacons to Westwood and the Bruins.
Suhren is one of the lesser-known talents to have earned one of the coveted invites to The Opening. If he outshines the bigger names that he’ll be lining up alongside in Oregon, then it will speak very well to Klemm’s eye for talent and ability to outwork other coaches to turn up under-the-radar talent. However, that would also raise Suhren’s stock in a big way and likely prompt some of the SEC and ACC powers that overlooked him previously to circle back his way.
It will be very interesting to see what Suhren’s performance at The Opening does for not only UCLA’s interest in him, but also its chances of securing his commitment.
Mique Juarez: The North Torrance star’s stock has gone through the roof this spring, as he showed himself to be a dominant athletic force on the camp circuit. Following up on an absolutely remarkable junior season in which Juarez basically played every possible position under the sun to a very high level, Juarez elevated himself to a consensus 5-star prospect and is probably the single best talent in the state of California in this class. The ever-present comparisons between Juarez and Myles Jack seem ridiculous at first, but seeing is believing and, in this case, seeing inspires A LOT of belief in Juarez’s talent and upside:
The intrigue surrounding Juarez at The Opening will not revolve around his performance on the field, which is all-but-guaranteed to be outstanding, as much as his recruitment. Juarez silently committed to USC back in January, but that commitment soon became public despite Juarez’s desire to keep that news contained at that time. Since then, he’s stuck to his USC commitment but acknowledged that it’s a very soft commitment and that his eyes are still wide open to potential suitors, namely UCLA.
It is well known, though, that Juarez comes from not only an ardently pro-UCLA family, but also a pretty anti-USC one. The fact that he has remained committed to USC, regardless of how flimsy that pledge might be, and not totally opened things up speaks to how well the Trojans are recruiting him.
It also stands to reason that Juarez is going to have a lot more Trojan voices in his ears than Bruin voices this week. Four other USC commits are going up to Oregon for The Opening and two more recruits are likely to join that cadre at the event: 4-star DB CJ Pollard (a USC legacy and Serra player, making him a double Trojan legacy in essence) and 4-star WR Trevon Sidney (because when you can be the 5th WR commit in a recruiting class for a program that is run by Steve Sarkisian, already loaded at the receiver position, and historically focuses its passing attack around a single primary receiver a season, it must be impossible to say no).
It will be interesting to see how that Trojan full-court press will impact Juarez’s recruitment going forward and if the combination of UCLA linebackers coach/ace recruiter Scott White and Juarez’s family is enough to overcome any added momentum that USC establishes with Juarez this week.