LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — UCLA coach Jim Mora’s first experience with college football recruiting left the veteran NFL coach humbled at how much he didn’t know about the process.
The Bruins’ stellar recruiting class certainly doesn’t look like the work of a newcomer, largely thanks to the assistant coaches who already know everything their boss is still learning.
UCLA signed an impressive list of 25 players Wednesday, bolstering their roster with an influx of talent from three countries at nearly every position. The Bruins’ class cracked the top-25 in multiple rankings, an achievement few could have expected when the Bruins hired the former Falcons and Seahawks head coach for his first college job in a quarter-century.
“I thought I knew what recruiting was, but I really didn’t,” Mora said. “I relied heavily on these guys here to guide me through it. It was a five-week sprint. … It was completely different from anything I’d been through before. You’re picking players, but they’ve got to pick you, too. It’s been fun. It’s been invigorating, and so far so good.”
Elite defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy headlined the class announced by Mora, who replaced Rick Neuheisel in December. UCLA even landed Jordan Payton, the flirtatious receiver who verbally committed to three different schools before choosing the Bruins.
“I felt my heart was at UCLA. It is close to home and the coaching staff they brought in is really good, ” said McCarthy. And when asked how he felt when he was compared to Ndamukong Suh he said, “I felt really good. He is a strong man…I try to play big , get low, and play fast.”
Mora started recruiting moments after he officially got the job, but he claimed the Bruins’ biggest gains were due to assistant coaches Adrian Klemm, Demetrice Martin and Noel Mazzone, who also brought players to UCLA after forming bonds with them at other schools.
“They did everything. I was just along for the ride,” Mora said. “It’s a great group of men whom I’m fortunate to be around every day. They call it recruiting, but really what it is, is going out, forging relationships and building. … If any of these guys came into my home, I trust them, and trust is a big thing on a day like today.”
UCLA reaped a windfall from California assistant coach Tosh Lupoi’s decision to leave the Golden Bears for Washington a few weeks ago, causing Cal’s recruiting class to fall apart.
McCarthy and Payton both committed to Cal on Jan. 7, but backed out after Lupoi’s defection. McCarthy, from nearby Monrovia, is among the top few talents at his position nationally.
Payton didn’t follow a straight line to Westwood. He backed out of a commitment to Southern California to choose the Bears, and then said he planned to follow Lupoi to Washington — until Wednesday, when the Westlake Village speedster elected to stay close to home at UCLA.
Defensive back Ishmael Adams and linebackers Jeremy Castro and Aaron Porter are among the Bruins’ top-end recruits, along with defensive backs Marcus Rios and Randall Goforth. Javon Williams, a 6-foot-5 receiver from Chandler, Ariz., chose to follow in the footsteps of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, who played at the same high school.
UCLA also might have the elite quarterback talent it lacked during Neuheisel’s tenure. The Bruins signed quarterback Devin Fuller from Old Tappan, N.J., widely considered among the nation’s top handful at his position, and they also added T.J. Millweard, who grew close with Mazzone while the respected offensive coordinator was at Arizona State.
And the Bruins even signed defensive back Justin Combs from New Rochelle, N.Y. Combs is the son of Sean Combs, the hip-hop mogul and actor.
Now that Mora has tried recruiting, he appears to like it. The coach said he and his staff already have jumped on the process for next year, offering scholarships to “over 50” players in the 2013 class.
“We certainly could have conceded the 2012 class because we got such a late start,” Mora said. “But we decided to attack it and take chunks out of it every day.”