It is not what UCLA did on the primary day of the early signing period. And it is not what they did Wednesday in the February National Signing Day. It is what they did in between that has made this the best recruiting class, by far, in the Chip Kelly era. As we look at a UCLA Bruins recruiting review, how did they go from, “meh” to the best class in years?
UCLA Bruins Recruiting Review
The Bruins had an “ok” class by Wednesday afternoon of the early signing period back in December. They got four-star defensive end Quintin Somerville to sign. That put UCLA around the middle of the pack in the conference recruiting rankings and in the mid-40’s nationally. But as things started to quiet down after the early onslaught of activity, UCLA also got the commitment from 4-star athlete Devin Kirkwood of Serra High in Gardena. Even though the early signing period is three days long, by the afternoon of day one, the activity tends to slide off significantly. Not so for UCLA.
At the January high school All American Bowl virtual presentations, Tioalli Savea announced he had chosen UCLA. As has become a “thing” with some elite prep players, they want to sign in the early period to keep their spot with a team. But they want the chance to make the announcement still on network television at the All American Bowl. Thus, the signing is kept under wraps. Getting Savea was another big boost for Kelly’s defense. The four-star recruit was one of the most highly regarded defensive ends still available in the country.
On that Wednesday of the early signing period, Kelly said he intended to keep some scholarships available to use with the transfer portal. He would not fill the 25-signee limit with the high school recruiting class. Frankly, any program not named Clemson or Alabama that is not utilizing the transfer portal like a free-agent talent pool, is choosing to lose more games than they need to.
The Biggest News
While Kelly is not prone to tipping his hand, it is unlikely even he imagined that the biggest boost from the transfer portal would be the players he already got from it. All four grad transfers from the 2020 roster announced over the next week that they would return for a sixth season. It was news that is virtually unprecedented in the national landscape. The NCAA had deemed the season a “freebie” for anyone who played through the COVID chaos. As a result, there would be no loss of a year’s eligibility. The return of running back Brittain Brown, offensive lineman Paul Grattan, defensive back Obi Eboh, and defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight is as big if not bigger than the recruiting tallies of the early signing period. It gives the Bruins a depth of experience they have yet to have in the last four years.
From there it was on to the transfer portal as Kelly had intended. With the return of the four grad transfers, it changed the look of what was needed. When it comes to the transfer portal, the biggest part of the strategy is to get the best player you can who fills an immediate need. If you can get one that has multiple years of eligibility left, all the better.
Kelly got to the list of available players and got commitments from former Texas A&M receiver Kam Brown. He was a four-star recruit when he went to College Station. But Brown saw little playing time in the Jimbo Fisher offensive scheme. He managed only seven receptions in two seasons. He joins a crowded UCLA receivers’ room as he is immediately eligible. Brown has four years left to play three.
More Transfer Help
Speaking of crowded rooms, the Bruins also added another quarterback in Washington transfer Ethan Garbers. He was a four-star recruit in last year’s signing class and rated as the #4 pro style quarterback in the country. There is great irony in getting another quarterback transfer from Washington. The one from the year before, Colson Yankoff, is now a receiver. Garber’s eligibility status is unclear at this point, but it is likely he will have to sit a year. With the 2020 season being a free one from the NCAA, he technically has not used any eligibility yet.
UCLA also got a transfer commitment from Cameron Johnson. He was a four-year player (two-year starter), at North Texas. He would come to UCLA as a grad transfer. The 5-11 defensive back has good ball instincts and can player either corner or safety. As a grad transfer, he would be immediately eligible. He adds much needed depth to a defense that was 114th in the country in passing yards given up per game.
The Big Late Get
Then came the news late last week that former four-star recruit, running back Zach Charbonnet, would be leaving Michigan to return home to Southern California and play for UCLA. Charbonnet was regarded as the #4 running back in the country coming out of Oaks Christian in 2019. He became the first freshman to start at running back at Michigan in more than 60 years. He finished that year with more than 700 yards rushing. Last season he was supplanted by Hassan Haskins and had only 19 carries for 124 yards.
Using the 2020 free year granted by the NCAA would give Charbonnet four years to play three. The UCLA running back is long, particularly with the return of Brown. It is entirely likely that some on the long list will not still be around when the season starts in the Fall. The transfer portal door swings both ways. But Charbonnet adds instant big game impact capabilities, along with Brown.
College recruiting used to a year-round part of the job. The portal, and what amounts to free agency in college football, makes it a 24-hour a day part of the job. In the last six weeks, Kelly has given himself a team with more depth and more experience than any he has had previously in Westwood. Now the key is to make it work on the field.