Prized defensive line recruit Eddie Vanderdoes announced today that he will not attend Notre Dame, and will instead enroll at UCLA. Rated as a top ten player nationally by both ESPN and Scout, the Placer High School product signed with the Fighting Irish in February.
For circumstances not yet publicly known, Vanderdoes has revenged on his initial decision. For Brian Kelly and Notre Dame, it's a big loss. Vanderdoes was expected to immediately contribute to a thin—albeit very talented—defensive front.
As for Jim Mora and the Bruins' staff, it's a gigantic boon. Defensive end Datone Jones was drafted this past April in the first round by the Green Bay Packers. The projected replacement for Jones is former 5-star recruit Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Unfortunately for the Bruins, "Owa" is suffering from a hip injury that could keep him out of the 2013 season entirely.
The depth chart at defensive end isn't particularly deep. Aside from Cassius Marsh, there's a general lack of experience. It's not to say that there aren't talented options available, but none possess the overall talent that Vanderdoes brings to the proverbial table.
Vanderdoes brings a tremendous combination of quickness and raw power. He's also versatile from the standpoint that he can play anywhere across the 3-4 front that UCLA uses. At the vaunted Nike camp in Oregon, Vanderdoes literally tossed offensive line prospects around like rag dolls.
If eligible, Vanderdoes has a great shot at playing this upcoming season. It's quite conceivable, based on the health of Odighizuwa, that he could start as a true freshman. At worst, he'll be in the 2-deep alongside another highly regarded defensive line prospect in Kylie Fitts.
At this point, Notre Dame won't release Vanderdoes from his National Letter of Intent. In the event that he doesn't get released, he'd still be able to come to UCLA this season. However, he'd have to redshirt and lose a season of eligibility.
In only his second season as a college coach, Mora has the look of a veteran recruiting superstar. He took over the post at UCLA in December of 2012. By that time, the recruiting class left by Rick Neuheisel left a lot to be desired. It was a list littered with prospects that had offers from the lower tier of the conference, in addition to competition from the MWC and WAC.
With only two months until signing day, Mora not only had to put together a staff, but he also had to scramble in order to forge relationships with recruits. With all of the difficulties present, he was still able to sign a class that included talented prospects such as Ellis McCarthy, Jordan Payton, Jeremy Castro, Ishmael Adams, Randall Goforth, Simon Goines and Devin Fuller.
This past year in 2013, Mora capitalized on the Bruins' 9-5 season. Before the addition of Vanderdoes, Scout had UCLA's 2013 recruiting class ranked as the fifth best in the entire nation—ahead of programs such as Oklahoma, Florida State, Southern Cal, LSU and others.
With this recruiting class, the Bruins received commitments from seemingly every position on the football field. Noel and Taylor Mazzone were able to pluck Elite 11 MVP Asiantii Woulard out of Orlando, Fla. The talented quarterback has immense upside, and has had ringing endorsements from former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer.
Craig Lee is one of the top backs in the entire state of California. While his eligibility is still somewhat up in the air, he's expected to qualify in the near future. Additionally, Eldridge Massington and Darren Andrews bring tons of speed to a wide receiver corps in desperate need of some. Also, former 5-star running back Rushel Shell has transferred in from Pitt.
On the defensive side of the ball, the trio of Vanderdoes, Fitts and Kenneth Clark make up perhaps the best defensive line group in the conference. Clark is especially underrated, and could be a standout nose guard one day. Credit defensive line coach Angus McClure with tons of persistence and effort in regards to recruiting.
The linebacker corps signed by Jeff Ulbrich is extremely impressive. Isaac Savaiinaea from Honolulu, Hawaii is a prototypical middle 'backer. Not only is he very physical, but he's also incredibly smart. Deon Hollins Jr. from Houston, Texas possesses great speed off the edge. He's certainly someone that could play early on third down situations.
Cameron Judge from Oaks Christian High school in Westlake Village, Calif. is a versatile prospect. He has the ability to play on the outside, or perhaps swing inside. The best of the bunch is Myles Jack from Bellevue, Wa. Jack is a physical specimen, plain and simple. He can play inside, but will most likely fit in on the outside. With his ability, it wouldn't be a shock to see him slotted in at Damien Holmes' vacated spot.
In the secondary, defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin helped to sign four outstanding prospects. 5-star defensive back Priest Willis out of Tempe, Ariz. is a stellar prospect. He has the ability to play at any position in the secondary. Willis will most likely start out as a cornerback initially.
At safety, Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman will inject much needed talent and depth. The secondary as a whole right now is paper-thin. Not only will both Goodman and Foreman play as true freshmen, but each could start.
Lastly, cornerback Johnny Johnson is one of the top cover corners on the West Coast. What he lacks in size he more than makes up for in competitiveness and savvy.
UCLA was even able to land a top punter in Sean Covington from St. Petersburg, Fla. He should start this year for the departed Jeff Locke.
Much of UCLA's success in recruiting has to do with the staff Mora has compiled. In total, the staff has upwards of 90 years of NFL experience—either as a coach or as a player. That certainly has and will continue to resonate with recruits.
Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm should be regarded as one of the top recruiters in the entire nation. He was able to sign seven very talented prospects on the offensive line this past year. Based on overall talent and numbers, it could be the most talented offensive line class in the country. Even more impressive, a majority of the bunch weren't even from the state of California.
Guys like Christian Morris, Caleb Benenoch and Alex Redmond look prime for play time as true freshmen. Realistically, expect either Benenoch or Redmond to start at right guard this upcoming year.
In 2014, Mora and the Bruins have one public commitment to date in wide receiver Barry Ware.
What does this all mean, exactly?
For one thing, the depth on the roster is considerably stronger from when Mora first took over. Additionally, he's recruiting nationally at an extremely high level. Mora and his staff aren't afraid to go toe-to-toe against "big boys" in the recruiting world. It may seem startling to some, but he was able to beat out top SEC and Big-12 programs for a multitude of recruits.
He's also made it a point to target areas on the football team that need improvement. For one, shoring up the offensive line has been a massive point of emphasis.
Everything that the university itself provides has always attracted interest. However, the product on the field has precluded top recruits from ultimately attending UCLA.
With another successful season, the Bruins could cement themselves as even more of a recruiting powerhouse under Mora.