UCLA Football: 6 Underclassmen Who Will Be Stars by Thanksgiving 2014
Fans of the UCLA Bruins football program should be giving thanks to head coach Jim Mora.
Since taking over, Mora has essentially resurrected a sleeping program held back by mediocrity. His willingness to employ inexperienced players in integral roles has paid dividends. This season alone, Mora has played 18 true freshmen. A majority of UCLA's two-deep roster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores.
It's never too early to take a glimpse into the future and discuss the future. There are quite a few impact players on the team who very well could become known commodities throughout the Pac-12.
Let's take a look at a few Bruins who will be known by Thanksgiving of next year.
Note: Every player mentioned on this list is currently either a freshman or a sophomore. True freshman Myles Jack will not be regarded as a potential star. He's already in that stratosphere.
The electric slot receiver from New Jersey has the look of someone that will break out next season.
Fuller came to UCLA as a quarterback. He made the switch to receiver last year as a true freshman and hasn't looked back since. It's scary to think how good he actually can be with more reps at the position.
The sophomore is second on the team in both receptions (40) and receiving yards (453). Fuller's adept at catching drag routes and turning upfield for positive yardage. It's uncanny how smooth he is running routes considering his lack of experience in doing so.
Expect Fuller to take the mantle as the top receiver on the team next season.
How many people at 6'4" and 305 pounds are capable of making a catch out of the backfield and then rumbling upfield for 18 yards?
True freshman Eddie Vanderdoes displayed his pass-catching abilities this past Saturday against Arizona State. By the way, the former 5-star prospect is UCLA's starting defensive end. Yes, a defensive end catching passes out of the backfield in UCLA's special offensive package featuring multiple defensive starters.
Vanderdoes is a special talent. He's got a great combination of quickness and raw power. Once he becomes more proficient in his technique, the sky's the limit on how good he can truly be.
Randall Goforth has made perhaps the biggest leap of any player from his freshman to sophomore season.
The safety out of the famed Long Beach Polytechnic High School has been the steady force in the backfield for UCLA. He's shown the ability to not only defend the pass well, but he has also been effective at coming up in the box and making the requisite tackle. Goforth is fifth on the team with 38 tackles.
There's no question that Goforth is the leader in the secondary. As he continues to mature both mentally and physically, he's destined to become a Pac-12 performer in the upcoming years.
Caleb Benenoch and Alex Redmond
Depth on the offensive line is absolutely paper-thin for the Bruins. As a result, both Benenoch and Redmond were forced into action as true freshmen out of necessity.
It truly has been a baptism by fire for both.
Redmond (right guard) and Benenoch (right tackle) have had their fair share of struggles from a pass protection standpoint as well as in regards to committing penalties. However, both have displayed immense ability.
Redmond has a nasty streak and often can get to the second level when pulling on run plays. Benenoch is absolutely massive and has great power once he gets his arms extended.
Both will continue to get better in the future. Each is starting as true freshmen and hasn't even gone through a full offseason of conditioning and strength training. Within a couple of seasons, this pair will be seasoned, experienced linemen with loads of confidence.
The graduations of Darius Bell and Gray Mazzone will open up more playing time for the true freshman out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif.
Duarte's numbers aren't overly impressive in his inaugural campaign. He's caught 15 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. However, he's flashed the ability to be a lethal pass-catcher down the road.
For a man that's 6'3" and 221 pounds, he's very fluid in space. Duarte is also equipped with a great set of hands. From a physicality standpoint, he's also shown to be above-average as a blocker out on the edge.
It's a bit puzzling as to why Duarte isn't used more. In the future, he'd best be utilized on crossing routes and on patterns that exploit the heart of the field.
In this honorable mentions slide, UCLA has multiple athletes who play on the defensive side of the ball.
Outside linebacker Kenny Orjioke and defensive lineman Ellis McCarthy are two of the most physically impressive players on the entire roster.
McCarthy is a mountain of a man at 6'4" and 330 pounds. The former 5-star recruit has started to pick up his play during this second half of the season. The sophomore from Monrovia, Calif., is a potential pro with his considerable upside.
Orjioke is also a player with great potential. He's 6'4" and a sculpted 240 pounds. The uber-athletic sophomore is also only 18 years of age. He's slated to take over the vacated spot currently occupied by Anthony Barr.
True freshmen Kenny Clark and Isaako Savaiinaea have bright futures. As a first-year player, Clark displaced senior Seali'i Epenesa as the starting nose guard. He's got great strength and has shown the ability to disrupt the pocket with his pass-rushing ability.
Savaiinaea looks like the heir apparent at middle linebacker once Jordan Zumwalt graduates after the year. The true freshman from Hawaii is a savvy player with great instincts. He'll help to make a nice pairing in the middle with Eric Kendricks.