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The future of UCLA football shines a little brighter

Recruiting is a fickle beast (especially for a year in advance), but it’s hard not to feel a little optimistic about the future of UCLA football after this weekend.

Oregon State v UCLA Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Uh oh. It’s back.

I can feel it.

My breathing got shorter, my skin a bit more flush. After this past weekend, I have to admit my smile shone a litttttttttttttle bit brighter.

I’m getting sucked in. Again.

Dang it, I know better. But I can’t fight it.

Why?

UCLA football is making me feel optimistic again.

Even if recent years suggest that my expectations will go unmet, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the future of the football program in Westwood.

And yes, I realize the season is 4 months away.

Call me a sunshine pumper? You’re not wrong. But after 23 years of near-misses and falling short, surely things have to change sometime, right? When Bruin fans say “this is our year,” the year they’re referring to has to come soon, right?

Right?


Why the over-dramatic lede and the likely-unfounded optimism?

Over the weekend, UCLA managed a feat it did not accomplish in the past recruiting cycle:

Land commitments from a running back and a wide receiver.

Three-star running back A.J. Carter (Many HS - Many, LA) and four-star wide receiver Kyle Phillips (San Marcos HS - San Marcos, CA) became two of the newest Bruins to commit to the Bruins’ class of 2018.

Carter has been a longtime target of new UCLA running backs coach Deshaun Foster, who spent the 2016 season in the same position at Texas Tech. While in Lubbock, Foster offered Carter and made him a top target soon after coming back home to Westwood.

Phillips is noteworthy given his ranking inside Scout.com’s Top 300 and as California’s 7th ranked wide receiver in the 2018 class. He is the first feather in the cap of new receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty. Similarly to Foster, Dougherty offered Phillips when he was the receivers coach at Oregon and maintained his relationship with Phillips in his new gig.

As important as the commitments of Carter and Phillips are after UCLA’s fallow recruitment of skill positions in 2017, the biggest recruiting news came Sunday evening.

Four-star quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (Bishop Gorman HS - Las Vegas, NV), the #7 ranked quarterback nationally and a true dual threat (he runs a 4.79 40 yard dash), committed to the Bruins after fielding offers from over 30 schools, including offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch’s former employer, Michigan, which was his other finalist because of his relationship with Fisch.

What makes Thompson-Robinson unique is that he is yet to start for Bishop Gorman after having spent two seasons as backup to Tate Martell, a 2017 five-star recruit who is now vying to backup JT Barrett at Ohio State.

And yet, he is UCLA’s highest-ranked quarterback recruit since Josh Rosen was the #1 consensus quarterback out of St. John Bosco in 2015. Thompson-Robinson has the talent to compete to start next season if he stays committed to UCLA and if Rosen declares for the NFL draft after this season.

Still, it’s exciting for Bruin fans to have a highly-touted quarterback committed, especially one from a nationally prominent program like Bishop Gorman, and especially one that is a dual-threat like former Bruin four-star quarterback recruit Brett Hundley.


UCLA’s 2018 class is already up to 8 verbal commitments and is ranked 14th nationally, an impressive number given the Bruins’ dismal 4-8 finish to its most recent season in 2016.

What is more impressive is that each of Carter, Phillips and Thompson-Robinson were all largely recruited by one of UCLA’s four new offensive coaches. Foster, Dougherty and Fisch, along with new offensive line coach Hank Fraley, all signed on this offseason to jump start what was an anemic and atrocious offense in 2016.

Add that trio to defensive line coach Angus McClure and defensive back coach Demetrice Martin, who are ace recruiters and were integral to bringing in Jaelan Phillips and Darnay Holmes to Westwood for 2017, and UCLA’s reputation of solid recruiting looks to be in good hands going forward.

Whether they can coach that side of the ball to respectability remains to be seen, but recruiting is a huge part of any college coach’s success.

So far, all three are paying early dividends for Jim Mora and company.


It is very unlikely that the 8 players committed on April 25, 2017 will sign National Letters of Intent with UCLA on February 1, 2018. Any number of factors, from UCLA’s 2017 season, to grades, personal matters, family factors and everything in between will shape the decisions of these 17 and 18 year old young men and where they will decide to play college football in September 2018.

So it goes.

Which makes this optimism a bit unfounded. There are few logical reasons why, after a 4-8 season with an entirely new offensive staff and without two ace defensive players (Fabian Moreau and Takkarist McKinley), someone like me should be overly optimistic over UCLA football.

Especially not since the program has dipped from 10 wins to 8 to 4 in three seasons, and especially since the offense was an unmitigated disaster and UCLA has been bludgeoned by USC two years running.

But especially not over recruiting. Not over the whims and decisions of high schoolers who make lifelong decisions on where they will go to college and likely play football based on trivial things such as jersey numbers.

Think back to when you were 17 and how much of a dingus you could be, and now think that 17 and 18 year olds are important to football programs and coaches who get paid millions of dollars annually.

Recruiting, much like college football, is inherently absurd, and yet it is crucial to a football team’s vitality.

That fact, coupled with UCLA’s inability to get over whatever hump has stood before it as a program in my 23 years of existence, makes optimism about 2018 in April 2017 inherently absurd.

But what’s being a college football fan without embracing a modicum of insanity?