The focus should’ve been on the new batch of players.
Instead, coach Jim Mora’s first comments on National Signing Day were defending quarterback Josh Rosen from ESPN analysts who were discussing his “up-and-down season.”
“He only played five games.” Mora said in disbelief.
Advice to HS signees
- Get yourself a coach that’ll stick up for you like mine #rolemodels
— Josh Rosen (@josh3rosen) February 1, 2017
But Rosen, who’ll be back for his junior season next year, will be surrounded by some of the top high-school talents as UCLA tries to bounce back from a 4-8 season.
The Bruins signed 18 players Wednesday – a mix of four- and five-star recruits plus solid role players who could fill the holes on the field – with Mora saying that there were great plans in place to add more graduate transfers.
“To go 4-8 and to be able to secure a class like this, it says a lot about what UCLA has to offer both academically and athletically,” Mora said of his recruiting class, which came in at 21st in the nation according to Scout.com.
No matter who comes later, though, the highlights of the 2017 class – defensive lineman Jaelan Phillips and defensive back Darnay Holmes – are already enrolled at UCLA.
The pair, who came in winter quarter for early workouts before spring ball, will be critical for the Bruins, who lost six starters including Takk McKinley to graduation and Eddie Vanderdoes to the NFL Draft this winter.
Phillips, a five-star recruit per ESPN and the No. 3 recruit on the ESPN 300 list, had plenty of offers from rival schools, but has been vocal about his commitment to the Bruins.
Despite last year’s losing season and other recruits’ wavering commitments, Phillips believed in his future team.
“You’re going to see next year when we’re winning a Pac-12 championship that you made a mistake,” he said.
Holmes hasn’t always been that vocal.
The Calabasas, California, native didn’t commit until early January at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl – picking UCLA over Ohio State, USC and Nebraska.
Mora describes Phillips as “a rare blend of size, speed, athleticism, tenacity and intelligence,” while praising Holmes’ versatility.
“I don’t want (Holmes) to have a career where he never settles into a position,” Mora said. “That would be a mistake. It also would be a mistake not to take a guy like Darnay, who has the explosive skills set with the ball in his hands, and not use it. He will have it in his hands.”
Regardless of where each of the 18 players land on the field, how they’re used or how many minutes they get, they each have the same goal as their coach.
“I think eventually, these young men will grow into guys who will help us reach our goal, our immediate goal, which is to win a Pac-12 championship,” Mora said.