Be quick but don’t hurry.
The John Wooden quip that UCLA football coach Chip Kelly dropped during his introductory press conference also fittingly applied to his first recruiting class.
The Bruins started quietly by only signing eight players during the inaugural early signing period, which spanned from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22. But Kelly’s staff finished in a flurry by signing 19 players on the traditional National Signing Day on Wednesday.
“We were balanced across the board at everything. We needed depth and help at every position,” Kelly said. “(We’ve) got quality players at all positions. We wanted to get bigger. We feel like we did that.”
Five four-star recruits, including longtime quarterback commit Dorian Thompson-Robinson, outside linebacker Elijah Wade, defensive lineman Tyler Manoa and wide receiver Michael Ezeike, were the highlights of Wednesday’s signees.
But the status of that final four-star recruit was in doubt for much of Wednesday. Mater Dei High School offensive lineman Chris Murray announced his commitment to UCLA during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl last month, but held off signing his National Letter of Intent during his school’s ceremony.
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound recruit reaffirmed his commitment on Twitter several times in the past week, but Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson told the Orange County Register that Murray’s family was still deciding on his next step.
Murray eventually sent in his signed NLI on Wednesday evening, and was listed among UCLA’s 2017-2018 football signees in an email from UCLA Athletics.
One major focus with regards to recruitment, Kelly said, was targeting taller players. Of the 27-player class, 15 are listed at 6-foot-4 or taller, compared to 29 players who were at least that tall out of 119 players listed on the Bruins’ 2017 roster.
“Big people beat up little people so we’re looking for big people,” Kelly said. “I think it’s a taller, longer game and if you’re taller and longer at every position it’s gonna be a benefit.”
The Bruins also managed to flip commits to several other Pac-12 schools and an Southeastern Conference school. Junior college inside linebacker Tyree Thompson and Memphis, Tennessee, native cornerback Rayshad Williams were both committed to Vanderbilt before signing with UCLA.
Kelly’s staff flipped running back Martell Irby, a San Diego native who originally committed to Arizona, and wide receiver Delon Hurt, an Anaheim, California, native who had originally committed to Utah.
“(Irby’s a) very tough, hard-nosed, physical guy,” Kelly said. “He can make cuts at full speed, he catches the ball really well. He played some quarterback, and he’s got some versatility.”
Other junior college transfers include 6-foot-7 defensive end Steven Mason and 5-foot-11 inside linebacker Je’Vari Anderson.
“We’re hoping that the (junior college) kids and one more high school kid will be here for the April quarter,” Kelly said. “I hope everybody we signed is ready to play the day they get here because that’s what we want them to do.”
Earlier in the morning, the Bruins gained a commitment from an undecided defensive lineman, but also lost one from a hotly contested offensive lineman.
Katy, Texas, native Otito Ogbonnia signed with UCLA over Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Ole Miss and Notre Dame, but the Bruins missed out on Mission Viejo, California, native offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson, who signed with Notre Dame.
One of the more interesting recruitments took place in Milwaukee, where UCLA snapped up offensive lineman Jon Gaines. Gaines did not have a star rating or a recruit page on the 247Sports network, yet still garnered scholarship offers from Iowa, Purdue and California.
“He was a very good student and … he was the president of his class – everything off the charts from a character standpoint,” Kelly said. “Then you put the tape on, he is a really good football player, so he checked all the boxes for us.”
Out of UCLA’s current 27-player incoming class, there are five wide receivers, five defensive backs, four linebackers, four defensive linemen, four offensive linemen, two running backs, two tight ends and one quarterback.
247Sports ranks the Bruins’ incoming class as No. 18 in the nation and fourth in the Pac-12, behind USC, Washington and Oregon.