A flurry of high-profile National Signing Day commitments, highlighted by one from the nation’s top linebacker prospect, vaulted UCLA’s 2016 recruiting class into the top 10 in national rankings.
One of six key targets to commit to the Bruins on signing day, five-star outside linebacker Mique Juarez, announced his decision shortly after noon Pacific time Wednesday, instantly becoming the centerpiece of a recruiting class that finished ranked No. 7 by Scout.com.
In addition to Juarez, UCLA received signing day commitments from four four-star players – defensive tackle Boss Tagaloa, athlete Brandon Burton, running back Brandon Stephens and receiver Adewale Omotosho – as well as from three-star offensive guard Francisco “Paco” Perez.
Although the Bruins missed out on two prime targets – four-star tight end Devin Asiasi and four-star athlete Aaron Hansford – coach Jim Mora was happy with his team’s haul.
“If you look at the class as a whole, we filled a lot of needs, and so I’m excited,” Mora said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “It will pay off for us in the long run.”
Juarez, a powerful 6-foot-2, 235-pound athlete who has received comparisons to Myles Jack, chose UCLA out of a final four that included Alabama, Ole Miss, and BYU, providing the Bruins with the elite headliner they’d been missing since five-star Oluwole Betiku’s decommitment in October.
Juarez, the No. 8 recruit in the nation, and Tagaloa, the No. 87 recruit, both have strong chances to contribute on the field as true freshmen this fall.
“The first thing you have to do is think about who we lost,” Mora said. “Defensively, you think about a guy like Myles Jack or Kenny Clark, two tremendous players, and you’re able to replace them with some guys like Boss Tagaloa and Mique Juarez.”
UCLA’s 2016 recruiting class, Mora’s second consecutive top-10 group, provides a significant boost to the program, particularly at the linebacker and receiver positions, as well as along the defensive line.
At linebacker, Juarez joins four-star inside backers Lokeni Toailoa and Krys Barnes and four-star early enrollee Breland Brandt, who will play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or defensive end in a 4-3. Brandt is listed as a defensive linemen, one of seven to join the program in the 2016 class.
The Bruins brought in six four-star recruits that project to see time at receiver, including early enrollee Theo Howard, the No. 49 national recruit. He, Omotosho, Demetric Felton, Dymond Lee, Damian Alloway and Darian Owens offer a wide array of young targets for rising sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen.
UCLA did lose out on Asiasi, however, a massive but mobile tight end long sought after as an addition to the passing attack. With him headed to Michigan, three-star tight end recruit Jordan Wilson will be the Bruins’ starter at the position, Mora said. Kicker J.J. Molson, punter Austin Kent and long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker will also start as true freshmen, according to Mora.
The Bruins started off signing day fast, as Burton pledged to the Bruins in a Bleacher Report commitment video released at midnight Eastern time.
UCLA waited nine hours for its next commitment – from Stephens’, which came a little past 6 a.m. Pacific time on Wednesday – but then the class began growing quickly.
An hour and a half after Stephens’ announcement, Omotosho pledged as well. Three hours later, three-star offensive guard Francisco “Paco” Perez, a longtime verbal commit to California, flipped his commitment, choosing the Bruins over the Golden Bears.
Juarez committed shortly after noon and, at 12:20 p.m., De La Salle High School teammates Tagaloa and Asiasi held a joint press conference. Asiasi went first, pulling out a Michigan hat, and Tagaloa followed by announcing his UCLA commitment.
The Bruins also added junior college defensive end Chigozie Nnoruka, a teammate at American River College of defensive tackle Nick Terry, who had already committed to UCLA.
Compiled by Matt Cummings, Bruin Sports senior staff.