Chip Kelly lays groundwork for next football season with 19 recruits
UCLA football signed three more recruits on National Signing Day on Wednesday. It signed 19 recruits total, and its 2019 class is the No. 7 class in the Pac-12 and the No. 43 class in the country. (Liz Ketcham/Assistant Photo editor)
By Sam Connon
February 6, 2019, 5:15 pm
The Bruins have their lowest-rated recruiting class since 2011, but don’t tell that to coach Chip Kelly.
“We’re really happy with the guys that we got,” Kelly said. “I think they’re great fits for this university. (They) have all their priorities in line, especially with the academic and athletic combination which this university prides itself on.”
UCLA football’s recruiting class added three names on Wednesday’s National Signing Day, bringing the total number of signees to 19, but the new crop of Bruins rank seventh in the Pac-12 and 43rd in the nation. Three-star tight end Michael Martinez – who committed back in June – signed his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday, and Kelly said he will play a major role in replacing NFL Draft hopeful Caleb Wilson.
“We knew (the tight end position) was going to be priority for us, and we identified (Martinez) a long time ago,” Kelly said. “(Tight ends coach) Derek Sage did a great job developing a relationship with him. … He’s got the size obviously to be an in-line tight end, but played flex a lot for his high school and can get out in open spaces, can catch some balls, got a huge catch radius. (He’s) probably one of the bigger tight ends I’ve ever had the opportunity to recruit.”
Martinez measures in at 6 feet, 6 inches and 246 pounds. He was ranked as 2019’s No. 16 tight end after reeling in 43 catches for six touchdowns and 661 yards for Mater Dei High School this season.
Martinez may have brought size to the tight end position, but Kelly sought out size outside the numbers as well.
Three-star receiver Charles Njoku, the brother of 2017 NFL Draft first-round pick David Njoku, also signed Wednesday after committing Jan. 25. Njoku is 6 feet, 5 inches, becoming the Bruins’ third wideout over 6-foot-3.
“(He’s) a lot like a (freshman) Mike Ezeike or a (freshman) Chase Cota – another bigger, taller target on the perimeter,” Kelly said. “(Njoku), I think, is a guy that has a huge upside as he continues to grow into his body. He’s all of 6-(foot)-4 and change right now, so (we’re) really excited about him.”
UCLA’s biggest new target, however, is preferred walk-on Hudson Habermehl. The 6-foot-8-inch wide receiver from Roseville, California, runs a 4.65 40-yard dash and racked up 334 yards and six touchdowns in one season of varsity football at Woodcreek High School. Six-foot-3-inch wide receiver/cornerback Ashton Authement also took a PWO offer Wednesday.
Kelly said that the team has shifted more focus onto the walk-on program in his first full recruiting cycle.
“Last year obviously we were just getting into it, but I feel really really strong about the walk-ons that we’re bringing in this class,” Kelly said. “The unique aspect that we have is getting in-state kids to stay home. Obviously, being a state university, that’s a big deal, and so we’ve made a concerted effort in the walk-on program and I think it’ll show with the kids who show up here when we start in June.”
The final signee Wednesday was three-star linebacker Noah Keeter from Gainesville, Florida. Keeter is 6 feet, 5 inches and 224 pounds, size that Kelly said was necessary to add to the Bruins’ pass rushing corps.
The Bruins have had eight players announce their intention to transfer since the end of last season, but Kelly said he was prepared for those decisions and they did not change his recruiting plan this cycle.
“Most of the kids were grad transfers that didn’t play, so obviously, you know that they’re going to move on and try to play (for) somebody else,” Kelly said. “Usually guys aren’t transferring if they’re playing at the last place. So we try to assist those guys in any way we can in terms of where they’re heading and what they can get accomplished.”
National Signing Day only opened at midnight Wednesday, so the Bruins still have a chance to reel in some last-minute targets. Kelly said UCLA will have a shot at one of two more players, but he did not comment on who they were and the likelihood of them signing.
But for now, Kelly and the Bruins have no five-star signees and just one four-star – among the fewest in the Pac-12.