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Deshaun Foster ushers in new recruiting era at UCLA: ‘I’ve seen signs of life’

LOS ANGELES — The big crowd. The big screen. The food trucks. The atmosphere. So unlike a typical UCLA practice in recent years.

“A lot of energy,” said Malik “Fig” James, who leads the Premium 7-on-7 travel team and was one of hundreds of coaches and recruits on campus for UCLA’s Friday Night Lights practice two weeks ago. “Many of SoCal’s top recruits made it. It was something unusual from UCLA.”

It’s a cliché, but recruiting is truly the heartbeat of any program.

But for the past few years, the Bruins have essentially been out of sight and out of mind. Chip Kelly prioritized the transfer portal over traditional recruiting and averaged fewer than 14 high school signees over the past four cycles. And so methodical was the staff’s approach that the party was often late with many of the recruits it pursued. It was a stark contrast to the Jim Mora era, when the program was in the top 20 of the recruiting rankings in five consecutive cycles.

But Kelly is gone — to Ohio State to serve as the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator — and so is his talent acquisition model. Now in charge is DeShaun Foster, a former star running back for the Bruins who is introducing a more traditional method of building a roster. And that with energy and personality.

‘I’ve seen signs of life. I think that’s the biggest thing,” 247Sports national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman said. “UCLA, they have a long road back to relevance, but they now understand that they have to get back to relevance.”


Foster hasn’t set a number for how many high school players he wants to sign each cycle, but he’s left little ambiguity on how he wants to build UCLA’s roster.

“I’m going to look at it this way: High school players are draft picks and Portals are free agents,” he said. “So we’re going to draft the right way and draft kids that we can develop, and if we have a hole that we need to fill, we’ll do it in free agency. That is the portal.”

That’s in direct contrast to Kelly’s process. During the 2022 and 2023 recruiting cycles, the Bruins signed 26 high school prospects and 27 transfers. There were some hits in the portal – most notably Laiatu Latu, Jake Bobo, the Murphy twins (Grayson and Gabriel), and J. Michael Sturdivant – but there were also a lot of misses, and it wasn’t like this was a new story. staff trying to rebuild quickly. At that point, Kelly was already well into his tenure, and this heavy reliance on transfers would not have been necessary if he had been a more energetic and effective recruiter from day one.

“It was something Chip just didn’t want to deal with,” Huffman said. “Use a John Wooden phrase: never confuse activity with achievement. But you can’t have any kind of momentum if you don’t have some activity. I think you can see that DeShaun fully understands that they need to get back into kids’ heads completely – even if they’re not going to get it. Offering kids who already have a top 10 just to get your name back in the hat. While Chip would have said forget it, we’re just not going to worry. You see a real shake-up of what things had been like for the last six years.

UCLA recruiting, last 10 years

Year Coach Class rank HS signatories 5 stars 4 stars

2024

Chip Kelly

90

10

0

2

2023

Chip Kelly

37

15

1

3

2022

Chip Kelly

61

11

0

5

2021

Chip Kelly

32

19

0

4

2020

Chip Kelly

33

20

0

5

2019

Chip Kelly

40

23

0

4

2018

Chip Kelly

19

27

0

9

2017

Jim Mora

20

18

2

5

2016

Jim Mora

13

28

1

9

2015

Jim Mora

12

19

3

10

Make no mistake: Foster still has a long way to go and a number of obstacles to overcome before UCLA can re-emerge as a consistent top-25 recruiting program. With the key summer recruiting months approaching, the Bruins have four commitments – including one blue-chipper – in a class that ranks 53rd in the 247Sports Composite.

But there are positive signs. UCLA is in the mix for four-star quarterback Madden Iamaleava — the younger brother of presumed Tennessee starting QB Nico Iamaleava — and landing him would mark a solid local recruiting win. The Bruins will host four-star safety Jadyn Hudson this week and will host five-star offensive lineman Ty Haywood, four-star tight end Kaleb Edwards and four-star linebacker Zaydrius Rainey-Sale in the coming weeks.

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Foster was an assistant under Kelly and said he had no trouble recruiting under that system, so it’s probably fair to ask how different his approach will actually be. He still wants to see 12 to 14 high school games from a prospect before offering — a plan he has communicated to members of the Southern California recruiting community.

And Foster doesn’t want to get involved in offering to eighth graders, but said he aims to “speed up the process a little bit more because sometimes it takes offers to get kids on campus, so you have to play the game.”

Naturally, when it comes to UCLA, the emphasis is always on Southern California and the local recruiting landscape. The same goes for USC.

And while the Trojans haven’t signed as many high-profile local prospects as their fans would like, USC at least has a strong presence in the area. That hasn’t been the case for UCLA, which has attracted more than one of the state’s top 25 recruits just once in the past six recruiting cycles.

Foster is not downplaying California’s importance, but has also emphasized the need for a national recruiting approach since the day he interviewed for the job.

“We talked about that extensively and what his approach would be,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said. “And he said – which was different – ​​that we need a national recruitment approach. UCLA is a national brand. It is an international brand. These four letters are respected and admired all over the world. So the state of California is very important, but I think it’s more important to be a national brand that recruits in a national way.”

Foster puts that plan into practice. In the coming weeks, the Bruins will host top players from North Carolina (defensive lineman Trajen Odom), Utah (offensive linemen Aaron Dunn and Darius Afalava), Florida (offensive lineman Ziyare Addison), Texas (Haywood) and Washington (Rainey-Sale).

Some may roll their eyes at the attempt to cast a national recruiting net, but with the top candidates on the West Coast now leaving their footprints on a regular basis, it’s an approach built out of necessity.

“You have to go national,” Huffman said. “I think you see that in Lincoln Riley’s efforts (recently). LA resonates with a Southeastern child or a Midwestern, upper Northeastern child. I think if you were DeShaun, if you were in Washington State, you might not go national because Pullman isn’t going to lure those kids outside of the West Region like LA will. So if you’re UCLA and you have Los Angeles as your background, you can go national and you’ve had a lot of players there who have been national players. I think it is a good approach, especially in an NIL and transfer portal driven era.”


One of the biggest challenges Foster inherited was UCLA’s NIL situation – or lack thereof. It’s no secret that the Bruins have struggled to compete in that area.

And while it’s also fair to argue that Kelly hasn’t given fans and donors much of a reason to step up and donate to a collective, it’s still a major issue for the program that needs to be addressed.

Foster said the boosters are “stepping up,” and one of his first steps after being hired was to meet with the program’s top eight donors, a group he calls “the elite eight.”

“I just wanted to sit down and show them my vision so they could understand where I’m coming from,” he said.

Finding a coach who could engage donors and fans – and recruit, of course – was a must for Jarmond in his search for Kelly’s successor.

“You have to recruit. You have to keep talent. You have to develop talent,” says Jarmond. “But you also have to acquire resources and build relationships with donors and our fan base to deliver NIL. That can’t come from the school. … So you have to be adept at that and embrace that. That was critical to this appointment and is one of the reasons why DeShaun is in charge. He had a plan. He understands that and embraces that.”

Jarmound said Foster’s message is already resonating.

“We’ve been very busy on that front,” he said, “and have had a lot of activity since he’s been head coach because I think people believe in him and believe in this program and want us to be successful. It’s going to take all of us Make no mistake, he understands that. He can’t do this alone. We need Bruin Nation to step up and stand behind these young men and get behind this program so we can achieve the level of success that we know we can. that we can do it.

Foster, who attended high school in Southern California and was a two-time first-team All-Pac-10 at UCLA in the early 2000s, believes his familiarity with the program will help him mobilize fans and the local community . Being an alum and loving a program doesn’t guarantee success – look at Nebraska and Scott Frost – but sometimes, in a challenging situation, it’s beneficial to have someone who knows the ins and outs of an institution. Jonathan Smith, for example, understood the blueprint for success at Oregon State.

Only time will tell where Foster’s vision and approach will take UCLA.

‘There’s the transfer portal. You could leave at any time. You have to reach NIL,” Jarmond said. “So there really has to be a conviction about the place you are going. Who better to convey that vision than someone who lived it, someone who breathed it? I think DeShaun can promote UCLA because he’s been through it, he’s experienced it, he’s seen the positive impact UCLA can have on his life and his career – there’s a level of belief that brings that is important for young people, that matters to parents, guardians, uncles and people he talks to.

(Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today)