The four UCLA-bound high school football players on the group chat reacted to the news of Dante Moore’s commitment like the arrival of a dazzling gift that had been ordered a few weeks earlier.
They were excited but unsurprised.
Bruins coaches had kept the prospects apprised of Moore’s status as the five-star quarterback increasingly contemplated switching his allegiance from Oregon to UCLA. Now that Moore was on board, the foursome wanted to see who else they might be able to lure.
“We have a couple of kids we’ve been friends with that are still waiting to make their decision,” said Norco wide receiver Grant Gray, part of a group chat that also included Los Alamitos defensive back Ethan O’Connor and Bellflower St. John Bosco safeties Ty Lee and R.J. Jones. “So we’re going to see if we can add a couple of names to that recruiting class.”
For the first time since coach Chip Kelly’s arrival five years ago, the Bruins and their peer recruiters possess a new weapon in their arsenal: buzz.
The flipping of Moore’s commitment in the wake of a 9-3 season significantly enhanced the advantages UCLA already enjoyed with its winning academics, striking campus and year-round beach weather.
“There’s a super big buzz now since UCLA had a pretty decent year this year,” Gray said. “They definitely upheld any expectations that anyone had and they blew some expectations out of the water, so they’re definitely getting more buzz than they have been in the last couple of years.”
The 13-player recruiting class that Kelly unveiled Wednesday reflected that excitement. Ranked No. 24 nationally by 247Sports.com, it might be Kelly’s best class. Kelly’s first class was ranked No. 19 but included several players, including quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who had been pursued by the previous coaching staff.
“The players understand that we do a good job in recruiting of what we are,” Kelly said, “and I think we have the No. 1 public institution in the country and we’re playing football at a really, really high level, so we’re a top-15 football program and we’re No. 1 in academics and that resonates with kids.”
Headlining the class was Moore, the Detroit King standout who was ranked No. 3 nationally by 247 Sports, making him the highest-ranked player Kelly has signed in his coaching career. Kelly said UCLA coaches repeatedly visited Moore’s home after he cooled on attending Oregon, Kelly and quarterbacks coach Ryan Gunderson making one trip and Gunderson accompanying wide receivers coach Jerry Neuheisel on another.
Moore sandwiched an official visit to UCLA between those visits and clicked with Kelly over shared values.
“He’s about all the right things — he’s about the team culture, he’s about personal development, about being the best version of himself,” Kelly said. “He’s got a tremendous upside, he’s a really skilled football player, but I really think his mindset is what makes Dante special. He’s a driven young man who wants to be special and works at it, so we were excited to add him.”
The class was almost evenly split with six players on offense and seven on defense. The four-star prospects were Gray, who also intends to play baseball for the Bruins, and Chula Vista Mater Dei wide receiver Jeremiah McClure. Gray already can give a detailed scouting report on the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Moore after facing him during a seven-on-seven tournament in Las Vegas.
What impressed Gray most about his new teammate?
“Everything,” Gray said. “I don’t think he made a wrong decision the whole game. He was putting the ball exactly where he wanted to, whether it was a touch pass or he had to put a little extra juice behind it.”
Kelly described Tre Edwards, a 6-1, 210-pound standout from Chula Vista Mater Dei, as “a big-bodied linebacker” while saying Donayvn Pellot from Las Vegas Silverado is more of an outside linebacker who could thrive in space. The coach hailed the versatility of Solomone Malafu, a linebacker from Kapaa (Hawaii) who can play both inside and outside positions, and said the arrival of Lee and Jones could help offset the departures of veteran safeties Stephan Blaylock and Mo Osling III.
More players are likely on the way. O’Connor is expected to sign in February and the Bruins still are pursuing Gardena Serra cornerback Rodrick Pleasant, among others. The team also will continue to import players through the transfer portal.
If Gray and his band of fledgling recruiters has its way, a big-deal class will keep getting bigger.