Eddie Vanderdoes and rest of freshmen class have made key contributions for the Bruins.
By ABBEY MASTRACCOFS West
LOS ANGELES -- Jim Mora's first recruiting class could be tough to beat. The class of 2013 has been one of the best in UCLA's recent history and one of the best in the country.
Both lines have seen contributions coming from true freshmen and the Bruins' defense has especially benefited from the play of linebacker Myles Jack and defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes.
Recently, receiver Thomas Duarte has seen an increased role and Darren Andrews has impressed in limited action this season as well.
It's clear that the essential building blocks are in place.
"We started seven true freshman, including the punter, against one of the best teams in America and took it right to the end,” Mora said. "I think that's a testament to the way our guys compete, it's a testament to our coaching…
"The future looks pretty damn bright here."
Vanderdoes came to UCLA just looking for a home after a dramatic recruiting ordeal. The Auburn, Calif., product was not immediately awarded a starting role but when Ellis McCarthy was injured, Vanderdoes stepped into the role and his tackling and ability to rush the passer made it impossible for the coaches to remove him.
"I feel like I'm getting the game down better facing high-level guys," Vanerdoes said.
"There was definitely a learning curve. Learning a whole new playbook, a new system – I had never played in a 3-4 defense before, so I had to get used to that. And just how quick it is and how technical it is. But I feel like I'm getting better."
The one player that Vanderdoes and the rest of the team have continually been impressed by on the field is Jack.
"Myles is a freak," Vanderdoes said. "I think Myles is probably the most athletic kid I've ever played with."
Off the field, Jack is a favorite as well. The baby Bruins have become a close group. They regularly get together to meet about issues ranging from the playbook to video games and do their best to support one another in their transition year. Even watching them come to and from practices, you can see them all joining in the love fest.
"The freshmen, we're definitely the tightest group on the team," Jack said. "The class of '13, that's the best class. I love my class."
Aside from the fact that they can't yet use themselves as characters on NCAA Football, you'd never know these kids are, in fact, still kids.
The Bruins did receive some good news this week. Linebacker Erik Kendricks worked in a red no-contact jersey Tuesday and will be able to play Saturday. Left tackle Simon Goines is also hopeful to play.
"Erik Kendricks – it's going to take a lot to keep that guy down," Mora said. "He's got the spirit that you love on your team."
However, the news was only good and far from great. Conor McDermott's shoulder separated again and he is not available, meaning that if Goines were to re-aggravate his knee injury the offensive line would see the same shuffling that it saw Saturday against Stanford. Xavier Su'a-Filo would play tackle and Brandon Willis and Ben Wysocki would fill in on the line.
Running back Jordon James is still questionable with an ankle injury but Mora said he is "getting closer."
"You line up 11 on every play – hopefully not 10 and hopefully not 12 – and you compete your butt off," Mora said. "That's what our plans are."