UCLA’s keys to success: No. 6, freshmen DBs

Young, talented and raw, the UCLA secondary is going to rely heavily on a pair of true freshmen to lead the secondary.

Priest Willis and Tahaan Goodman come to Westwood with high expectations and showed why during UCLA’s 10-day San Bernardino training camp.

Freshman cornerback Willis arrived to UCLA’s fall training camp without knowing if he would be able to play this season or not. The cornerback from Phoenix, Ariz., had been admitted to UCLA, so he was allowed to practice, but had yet to hear from the NCAA about being cleared academically to play this season.

But on the first day. Willis impressed, grabbing a tipped interception, and the five-star prospect was cleared by the NCAA on the following day.

Goodman, a safety has long been considered one of the top defensive backs in the area, and the four-star prospect was dominant at Rancho Cucamonga. Goodman made several highlight-reel hits in San Bernardino, leading another freshman cornerback, Tyler Foreman, to marvel from the sidelines during one series.

“Tahaan is bringing the heat,” Foreman said.

“Something I look to do is start right away my freshman year,” Goodman said. “I should be where I need to be and have everything figured out.”

Importance of Willis and Goodman

The Bruins return no regular starters at either the safety or cornerback positions and four-star freshman cornerback Johnny Johnson’s shoulder separation will likely sideline him for the season, further thinning the already-thinned unit.

“Right now, I feel good about the skill level we have at the corner position,” said coach Jim Mora. “Certainly not the experience but the ability.”

Number of note: 18

In a monstrous performance against Perry (Gilbert, Ariz.) High, Willis had 18 total tackles. Willis had 10 solo stops and four for loss with one sack, leaving little doubt that he is capable of playing at the next level.


Mora: “I coached defensive backs my whole career and I’ve been lucky to be around some good ones. Rod Woodson, he’s a pretty good corner – All-Century Team – so I would think that people would trust my judgment when it comes to defensive backs. And all I’ve said from the very first day is that Priest Willis is a corner …

“He’s a corner, there is never a doubt that he’s a corner. He’s a corner. I don’t know why people are making him a safety. He’s a fricken’ picture-perfect beautiful corner.”

Redshirt junior cornerback Anthony Jefferson: “Tahaan kind of reminds me of myself coming in. He’s a very long athlete, limber, he can move really well.”

2013 outlook

Look for both Willis and Goodman to start right away. Goodman has said that he adapted to the pace of play on just the first day of training camp and was confident he knew the plays by the third. The two are both in peak shape and posses speed, burst and high football IQs for their young ages. It wouldn’t be shocking to see one, if not both, land on some freshmen postseason awards lists.