UCLA early signing day: Chip Kelly goes deep at quarterback

UCLA used two quarterbacks during its first game, five quarterbacks in its third game and alternated all season among Ethan Garbers, Dante Moore, Collin Schlee and Chase Griffin because of injuries.

Along the way, the constant shuffling reaffirmed one belief for coach Chip Kelly.

“I don’t think you can have enough quarterbacks,” Kelly said.

The Bruins fortified their ranks at the position Wednesday by signing two quarterbacks as part of a 10-player high school recruiting class that 247Sports.com ranked No. 17 out of 18 teams in the Big Ten Conference. The Bruins finished ahead of only Northwestern after the Wildcats underwent a coaching change and lost one prospect to UCLA in cornerback Jamir Benjamin.

The influx of quarterbacks offsets the recent loss of Moore, who is transferring to Oregon after one season as a Bruin, at least in terms of depth. Barring the addition of a veteran transfer, Ethan Garbers is expected to be UCLA’s starting quarterback next season, with fellow returners Schlee, Justyn Martin and Luke Duncan among the backups.

Quarterback Karson Gordon signed with UCLA during the early period and has long been committed to the Bruins’ 2024 recruiting class.

(Courtesy of UCLA Athletics)

UCLA had long been expected to sign quarterback Karson Gordon from Bellaire (Texas) Episcopal before adding Henry Hasselbeck from Westwood (Mass.) Xaverian Brothers on Wednesday after winning a recruiting battle with Boston College, where Hasselbeck’s father played. Henry Hasselbeck comes from a long line of NFL players including father Matt, uncle Tim and grandfather Don.

“There’s great history and tradition in that family,” Kelly said.

Gordon and Henry Hasselbeck both are multisport athletes. Gordon won the high school national championship in the triple jump with a distance of 51 feet 4¼ inches, and Hasselbeck played lacrosse and ran track in addition to starring at quarterback. Hasselbeck had once been committed to Maryland to play lacrosse and Michigan State to play quarterback before switching his allegiance to UCLA after the Spartans dismissed coach Mel Tucker.

Xaverian lacrosse player Henry Hasselbeck looks up field during practice

Henry Hasselbeck, who played lacrosse in high school, signed with UCLA’s 2024 recruiting class to play quarterback.

(Boston Herald via Getty Images )

Alluding to the constant movement of quarterbacks in the transfer portal, Kelly intimated that he wanted to build sufficient depth at the position to withstand any departures.

“Only one kid plays,” Kelly said, “so you never want to be caught short-handed and be scrambling looking for a kid in June when you passed on a good kid in December.”

UCLA also landed three offensive tackles in Mark Schroller from Mission Viejo, Jensen Somerville from Lehi (Utah) and Marquise Thorpe-Taylor from Tacoma (Wash.) Mount Tahoma. In the years to come they could open holes for Cameron Jones, a running back from St. John Bosco whom Kelly described as “a big, strong, physical running back in kind of the mold that we like here.”

Kelly said Benjamin, wide receiver Kwazi Gilmer from Sierra Canyon, linebacker Isaiah Patterson from Yelm (Wash.), and defensive back Khristian Dunbar-Hawkins from Tustin were scheduled to enroll in January, allowing them to participate in spring practices.

UCLA lost one expected member of its class when tight end Rob Booker from Waunakee (Wis.) signed with Wisconsin after having initially committed to the Badgers, only to switch his commitment to the Bruins before changing his mind again.

Having heavily supplemented his freshmen with transfers in recent seasons, Kelly acknowledged the Bruins would again heavily lean on the transfer portal, particularly for additional safeties and edge rushers. Twin edge rushers Gabriel and Grayson Murphy announced their intentions to enter the NFL draft, further thinning the Bruins’ depth along the defensive line after Laiatu Latu sat out the LA Bowl to prepare for the draft.

“How we’ve always looked at it is that we’re always trying to bring in the best [players] that fit in both our academic admission standards and what we’re looking for football-wise here,” Kelly said of blending his recruiting classes. “But we’re not going to limit it to say it’s got to be a certain amount of high school, it’s got to be a certain amount of transfer guys. It’s just, that part of it happens organically.”

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