BELLFLOWER, Calif. – D.J. Uiagalelei is not the varsity starter yet, and he won’t be this season.
But that has not slowed Uiagalelei’s recruitment one bit. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound 2020 phenom has already landed offers from Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Fresno State, Indiana, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, USC and Utah.
It seems counterintuitive that top national programs would offer Uiagalelei without much varsity experience, but Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell says this is the way of the recruiting world, so get used to it.
“This is why it’s funny when people always say underwear camps mean nothing and they criticize websites like Rivals when we rank based off camp evaluations,” Farrell said.
“It’s vitally important in college football for these quarterback coaches and offensive coordinators to see kids throw in person. They don’t need to see game action to feel they have all the intangibles necessary.”
Lots of coaches have already seen Uiagalelei in person, whether during their visits to powerhouse St. John Bosco or when the 2020 quarterback hit the road for camps. Some of his throws have even gone viral on social media.
Like when he chucked the football 75 yards at Arizona’s summer camp. Or when he worked out at the prestigious QB Collective - those coaches believe he threw it more than 80 yards during the long-ball competition.
We’re talking about a rising sophomore in high school.
“I thought it was a good ball,” Uiagalelei said of his 80-yarder.
Uiagalelei is realistic about his role this year. The sophomore will attempt to soak up everything possible from coach Jason Negro, offensive coordinator Chad Johnson and Mitchell, an electric dual-threat who committed to the Cyclones in recent months.
He might not see the field much on Friday nights – unless Bosco is up big, hardly out of the realm of possibility – but Uiagalelei said he knows his opportunity is right around the corner. For now, learning is the most important.
“I try to come out every day and do my best, make sure I know all the plays and try to get myself prepared for whatever my role is this year,” Uiagalelei said.
“It’s motivating. Every day you want to come out and show what you can do. No matter what, come out, if you’re having a bad day, good day, just prove yourself.”
Uiagalelei is hardly the first quarterback to land significant offers without valuable varsity playing time. Farrell points to Stanford’s Ryan Burns and Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano as two recent top quarterbacks who loaded up with offers before proving themselves in games.
UCLA four-star commit Dorian Thompson-Robinson, one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in this class, committed to the Bruins over many other national offers. He’s only going to start his senior season at quarterback, taking over for Ohio State’s Tate Martell at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman. Thompson-Robinson mainly played receiver as a junior.
Farrell also remembers the story of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who ran a wing-T offense at Philadelphia (Pa.) William Penn, yet coaches worked him out in the summer, he got his Boston College offer and the rest is history.
There are currently 36 quarterbacks in the 2020 class who list offers in the Rivals.com database, many with limited or no varsity time.
“Then-Boston College assistant coach Dana Bible, here’s a guy who didn’t have much of an evaluation on Matt Ryan at all,” Farrell said. “He was a wing-T quarterback in high school and he was barely able to throw the ball because of the offense. They brought him to camp and they made him throw every route possible, offered him, got a commitment from him and he went to two ACC titles games and is now great in the NFL.
“There is a progression to it, and I don’t think it’s a problem. There are risks for sure, but this is the day and age where if you don’t offer early, you’re going to be late, and then you’re never going to get the top guys.”
Uiagalelei is in no rush to end the recruiting process. Aside from all the early offers, the 2020 quarterback said LSU and Michigan have started to show interest as well. The recruiting will come in time. For now, Uiagalelei is more interested in learning and listening.
“The role is to just soak in everything,” Uiagalelei said. “Whenever I get in the game, that’s when I get in the game.”