The tweet threw me off.
It came from Deon Hollins Sr. randomly, without provocation, on July 1. Right when Hollins’ son and namesake, one of the top linebackers in the country, was getting UCLA fans nervous.
@TheCoolSub Let’s go bruins!!
— Deon hollins (@hollins_deon) July 2, 2012
Listed as a verbal commit since March, Hollins Jr. had been coming under fire recently for showing interest in other schools – most notably taking a visit to Washington – but his father said that he did so with Mora’s blessing.
“A lot of people say he was a soft commit, well yeah, but you’re talking about a 17-year-old kid who is a brilliant young man, 3.8 GPA in honors courses, a great kid, and he still had some places he hasn’t seen,” Hollins Sr. “Coach Mora told him, ‘I wouldn’t tell you not to enjoy this process. Go around, look around, but this is home.’”
Added Hollins Jr.: “I still hear what they have to say, but it would have to be perfect. Everything perfect to beat UCLA. Washington, you know how Tosh Lupoi is, he’s a real personable guy, but UCLA is more than that.”
Just look at the tweet.
Another program would have to be absolutely perfect for Hollins to even raise an eyebrow, and that’s because, the two say, UCLA is already there, with the combination of a fiery young coaching staff, a defense that suits Hollins’ strengths and a conference that should provide ample opportunity for growth.
“Initially we were all ready to sign with the Pac-12 anyway,” Hollins Sr. said. “I see Deon being a West coast, Von Miller-type, leading the conference in sacks. I can see that in that conference. I envision it. With the Pac-12 throwing the ball around, I saw it as an excellent opportunity for him to compete at a high level and showcase his skills, as well. When I got off the phone with Coach Mora – and I express all the time how great the hire was – I mean, just to talk to the dude. He said the exact same things. When I look at Deon, I think Pat Swilling, and man, this is Jim Mora saying the same thing! I was tripping over that thought process. So it was the Pac-12 and it was the 3-4. We were looking at Stanford, Cal, Oregon, teams that run that type of system, hybrid end/linebacker type of deal and when (Mora) told me they were running the 3-4, I damn near dropped the phone. A defensive coach, combined with my son’s ability? Deon was so excited. So excited. We mulled it over and Deon said, ‘Dad, I want to commit,’ I just said, ‘Well, gosh dangit let’s do it then!”
The phone call, Hollins said, wasn’t just a relief for the Hollins family.
In the younger Hollins, the Bruins will get a ballhawk with incredible burst, a quick first step and a deep understand of pass rush at an early age. They’ll also get a player coveted by some of the biggest programs in the country, as Hollins sports offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma, among others.
“I remember Deon calling coach Mora, and it’s quiet here, and Deon says, “Coach, I want to be a Bruin.’ Coach Mora says, ‘You want to be a Bruin? You want to be a Bruin!’ and the whole staff was in the background clapping. Coach Martin did a hell of a job. A lot of the old regime was still intact when they took over, and they were talking UCLA out of it, oh we can’t get this kid. Martin comes in and says, ‘How do we know if we can get a home run if we don’t swing the bat?’
“They swung the bat and reached out to us and I was thrilled.”
One chat with the younger Hollins, and you get the feeling that the Bruins could have just scored a walk-off grand slam.
This is not only one of the most targeted linebackers in the country, but a bright, intelligent, social-conscious young man who is eager to hoist UCLA on his back.
“I’m trying to be the next in line to change things around,” Hollins Jr. said. ” I don’t want people to just say, ‘Oh, he’s a good football player.’ I want to be the kind of player people want to look up to, and it makes me want to work harder to get that. That’s a big thing for me. I’ve always been raised with academics first – my parents were big proponents of if you don’t pass your classes, you don’t get to play football, and in my case it was always, if you don’t get A’s, you don’t get football. When you raise the level of expectations, you have no choice but to meet them. Your body, your mind, you learn to do it. I see myself going to UCLA and being one of those types of guys, and that’s such a big thing for me. I don’t want to just be known as a football player. I pride myself on that.”
Hollins will get the opportunity, and with his father’s blessing. Deon Hollins Sr. describes the UCLA coaching staff with reverence, the sound of absolute trust in his voice. Hollins has taken an active role in his son’s football career since the peewee days, when his son became known around the park for getting into the backfield before linemen got out of their stance. For him to describe the coaching staff so glowingly, that means something to him.
“The level of trust I have comes from their sheer experience,” Hollins Sr. said. “You talk about Lou Spanos, you talk 17 years. Coach Mora, 27 years. Coach Martin’s experience, Coach Klemm, McClure. You start adding those numbers up, Super Bowl rings, those things stand out. Of course, UCLA has great academics and a beautiful campus and the three Bs – Brentwood, Beverly Hills and the beaches – it’s a beautiful place. But the excitement comes in on my end because I watched these gentlemen’s career, and to know that my son will have a part of that, and that they’re going to instill a toughness, an NFL-minded toughness to this team – because let’s face it, UCLA has had the rep of being soft, that they can’t compete with the big dogs – but now? I believe. And they’re reaching abroad – Georgia, Texas, Arizona – and they’re saying we’re going to tap into and get the best players to fit what we do. That’s what exciting for me.
“When I talked to Coach Spanos he told me an interesting story, when I brought up the West Coast Von Miller deal,” Hollins Sr. continued. “‘I hear you say Von and I’m looking at Deon and I’m not taking anything away from Von, but I think Deon has the ability and talent to be better than Miller. The system that was implemented by Tim DeRuyter, they came to Pittsburgh and worked alongside LeBeau and myself to learn the defense that Von Miller was so good in.’ That gave me goose bumps all over again! We’re talking about 17 years alongside Dick LeBeau. Come on, man! There are going to be a whole lot of times when they bring the pressure. They’re going to bring the pressure and the old cliche, pressure is going to bust pipes. And if my son gets the opportunity to rush the passer, the fans better get ready for it. He’s special.”
But other programs have experience, too. UCLA’s new coaching staff may have more NFL years and Super Bowl rings than the previous group, but they don’t corner the market on crow’s feet.
No, Jim Mora and Co. are selling more than just experience.
“That is something that my dad and I were talking about, being the start of a dynasty,” Hollins Jr. said. “Why not come to an upstart program and be a guy who can turn things around? It’s all about vision. Sometimes when you’re a younger kid – and I fall victim to it myself – you have tunnel vision, you only think about today and the day after that. You don’t think about years from now. You don’t think about future after football. But when you put those two together – life after football and life after – I don’t see a better place for us than UCLA.”