As if UCLA football needed more selling points.
The program is already in the midst of a renaissance, sparked by coach Jim Mora’s arrival two seasons ago. Since then, the Bruins have won the Pacific-12 Conference’s South Division, beaten USC twice, and notched their first 10-win season since 2005.
Having three players chosen in the NFL draft Saturday established another milestone. UCLA finished the 2014 draft with five selections, the most since six Bruins went in 2002. Coupled with the four that were picked in 2013, it marked the school’s highest two-year total since 1993 and 1994.
Defensive end Cassius Marsh and receiver Shaq Evans started off the fourth round Saturday for UCLA, going 108th and 115th overall, respectively, to the Seattle Seahawks and the New York Jets. Over an hour later, the Pittsburgh Steelers picked linebacker Jordan Zumwalt in the sixth round, 192nd overall.
A pair of All-Americans had left the board the previous two days: linebacker Anthony Barr to the Minnesota Vikings at ninth overall, and offensive guard Xavier Su’a-Filo to the Houston Texans at 33rd.
Mora, who headed the Seahawks in 2009, likely played a role in Marsh’s selection. The longtime NFL coach hasn’t been shy about promoting his Bruins, and remains friends with Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
Beyond any direct pitches, however, Mora also managed to tap into talent that his predecessor Rick Neuheisel recruited but could never develop.
“Coach Mora, he’s a great coach and he brought in great coaches with him,” Marsh said on a conference call. “He brought an NFL pedigree, and guys who were going to teach me how to be a professional, how to do things at the next level. He just changed the whole culture at UCLA. I love Coach Mora and everything he’s done for the program, and everything he’s done for me.”
UCLA’s draft total also put the program near the top of the Pac-12, trailing only Stanford’s six picks. Oregon was next with four, while crosstown rival USC had three.
“It certainly gives us exposure and opens people’s eyes to what’s happening around here,” Mora said earlier this month. “We just have to continue to make sure we’re bringing athletes into this program and helping them as students and as people. Helping them realize their dreams, whether it’s on the field or off the field.
“We’ve been lucky the past couple of years of having guys come through here and go to the NFL and that trend will continue.”
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