For the second day in a row, the Bruins took a major stride forward with a top linebacker target.
Manteca (CA) class of 2023 prospect Blake Nichelson revealed his top three finalists Monday – UCLA, Oregon and Florida State. Nichelson's announcement came less than 24 hours after another in-state linebacker – Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep's (CA) Jerry Mixon – included the Bruins in his top six.
Nichelson was also sitting on offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Boston College, BYU, Cal, Fresno State, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon State, San Jose State, USC, Utah, Utah State, Washington and Washington State.
UCLA entered the race for Nichelson relatively late, only extending a scholarship offer to him on May 9. The previous defensive staff had their eye on Nichelson as far back as September 2021, but several other schools outpaced the Bruins in the early stages of his recruitment before Ken Norton Jr. took over as inside linebackers coach in the spring.
Nichelson took official visits to Oregon and Florida State in June, and while he did come to Westwood for an unofficial in late May, he has yet to use an official to see UCLA.
Experts at 247Sports, Rivals and On3 have all published official predictions that Nichelson will wind up committing to the Ducks, and On3's Recruiting Prediction Machine gives Oregon a 96.7% chance to reel him in. Nichelson has made four trips to Eugene, including two in June alone.
247Sports and On3 have Nichelson pegged as a four-star recruit and top-12 player in California, while ESPN and Rivals have him rated as a three-star prospect. In the 247Sports Composite, Nichelson ranks as the No. 16 recruit in California, the No. 18 linebacker in the country and the No. 251 overall prospect in his class. Nichelson is the top-ranked linebacker – committed or otherwise – in California.
Nichelson racked up 49 tackles, 11.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception his junior year at Manteca. Nichelson was named Valley Oak League Defensive Player of the Year, also making First Team All-League as a two-way player.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Nichelson suited up as his team's starting running back as well. Nichelson went for 2,231 yards and 36 touchdowns on 208 carries, nearly leading the entire state in ground scores.
Nichelson runs a 4.53-second 40-yard dash while boasting solid length for a linebacker. In addition to appearing at the Under Armour Next Camp in Los Angeles on March 6, the National Preps Showcase Invitational in Northern California on April 16 and the ESPN 300 Elite Underclassmen Camp in Northern California on May 15, Nichelson has also been invited to next year's Adidas All-American Bowl and Polynesian Bowl.
UCLA already has two linebacker commits for its 2023 recruiting class – St. John Bosco (CA) hybrid safety Ty Lee and Mater Dei Catholic (CA) four-star Tre Edwards. However, the Bruins lost out on Cade Uluave and Hayden Moore to Cal and Nebraska, respectively, in June, knocking their linebacker recruiting down a peg.
But with Nichelson and Mixon holding UCLA as top options, Norton still has a chance to recover and bring in a key quartet of in-state linebackers after the Bruins brought in just one player at the position in 2022 and none in 2021.