- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
When Caleb Benenoch (Katy, Texas/Seven Lakes) decommitted from Michigan State in June, he did so because he wants to play his college ball closer to home.
After enjoying a long and winding recruiting process since that decision, Benenoch announced on Monday that he’s settled on a new destination: UCLA.
The school may not be any closer to Katy, but the four-star guard prospect fell in love with the Bruins and became their 20th verbal commitment. He chose UCLA over Baylor and also seriously considered Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
“I bought into everything they’re doing up there,” Benenoch said. “For me, personally, it came down to if football wasn’t involved at all and I was going to have to be at that school, where would I go? That’s what made me decide.”
The Bruins pulled off quite a steal in landing the state of Texas’ fifth-best uncommitted prospect.
No one could’ve seen this commitment coming a few months ago. In the same week that he backed out of his Michigan State pledge, Benenoch picked up offers from Texas and Oklahoma. Those two schools remained atop his list throughout the summer and into his senior season, and Texas was still No. 1 going into November.
That he ended up choosing a school other than UT was ultimately a move not even Benenoch had expected.
“It surprised me a little bit since, for a long time, it was about me trying to see what schools could compete with Texas,” Benenoch said. “But the more I looked at it and the vibe I got, it just wasn’t where I wanted to be.”
UCLA didn’t offer Benenoch a scholarship until Sept. 3, but that offer was enough to make him push back his midseason decision date and take an official visit after Seven Lakes’ season ended.
Baylor made a strong late push thanks to two visits and the fact that his brother, Josh Benenoch, is a defensive back for the Bears. But Benenoch’s official visit to UCLA proved to be the game-changer.
He took in a 35-17 UCLA loss to Stanford, but the time Benenoch spent with Bruins offensive line coach Adrian Klemm and around the rest of the team mattered more. He was impressed by what the rising Pac-12 program had to offer -- especially immediate playing time at right guard -- and how close a relationship the coaches and players had developed.
“After the UCLA visit I felt like that’s where I wanted to be,” he said. “So I went back to Baylor one more time and prayed about it and thought about it for a while. At the end of the day, UCLA is where I think I’ll be most successful and happiest.”
Not long after Texas assistant Major Applewhite visited Benenoch at Seven Lakes last week, Texas found out it was out of the race when Benenoch called offensive line coach Stacy Searels to inform him that he wasn’t picking the Longhorns.
“I’ve been a UT fan for a long time and there wasn’t much of a reason for me to not go to UT, but I just didn’t feel it,” Benenoch said. “It wasn’t where I wanted to be at the moment. I didn’t want them to waste their time anymore so I told them they should move on.”
There was only one problem with picking another out-of-state school. Benenoch said his entire family was pulling for him to join his brother at Baylor, particularly his mother.
“But she told me everybody has to go their own path and she really wanted me to be happy with everything,” Benenoch said. “She didn’t pressure me, and my brother told me he’d support me wherever I went.”
Benenoch is the eighth offensive lineman to join UCLA’s 2013 class and the second this month after tackle Alex Redmond (Los Alamitos, Calif./Los Alamitos) committed last week. He’s also the class’ second Texan, joining four-star Missouri City (Texas) Marshall linebacker Deon Hollins Jr.
“They have a big O-Line class this year. It’s going to be a lot of fun and extremely competitive,” Benenoch said. “I’m really looking forward to it. We have a lot of potential and a good class coming. It’s going to be exciting.”