April 18, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

USC is looking more like USC in recruiting for its 2021 class

Camps were canceled, campuses closed, official visits kept virtual. High school seasons never even kicked off. Evaluations were made entirely from video , and final pitches once made in living rooms were moved, for one year at least, to Zoom.

Nothing about the process of recruiting through a pandemic felt familiar. But as the strangest recruiting cycle in memory enters its final weeks, one aspect of the early signing period that begins Wednesday should feel like a welcomed return to normal for USC.

A year after coach Clay Helton was forced to defend a class ranked last in the Pac-12, the Trojans’ revamped recruiting operation has them back near the top of the conference — and in the pole position for some of the nation’s top available prospects.

Nineteen players are committed to USC’s 2021 class, which ranks 14th nationally, according to 247Sports. Among other Pac-12 teams, only Oregon has so far managed to outpace USC on the virtual recruiting trail.

That order could change as soon as this week, when Korey Foreman, the No. 1 overall recruit in 247Sports’ composite rankings, signs his national letter of intent. Foreman is down to USC, Clemson, Louisiana State, Georgia and Arizona State. However, the school he chooses Wednesday won’t be known for another few weeks. The Corona Centennial defensive end plans to keep his decision quiet until Jan. 2, when he’ll announce, in fittingly strange fashion, during the All-American Bowl’s virtual “declaration special.”

Judgments on USC’s class won’t be complete until then. But the fact that the program is back in the conversation for the top prospect in the nation is a clear sign that its offseason overhaul has had the intended effect.

“I think our staff has done an amazing job this recruiting cycle,” Helton said this month. “Our class is not done yet, there’s still some big fish out there that we still are working on, and as we say, believe nothing until the ink is dry. Assume nothing.”

USC opened its recruiting calendar with a much bolder proclamation as new cornerbacks coach Donte Williams declared in February that the Trojans would “take back the West.” The addition of Foreman would put a major stamp on that initial promise as would a commitment from five-star prospect Ceyair Wright, a Los Angeles Loyola cornerback who also won’t announce until Jan. 2.

“You would see this class go from good to potentially elite,” said Brandon Huffman, the national recruiting editor at 247Sports. “Then, that narrative [of USC struggling in California] would be completely gone.”

Even without Foreman or Wright, the Trojans have done well to turn around their recruiting efforts in the state. Where USC signed just two of California’s top 30 prospects in 2020, it already has eight such commitments this year.

The headliner so far in that group is still Mission Hills Bishop Alemany quarterback Miller Moss, who’s the only signal caller committed after former Harbor City Narbonne quarterback Jake Garcia re-opened his recruitment this month.

But Moss may not be the only top quarterback prospect in USC’s class by Wednesday. The Trojans have put the full-court press on Utah’s Jaxson Dart, whose rise from unranked to 18th nationally among quarterbacks has been closely monitored by USC.

His decision could be one of the few major reveals to impact USC on Wednesday. Whatever school he chooses isn’t expected to discourage Moss from signing as planned. He told The Times in June that the presence of Garcia, who later decommitted, “didn’t affect my decision in the slightest.”

A few other current commits could still waffle ahead of Wednesday, like four-star linebacker Ma’a Gaoteote, whose brother, Palaie, just left USC and entered the transfer portal. A few more available prospects, like four-star defensive back Devin Kirkwood or three-star Texas wideout Joseph Manjack, could also still join the class, potentially vaulting the Trojans into the top 10 before Foreman announces his decision.

No matter what happens Wednesday, the progress, in spite of the pandemic, has been pronounced. What was a nightmarish day for USC one year ago might, oddly enough, actually feel more like normal in 2020.