Continuing the look at what lies ahead for the USC Trojans in the 2022 recruiting class, we move to the defensive side of the ball and start up front, with the defensive line targets.
USC has a dynamic recruiter in defensive line coach Vic So’oto and he helped land a talented and varied group of linemen in the 2021 class. The Trojans don’t yet hold a commitment at the position, but USC is involved with some major prospects nationally and is in on some recruits closer to home as well.
Previous series entries:
2021 defensive line signees: 4
5-star defensive end Korey Foreman (Corona, Calif./Centennial)
4-star defensive tackle Jay Toia (Simi Valley, Calif./Grace Brethren)
3-star defensive end Colin Mobley (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic)
Transfer defensive tackle Ishmael Sopsher (Amite, La./Amite/Alabama)
2022 defensive line commitments: 0
2022 defensive line targets:
5-star Enai White (Philadelphia/Imhotep Institute)
4-star Dani Dennis-Sutton (Owings Mills, Md./McDonogh School)
4-star Omari Abor (Duncanville, Tex./Duncanville)
4-star J’mond Tapp (Donaldsonville, La./Ascension Catholic)
4-star Keahnist Thompson (Lakeland, Fla./Lakeland)
4-star Quency Wiggins (Baton Route, La./Madison Prep)
4-star Eli Hall (Shelby, NC/Crest)
4-star Zac Swanson (Phoenix/Brophy Prep)
4-star Nate Burrell (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco)
3-star Maxie Baudoin IV (Lafayette, La./Ascension Episcopal
3-star Kristopher Ross (Houston/North Shore)
3-star Rashad McKenzie (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany)
3-star Jaxson Moi (San Diego/Cathedral Catholic)
5-star Walter Nolen (Cordova, Tenn./St. Benedictine at Auburndale)
5-star Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy (Lakeland, Fla./Lakeland)
4-star Mikel Williams (Columbus, Ga./Hardaway)
4-star Caden Curry (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove)
4-star Dominick James (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy)
4-star Anthony Lucas (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral)
4-star Christen Miller (Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove)
4-star Shone Washington (New Orleans/Warren Easton)
4-star Dejon Roney (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Etiwanda)
4-star Curtis Neal (Cornelius, NC/William Amos Hough)
3-star Kris Ross (Houston/North Shore)
3-star Sir Mells (Henderson, Nev./Liberty)
3-star Ben Roberts (Salt Lake City/East)
Defensive line recruiting overview
The Trojans went out hard after a number of national four and five-star prospects, and So’oto has done a very good job in keeping USC involved in several races for Southeast prospects despite not being able to host unofficial or official visits. Ultimately, it looks like a lot of significant uphill battles for those prospects, including No. 42 overall prospect Mykel Williams, who is scheduled to announce his commitment next week and looks headed for Georgia and the SEC, despite a strong connection with So’oto.
USC has made various top schools lists for No. 2 overall prospect, defensive tackle Walter Nolen, as well as five-star defensive end Enai White and five-star defensive tackle Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy. There was a fairly recent offer to four-star defensive end Christen Miller, and the nation’s No. 164 overall prospect immediately added the Trojans to his top schools list, but with an April commitment upcoming, Georgia again looks like the team to beat.
So’oto and the Trojans will continue chasing those national prospects, and the additions of Bryan Carrington from Texas and Jeff Martin from LSU could provide new connections that will help with players there. But USC has recently extended a handful of offers closer to home.
There isn’t anything resembling the dominant in-state defensive lineman that Korey Foreman was last season, as the No. 1 overall player in the country. In this class, California’s top defensive lineman is Gracen Halton (San Diego/St. Augustine), the state’s No. 14 prospect and already committed to Oregon.
After Halton, four-star Dejon Roney (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Etiwanda) is the state’s top defensive tackle, the state’s No. 19 recruit and the nation’s No. 270 overall prospect.
Three-star California prospects Rashad McKenzie (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany) and Jaxson Moi (San Diego/Cathedral Catholic) both picked up recent offers from USC. McKenzie is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound athlete who plays tight end as well. Moi, at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, has had a strong offseason that has resulted in a number of offers. Moi is a USC legacy, as his father Junior Moi played defensive end and outside linebacker for the Trojans.
In the Pac-12 footprint, four-star defensive tackle Anthony Lucas (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chapparal) is a major target, with Arizona State hoping to keep him home and Notre Dame, as well as plenty of other programs, chasing him as well. Staying in Arizona, defensive end Zac Swanson (Phoenix/Brophy Prep), a four-star prospect and the nation’s No. 344 overall prospect, recently included USC among his top four programs, alongside Kentucky, Oregon and Texas.
The Trojans also offered three-star Utah defensive tackle Ben Roberts (Salt Lake City/East), a 6-foot-4, 290-pound prospect who has collected offers from Oregon, Tennessee, UCLA, USC and Virginia Tech since the beginning of February. And USC also got involved with recent Washington decommitment, defensive tackle Sir Mells (Henderson, Nev./Liberty).
It will be worth watching a couple of things at this spot over the coming weeks and months. The first is to see if any in-state prospects show enough during this shortened spring season to warrant an offer. USC coaches have been able to get glimpses of California prospects via video clips from various camps, but getting updated game film will provide a completely different look at just how much some players — linemen especially — have developed into and through their junior seasons.
The other thing is exactly how the NCAA dead period affects the elite, national prospects USC is targeting. With visits unable to take place until June 1 at the earliest, how many of those Southeast targets will be committed by then, and how many will still be looking to visit USC? If the Trojans can get top recruits on campus, their chances of signing them goes up dramatically, especially with Foreman and Sopsher — the nation’s top overall recruit last season and a highly-recruited prospect from the heart of SEC country, respectively — helping to lead a recruiting charge.
Every year is an important year to add talent along the defensive front, and this 2022 class is no exception. This could be the final season with Drake Jackson providing pressure from that hybrid defensive end/linebacker position, and the Trojans won’t have Caleb Tremblay after the 2021 season. The Trojans seem to have a future star in Tuli Tuipulotu, but there wasn’t much of a jump in terms of on-field production or even playing time from several of the younger defensive linemen.