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Breaking down the USC recruiting class: Defense

We’re putting USC’s defensive recruiting class under the microscope, as the Trojans hold commitments from eight players on that side of the ball. There are still a few prospects that will likely be added here, but there are some key pieces already, including two linemen, two linebackers and four defensive backs

Defensive linemen

Jay Toia – 6-2, 315 (Simi Valley, Calif./Grace Brethren)

Committed to USC on June 12, 2018

No. 182 overall prospect, No. 13 defensive tackle

Toia is a standout two-way lineman for Grace Brethren but he’ll likely head to USC as a defensive tackle. He possesses a great mix of strength and athleticism. He has the power to successfully take on a double team, but then he can also hit a quick swim move to get into the backfield against a single blocker. Toia uses his hands very well in fighting off blocks and can keep his focus in the backfield while doing so.

He tallied 40 tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble as a junior for a team that advanced to the Division 3 championship game.

Recruiting process: Toia committed extremely early in the process and became USC’s second 2021 commit all the back in the summer of 2018. He committed along with his high school teammate, current USC defensive lineman Stanley Ta’ufo’ou. This will be a recruitment to monitor going forward, as Toia announced a top-8 schools back in March, which featured Cal, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Utah. Toia still considers himself a USC commitment, but has always wanted to take his recruiting visits. If USC wants him and continues to recruit him hard, it’s tough to see another program able to sway him away.

Colin Mobley – 6-4, 260 (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic)

Committed to USC on May 15, 2020

No. 464 overall prospect, No. 31 defensive end

Mobley has the frame to potentially play inside or outside on the defensive line in college and that might be a trait we see more in Vic So’oto’s line targets. The ability to move between a three-down and four-down front line is vital in defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s defense, so adding defensive ends who have that versatility to either slide from a traditional 4-3 defensive end into a 4i technique or stand up as an outside linebacker will be something to watch going forward. Mobley has a big-time motor and a quick first step off the ball. It’s also impressive to see him maintain gap integrity and discipline on runs that bounce outside. He comes from a national power and is used to performing on a big stage.

Recruiting process: When So’oto came to USC from Virginia, he looked back toward the East Coast to continue relationships with prospects he was recruiting to Virginia. Mobley was one of those and So’oto did enough to bring him on board. So’oto offered Mobley in late March and the defensive end was pledged to the Trojans a short time later. Mobley held an impressive list of offers, as Florida, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Tennessee had all offered.

Position progress: There is no doubt that USC’s top target remaining in the 2021 class resides here, as Korey Foreman (Corona, Calif./Centennial) is the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect. He was a high school teammate and good friend of USC defensive end Drake Jackson and the Trojans hope that connection, as well as a desire to stay closer to home and play for this USC program and staff are enough to convince Foreman to commit. He’s a former Clemson commitments and Clemson, LSU and Oregon are a few of the other programs chasing him. USC also has it’s sights set on four-star defensive end Aaron Armitage (Blairstown, NJ/Blair Academy) and appears to be in good shape there. Defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau (Bellevue, Wash./Eastside Catholic) is the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect and another big USC target, but Ohio State is going to be tough to beat in that race. The Trojans also have a good shot at four-star two-way lineman Tiaoalii Savea (Las Vegas/Desert Pines) who would play defensive line for USC. It will be interesting to watch how things progress with four-star lineman Josh Simmons (La Mesa, Calif./Helix) as he looked like a good bet to potentially wind up as an offensive line commit for the Trojans, but has said recently that he would like to focus on the defensive line.

Linebackers

Ma’a Gaoteote – 6-2, 220 (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco)

Committed to USC on February 27, 2018

No. 133 overall prospect, No. 11 OLB

Gaoteote is a big-time talent and he does all the things you want in a high school linebacker. He has a nose for the ball, is a sure tackler, and plays with a physical nature on every snap. He could improve in the passing game, but he has the athleticism to get that done as he progresses. Gaoteote looks like a major impact player for USC at some point in the future.

Last season he had 61 tackles, including eight for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble. He might have had St. John Bosco’s biggest play of the season when he came off the edge to sack Mater Dei quarterback Bryce Young, forcing a fumble the Braves recorded with just 1:30 left in St. John Bosco’s Division I championship win.

Recruiting process: Gaoteote is the younger brother of USC linebacker Palaie Gaoteote and he became USC’s first 2021 commitment all the way back in February of 2018. The brothers are likely to have one season together at USC, in 2021.

Julien Simon – 6-2, 220 (Tacoma, Wash./Lincoln)

Committed to USC on May 10, 2020

No. 109 overall prospect, No. 7 outside linebacker

Julien Simon is simply an athlete playing football. If he concentrated on just one position, he likely could play linebacker, safety, wide receiver or running back in college. He settled in at nickel corner as a sophomore and was an absolute ballhawk there. His frame will bring him closer to the line of scrimmage in college, but he has the athletic ability to do absolutely everything at the linebacker position and USC is likely to use him in a variety of ways there.

As a junior, he had 38 carries for 182 yards and seven touchdowns, 83 receptions for 1,033 yards and 12 scores, 55 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions. He returned two of his interceptions for touchdowns.

Recruiting process: USC was Simon’s first scholarship offer and the new defensive staff made him a priority recruit when they took over. Getting him out of Washington and away from the Huskies should be considered a big-time recruiting win. Simon also held offers from Oregon, Stanford, Texas and others.

Position progress: There are a couple of major targets still on the board for the Trojans, and the top two are local. Inside linebacker Ethan Calvert (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) might be the top uncommitted target on the board at the position, while USC will also continue recruiting four-star LSU linebacker commit Raesjon Davis (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei).

Defensive backs

Anthony Beavers – 6-1, 195 (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne)

Committed to USC on April 15, 2020

No. 193 overall prospect, No. 10 athlete

Anthony Beavers is another versatile defender in this class, and likely capable of playing either safety or linebacker in college. Like so many of these defensive commits, Beavers plays a physical brand of football that is coveted by this new defensive staff. He’s more run stuffer than pass defender right now, but is not deficient at all when it comes to the passing game. He is consistently around the ball and one of several USC commits who could be in line for a big senior season.

Recruiting process: Beavers made an early commitment to Oregon but was the first domino to fall when USC cornerbacks coach Donte Williams made the transition from the Ducks to the Trojans. If USC is able to wrestle control of Pac-12 recruiting back away from Oregon, Beavers will likely be one of the recruits credited with helping start that momentum.

Xamarion Gordon – 6-2, 190 (Downey, Calif./Warren)

Committed to USC on April 3, 2020

No. 295 overall prospect, No. 19 safety

Gordon possesses everything you want in a safety. He can run, he can hit, and he can find the ball. The USC defensive coaches have talked about wanting violent players and Gordon is that in every sense on the football field. His size helps him work comfortably in the box and his athleticism helps him stick with receivers downfield. Like with many high school safeties, improvement will likely need to come in coverage, but there is plenty to work with for safeties coach Craig Naivar.

Recruiting process: Gordon was the first big recruiting win for the USC defensive staff as it looked to lock down the Los Angeles area. Gordon held offers from Arizona State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, UCLA, Utah and others. USC did not take a safety in the 2020 recruiting class, so there should be a fairly favorable depth chart for Gordon and all USC safety commits within their first few years on campus.

Calen Bullock – 6-2, 175 (Pasadena, Calif./Muir)

Committed to USC on April 18, 2020

No. 190 overall prospect, No. 9 athlete

Bullock is a two-way athlete as a wide receiver or defensive back, but he’ll wind up on defense at USC–likely at safety. He’s smooth in everything he does on the football field and has the awareness and body control to go get the ball wherever it’s thrown. He’s one of those athletes who has the ability to make the game look easy. While he isn’t a thumper like the other safeties, his coverage ability helps form a nice pairing with the other commits.

As a junior, Bullock caught 40 passes for 914 yards and eight touchdowns. He added 45 tackles, one sack, six interceptions and three pass deflections.

Recruiting process: Bullock chose the Trojans over Oregon and Texas as the USC coaches were able to land another Los Angeles prospect during a month of April that featured a number of commitments to USC.

Jaylin Smith – 5-11, 180 (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany)

Committed to USC on June 30, 2020

No. 292 overall prospect, No. 20 athlete

Smith is yet another standout two-way prospect at the high school level who likely could play either wide receiver, cornerback or safety in college. He’ll head to USC as a nickel corner, where his ability in space and instincts to get to the ball will be magnified. He’s another commitment who brings position versatility to the USC backfield, and while he isn’t overly big, he’s another sure tackler and someone who isn’t afraid to be physical on every play all the way through the whistle.

Recruiting process: USC was Smith’s first scholarship offer and the idea of staying home and playing for the Trojans was always there for Smith. He took his time with the process and eventually landed some massive offers–Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Michigan, Oregon, Texas and Washington–but ultimately USC cornerbacks coach Donte Williams was able to get the commitment from Smith.

Position progress: With likely three safeties and a cornerback committed, there is room for a few more defensive backs–specifically cornerbacks. The top two targets at this point appear to be Ceyair Wright (Los Angeles/Loyola) and Nathaniel Wiggins (Atlanta/Westlake). Grabbing both would make this a phenomenal group of defensive backs, though Wright has a number of offers, including Oregon and Texas, and Wiggins will be a difficult battle against Oregon and several SEC programs. USC also could be in the mix for Florida commitment Clinton Burton Jr. (Baltimore/St. Frances Academy), should he ever back away from the Gators.



Erik McKinney
Author
Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.


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