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Completing USC’s 2021 recruiting class

With another commitment earlier this week, USC’s 2021 recruiting class now features 19 high school recruits. The Trojans are likely to take a full class this year, meaning there are still a handful of spots as USC coaches continue to chase some of the top prospects in the state and around the country. Here, we take a postion-by-position look at where the class stands and how it could fill out.

Quarterback

USC did a terrific job in grabbing two quarterback commitments in this class, as Jake Garcia (Valdosta, Ga./Valdosta) announced more than a year ago and the Trojans were also able to reel in Miller Moss (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany). Taking two quarterbacks in this class was always the plan as USC did not sign one in the 2020 class and the depth chart is in desperate need of bodies. Because the NCAA will not count this fall as a season of eligibility for any student-athletes, Matt Fink would have the option to return to the team for the 2021 season, but as of right now, he and Kedon Slovis are the only two scholarship quarterbacks on the USC roster. Even if Fink returned, both he and Slovis would likely leave after the 2021 season, leaving Garcia and Moss–in their second seasons–the only quarterbacks at USC.

Moss is locked in and will head to USC in January as an early enrollee. Garcia has not given any public indication that he is looking around, but the whispers are constant simply because of the pressure Miami is putting on in an attempt to flip him. Garcia plans to enroll early as well and unfortunately just lost his senior season when the Georgia High School Association ruled him ineligible for the year due to circumstances around his transfer.

If Garcia and Moss both wind up enrolling at USC in January, this is a major win at the quarterback position for USC in the 2021 class.

Running Back

Just like at quarterback, the Trojans are targeting two running backs for the 2021 class after USC did not sign anybody at the position in 2020. And again, this is a position where any 2021 signees could see some early action, as USC has seniors in Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr who could leave after this season, and Markese Stepp, who is draft-eligible following the 2020 season.

USC won’t get shut out at this position again, as the Trojans already have a commitment from four-star back Brandon Campbell (Katy, Tex./Katy), who is sitting out this fall season and plans to enroll early at USC.

Alongside Campbell, four-star back Byron Cardwell (San Diego/Morse) has always been the top in-state tailback target. He’s unlikely to commit anytime soon, but the Trojans will stick with him all the way up until that decision. Cardwell is the nation’s No. 171overall prospect and appears to be a really nice fit for the Air Raid offense with his ability to power between the tackles as well as provide a reliable outlet in the passing game. He’s getting attention from plenty of Pac-12 programs, including Cal, UCLA, Utah and Washington. Cardwell has repeatedly said he would like to take visits before making a commitment. If that happens, he’d need to wait until January at the earliest to make those trips.

The Trojans could also wind up with another Texas tailback duo in this class, as Alton McCaskill (Conroe, Tex./Oak Ridge) is still a target. USC signed Ronald Jones II and Aca’Cedric Ware out of the Lone Star State in the 2015 class and that worked out pretty well for the Trojans. McCaskill has not been actively targeted by the in-state schools, but the 6-foot-1, 200-pound back would provide a nice complement to Campbell. He has strong interest from Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss and a few other programs. If he is ready to commit before Cardwell and the choice is USC, it would be interesting to see how the Trojans handle that situation.

Wide Receiver

USC has two in hand at the moment and is looking for another pass catcher in this class. Four-star Quay Davis (Dallas/Skyline) and three-star Michael Jackson III (Las Vegas/Desert Pines) are similar players in their build–Davis is listed at 6-foot, 193 pounds, Jackson at 6-foot, 198 pounds–and ability to generate extra yards with the ball in their hands.

The top uncommitted target here is four-star Dont’e Thornton (Baltimore/Mt. St. Joseph), but the nation’s No. 52 overall prospect appears all but locked into Oregon, and would give the Ducks a monumental wide receiver class.

Recently, the Trojans shifted their focus to two-way standout Josh Moore (Atlanta/Marist), who is committed to Stanford as a safety, but USC likes as a receiver. At this point, it seems as though the Trojans have a great shot at Moore, who recently said he believes he’ll need a month or so in order to finalize a decision between the two schools.

Tight End

USC has a commitment from three-star tight end Lake McRee (Austin, Tex./Lake Travis), but the Trojans are working overtime to grab another one, from four-star prospect Michael Trigg (Tampa, Fla./Carrollwood Day). Trigg is being recruited by USC to play football and basketball, and he’s a matchup nightmare for cornberbacks when split out wide. He checks in at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds and would be a big time two-way threat in the passing and running games. He’s scheduled an Oct. 11 commitment date and there’s is growing momentum for USC here, as the Trojan commits–including recent commit Philip Riley (Valrico, Fla./Bloomingdale)–have focused their attention on bringing him in.

Offensive Line

Three commitments are in for the Trojans–four-star Mason Murphy (San Juan Capistrano, Calif./JSerra) and three-stars Maximus Gibbs (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and Saia Mapakaitolo (Mesa, Ariz./Red Mountain). USC will look to add one more here after missing out on top target Kingsley Suamataia (Orem, Utah/Orem), who committed to Oregon. With in-state options fairly limited, the Trojans are again looking to Texas, as three-star tackle Ty Buchanan (Corpus Christi, Tex./Calallen) has become a top target. The Trojans will likely wrestle with Texas Tech for the 6-foot-5, 280-pound lineman, but USC has a great shot to bring him in.

Defensive Line

There are just two defensive linemen committed thus far–four-star defensive tackle Jay Toia (Simi Valley, Calif./Grace Brethren) and three-star defensive end Colin Mobley (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic)–and this is the spot where USC could make the most noise between now and signing day.

There are some absolutely major targets left on the board, starting with No. 1 overall prospect Korey Foreman (Corona, Calif./Centennial). Foreman is looking hard at a pair of SEC schools in Georgia and LSU. He’s taken visits to both schools (twice to LSU) during this recruiting dead period, as momentum builds for him to head out of state. But he also recently said he will stay in at Centennial and play his senior season this January, which will hopefully give USC an opportunity to both play well enough on defense this fall and host Foreman on a visit in January in order to bring him into this class.

Four-star defensive end Aaron Armitage (Blairstown, NJ/Blair Academy) looks like a good bet to wind up at USC, as both Oregon and Stanford continue to chase as well. Florida and LSU are involved as well, but this has looked like a USC recruiting win for some time. He’s another prospect who would like to take visits before announcing a commitment. He’d be a great addition to this USC class, as he brings some positional versatility along the defensive line. At 6-foot-4, 242 pounds with the ability to add weight and keep his athleticism, he could easily line up as a defensive end or three-technique at the next level.

Four-star, two-way lineman Josh Simmons (La Mesa, Calif./Helix) is an interesting option, as he’s regarded as a top offensive lineman but has shared his desire to play on the defensive line in college. He checks in at 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, so he’d be a big addition to either side of the line. He’s another prospect who has said he’d like to take visits before making a commitment, as he’s already committed and decommitted once (Oregon) during this process.

USC will also continue to a recruit a couple of longshots as well, in No. 2 overall prospect, defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau (Sammamish, Wash./Eastside Catholic), and five-star defensive tackle Maason Smith (Houma, La./Terrebonne). Tuimoloau is looking hard at Ohio State and Washington. There’s is likely no chance that Smith heads west for school, but he and Foreman have talked for some time about going to college as a package deal, so the Trojans likely need to continue providing that option.

Linebacker

The Trojans have a couple good ones already committed in four-stars Ma’a Gaoteote (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and Julien Simon (Tacoma, Wash./Lincoln). Simon provides plenty of versatility with his ability to play linebacker or safety.

The top uncommitted target still on the board is four-star Ethan Calvert (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian), the nation’s No. 80 overall prospect. He’s been relatively quiet during his recruiting process, but the 6-foot-3, 230-pound inside linebacker has a chance to be a truly great defensive player. His older brothers signed with UCLA and Washington and now USC will hopefully have a chance to cash in with the talented Calvert family.

The top committed target remains four-star Raesjon Davis (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei). The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Davis is the nation’s No. 38 overall prospect and No. 3 player in California. He made an early commitment to LSU and the Trojans have been trying to play catch up ever since. At this point it’s tough to see him flipping, but he’s another local prospect that USC could impress with a strong season on the defensive side of the ball.

Cornerback

With three commitments already, USC is looking for that finishing touch at the cornerback position. Four-stars Prophet Brown (Elk Grove, Calif./Monterey Trail), Jaylin Smith (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany) and Riley form a talented trio. All that’s left is four-star corner Ceyair Wright (Los Angeles/Loyola). The 6-foot-1, 175-pound prospect checks in as the nation’s No. 71 overall prospect and a top-10 recruit in the state of California. He’s mentioned Arizona State, Michigan, Stanford and Texas among other schools, but USC is recruiting him as a priority and USC’s film school should help the Trojan coaches in their chase for the budding actor. Wright plays LeBron James’ son in the upcoming Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Safety

With three commitments–four-stars Calen Bullock (Pasadena, Calif./Muir), Xamarion Gordon (Downey, Calif./Warren) and Anthony Beavers (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne)–the Trojans are likely set at safety. Beavers could ultimately grow into a linebacker, but Simon could also drop back as a safety.

This was an important class for USC to load up on defensive backs, as the Trojans didn’t sign any in the 2020 class and will likely lose plenty of talent in the back end following the next two seasons.

Special Teams

USC is unlikely to use a scholarship on a special teams player in this class. The Trojans signed highly-rated kicker Parker Lewis in the 2020 class. USC could lose long snapper Damon Johnson following the 2020 season. He has been excellent during his time at USC. To prepare for his departure, the Trojans brought in walk-on long snapper Nathan Weneta over the summer, as he announced his transfer from Purdue. As for a punter, it’s unlikely Ben Griffiths will stick around much longer, as he just turned 29 earlier this month. USC brought in Will Rose as a walk-on punter in the 2019 class and depending on how he looks during practices this season, could be in line to replace Griffiths whenever he heads off to the NFL.

Overall

With 19 current commits, the Trojans can bring in at least six more to this class–with the chance of more spots opening if commits wind up looking elsewhere.

As it stands now, one running back (Cardwell), a tight end (Trigg), a wide receiver (Moore), an offensive lineman (Buchanan), two defensive linemen (Foreman, Armitage), two linebackers (Calvert, Davis) and a cornerback (Wright) would likely be a dream finish to this class. USC has spots to go over the 25-person scholarship limit for this year, as the small 2020 signing class leaves available spots for early enrollees this year–of which there will be plenty–to count against last year’s scholarship limit. It’s also reasonable to think that the coaches have an eye on the 85 scholarship limit, though two things will play a part there.

One, it’s always expected that a coaching change–like the one USC experienced on the defensive side of the ball–will lead to departures as players or coaches don’t see a long term fit in terms of scheme or ability to contribute. And two, the NCAA has ruled that this season will not count toward a year of eligibility for any player, and any player who takes advantage of that extra year will not count towards the team scholarship limit. That means there will likely be some juggling on rosters all over the country as coaches and schools work out how to manage this unprecedented situation.



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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