By Johnny Curren
Since pledging to USC back in August – less than a month after he had decomitted from UCLA – Los Angeles (Calif.) Cathedral defensive end Hunter Echols has garnered a reputation as one the sturdiest members of the Trojans’ recruiting class, and his official visit to Troy this past weekend only helped to solidify his standing even further.
“I really fell in love with the school even more,” said Echols, who stands 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds. “I learned a lot more about the school that I didn’t even know before.”
Among the more lighthearted highlights from Echols’ weekend at USC was a trip to a bowling alley, where a certain Trojans head coach caught everyone off guard with his skill on the lanes.
“Clay Helton bowling was definitely a highlight,” said a laughing Echols. “He’s really a great bowler.”
Making an even bigger impact on Echols, however, was the time that he got to spend on campus hanging out with the current players on the team, most notably his host, Uchenna Nwosu, as well as Oluwole Betiku.
“Especially Wole,” Echols said, “because I can relate to him. We both committed to UCLA and then flipped to USC. I was asking him questions, and just making sure my decision was right.”
Like Betiku, Echols is slated to line up at the Predator outside linebacker position at USC. Having played with his hand down at defensive end in a traditional 4-3 alignment in high school, he’ll be standing up on the edge in Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 scheme, but after going over his role with the coaches, he doesn’t believe that the adjustment will be a difficult one.
“That’s my spot, the Predator position,” Echols said. “It’s basically just playing defensive end. They call it outside linebacker because you’re standing up, but I feel like there’s nothing special about it. It’s pretty much the same. I’m ready to go in there and work hard, and compete with the best and be one of the best.”
In addition to the coaches and current players, Echols also spent plenty of time checking out campus with fellow commits Stephen Carr, Randal Grimes, Erik Krommenhoek and Alijah Vera-Tucker – a group that he’s grown close to over the course of the recruiting process.
“They showed us the Village and the new dorms and stuff, and we were all just talking about how much fun we’re going to have,” Echols said. “It was just a really cool experience hanging out with guys like Stephen and Randal. We’re really excited. We’re ready to get to USC.”
Of course, anyone who knows anything about Echols is aware of his reputation as a vocal recruiter for the Trojans, and he’s known to have a strong pulse on how USC’s class is shaping up at any given time. And while he did spend plenty of time hanging out with some of the uncommitted prospects on the trip, particularly Marlon Tuipulotu – whom he already knew from The Opening – this time around he took a back seat and left the recruiting up to the coaches.
His strategy obviously wasn’t a bad one, because Tuipulotu wound up flipping from Washington to USC immediately following the visit.
Thrilled with the prospect of now lining up alongside the highly touted defensive tackle on the next level, Echols said that with signing day just over a week away, Tuipulotu’s commitment is just a sign of things to come for the Trojans.
“Just know signing day will be a beauty,” Echols said. “Signing day is going to be like a second Christmas. It’s going to be filled with the kind of guys that you wish for. That’s all I can say.”
It’s a class that Echols is more than excited to be a part of, and while the Trojans’ tremendous turnaround on the field this past season certainly has much to do with the momentum USC has gained on the recruiting trail, according to him, the biggest factor of all is Helton.
“I just feel like we’re going to be really something special here, and that man Coach Helton, he’s really drawing the attention of the players,” Echols said. “We love him, and he makes you feel wanted, he makes you feel like a Trojan. And I just feel like everything is going the right way, and I feel like we’re going to be that class that puts us back where we belong.”
With his decision-making process completely over, Echols recently told the Trojans coaches not to bother stopping by his house for any more in-home visits, and to instead use that time on some of the other high profile targets who might still be on the fence.
“I told Coach K.U. [Kenechi Udeze], ‘don’t waste any time coming to see me,’” Echols said. “’Go get the guys we need. I’m going to USC. I live five minutes away. If you want to see me, call me and I’ll drive over there.’
For me the only thing left is signing day. There are still some schools that want to talk to me, but I’m going to USC. It’s been God’s will for me to go there.”
After inking with the Trojans on Feb. 1, the plan is for Echols to arrive on campus in mid-June.