By Johnny Curren
It was a lighter-than-usual night of work for Los Angeles (Calif.) Cathedral defensive end Hunter Echols this past Friday. With Burbank (Calif.) Burroughs avoiding his side of the field for virtually the entire game, coupled with the fact that he was pulled from the contest mid-way through the third quarter, the Class of 2017 USC commit wasn’t able to put his full set of skills on display, but with his team coming away with a 51-7 blowout victory to improve to 2-0 on the season, he was in high spirits just the same.
“I’m just glad our team got the win, even if they weren’t coming my way,” Echols said. “I’m kind of expecting that now that I’m on everybody’s radar now. Nobody knew who I was last year, but this year I have a target on my back and some teams aren’t going to want to try me.”
It’s hard to blame Cathedral’s opponents. Currently standing 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Echols is a feared commodity for good reason. Athletic, rangy and physical, he established himself as an elite national prospect with a big junior campaign, receiving upwards of 40 offers before giving a verbal pledge to UCLA last February.
Echols re-opened his recruitment this past July, however, and less than a month later he committed to USC. This time around, he says, his decision is final.
“I’m done with the recruiting process. I’m going to USC – 100 percent,” Echols said. “There’s no other school that I want to go to.”
In a sign that reinforces that statement, Echols says that the only official visit that he will take will be to USC, and that will come sometime following the conclusion of his senior season. His confidence in his decision is due to a number of factors, including the Trojans coaching staff.
“Even when I was committed to UCLA, the USC coaches still recruited me hard and I could feel the want,” Echols said. “I also like the atmosphere, the education, the alumni, and I really feel at home when I go to USC. And they really need defensive linemen, so I just want to go there and help bring it back to the glory days.”
Amongst the Trojans coaches, it’s outside linebackers coach Johnny Nansen, Echols’ future position coach, whom he talks to the most.
“I’m playing Predator at USC, so he’s my main recruiter,” Echols said. “I also talk to Coach Pendergast, Coach K.U. [Kenechi Udeze], really the whole defensive staff, and Coach [Clay] Helton. They’re all recruiting me.”
With Cathedral employing a 4-3 defensive set, Echols currently lines up with his hand down on the ground as a traditional defensive end. It’s a role that differs from the one that he’ll take on at USC at the Predator spot, where he’ll stand up on the edge with some added responsibilities.
“I love it,” Echols said. “I’m looking forward to playing more in space. In high school right now I don’t really play in space, but when I go to USC, being able to play in space and work around the field sideline-to-sideline, even dropping in the flat sometimes, I really think I’m going to be able to dominate at the Predator position.”
Echols got a chance to watch USC’s current starting Predator linebacker, Porter Gustin, as well as the other Trojans outside linebackers up close recently when he took a quick unofficial visit up to USC. The trip also afforded him the opportunity to spend some quality time with the Trojans coaches.
“I went up there during fall camp, it was probably three weeks ago,” Echols said. “I got to talk to the coaches, played a little X-Box, and just had some fun up there. I’m trying to come up there more, but with their schedule, they start practice at the same time that we do, so it’s difficult.”
Already thinking about his future at USC, Echols has taken on the role of a recruiter as of late.
“I am definitely in the ear of a couple players, like Greg Rogers, Marvin Wilson, Jaylon Johnson…just a couple guys that I really know that like USC,” Echols said. “I really want them to come there.”
Echols has also started to develop a bond with the other 14 recruits from the Class of 2017 who have already committed to USC.
“We have a group chat, so I’m always talking to them – Brett Neilon, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Andew Vorhees…all of the guys,” Echols said. “We all just have fun and crack jokes. It’s pretty cool.”
Echols will square off against one of those fellow USC pledges, cornerback Wylan Free, this coming Friday when his Cathedral team faces Lynwood. And while the outcome of the game is still the primary focus, he’s also excited to see one of his future teammates.
“I’ve never talked to him, but I can’t wait to meet him,” Echols said. “We’re going to win, but we’ll take a ‘fight on’ picture afterwards, and we’ll have fun with it.”
Echols has plans to attend USC’s matchup against Utah State in the Coliseum this Saturday, as well as every other Trojans home game this fall.