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Five must-get, in-state recruits for USC in 2022, ’23 and ’24

USC coaches will pursue prospects nationally over the coming years, with Texas, the Southeast and the Pacific Northwest always serving as potential homes for several future Trojans. But pulling in the best prospects in California, and Southern California specifically, will always be the first priority for USC coaches. Just as the 2020 recruiting class was left empty without quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Justin Flowe, the 2021 class was made complete with the additions of defensive end Korey Foreman and linebacker Raesjon Davis — the two players who would have topped this list for 2021.


Looking down the road, there is still plenty of time for prospects to develop and shuffle these rankings, especially since this past spring offered only a very abbreviated look at many of them. But as of right now, here are the five in-state prospects in this 2022 class as well as the following two, that are considered must-get prospects for USC.

2022 California must-gets

CB Domani Jackson (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei)

Jackson is the No. 1 player in the state and the No. 4 overall prospect in the country. He plays an important position, is from an important high school and is an important prospect . as far as influencing fellow recruits. He checks a lot of the same boxes that Foreman did last season, except Jackson announced his commitment to USC all the way back in January, giving him months and months of time to help build this 2022 class for USC. The tricky part for the Trojans is that Alabama has come calling, and will continue to make a very strong push for the 6-foot-1, 185-pound defensive back. Locking Jackson into this class will be a major priority for defensive backs coach Donte Williams. USC has a chance to stack two really good classes of defensive backs with the 2021 haul and this upcoming 2022 class, after not taking any defensive backs in 2020. Jackson is the biggest piece of that.

OG Earnest Greene (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco)

The days of California being the home of enough really good offensive linemen to feed the entire Pac-12 might not be over for good, but the years of a lack of numbers and multiple elite prospects are definitely piling up. Earnest Greene is the best of a very small group of established California offensive linemen in 2022, but he would measure up at or towards the top of any class. The four-star prospect is the nation’s No. 59 overall player and No. 2 offensive guard, and could have the ability to stick at tackle in college as well. Greene has been a known commodity since his freshman season and the pressure for USC to land him has existed since then. He has a very national feel to his recruitment at this point, and there is no sense at all that he’s a lock to stay close to home. Perhaps no position group of recruits will be watching USC more intently this fall than offensive linemen and USC will have a prove-it year when it comes to showing that the Trojans have solved some of the deficiencies up front in terms of producing rushing yards and minimizing sacks. Only Alabama and USC can say they’ve produced a first-round pick along the offensive line in each of the past two NFL drafts, but the Trojans have to figure out a way to carry that success onto the recruiting trail.

OLB David Bailey (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei)

There might not be a player in the state or even the country with as much upside as Bailey, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound outside linebacker who has the strength to play defensive end and the speed to play safety. His length, build and athleticism make him a do-it-all defender and his skill set being able to translate well to that hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end spot or even roam around the defense makes him a priority for USC. He’s getting a major push from Stanford and a number of other Pac-12 programs, but this is a prospect USC is making a priority and landing him would continue adding impactful pieces to that defensive front seven.

WR Tetairoa McMillan (Anaheim, Calif./Servite)

Wide receiver never seems like a “must-get” position for USC because the roster is always loaded with young talent at that spot. But the roster is always loaded with young talent because the Trojans are typically so good at going out and getting guys like McMillan, a four-star prospect who checks in as the No. 65 overall recruit and No. 7 wide receiver nationally. He’s one of the top athletes in this class and a standout football, basketball and volleyball player. He has tremendous body control and is one of the best in the country when it comes to simply going up and coming down with the ball. USC had an opportunity to load up on in-state wide receivers in the 2021 class, but missed on several. It’s clear that the Trojans got a good one in Michael Jackson III and there are high hopes for Kyron Ware-Hudson and Joseph Manjack IV when they arrive, but the 2022 class will provide another opportunity to bring in a couple of great, local prospects in McMillan and C.J. Williams (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei).

DT Hero Kanu (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita)

This is a name that wouldn’t have been on this list last year, or even more than a few months ago. Six-foot-five, 300-pound defensive tackles with his kind of athleticism don’t typically grow in Southern California, and Kanu didn’t either. A transfer from Germany, Kanu came to Southern California and make his mark pretty quickly. He’s transitioned from an unknown into the nation’s No. 143 overall prospect and No. 12 defensive tackle very quickly. He now holds offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Texas, USC, Washington and plenty of others. He’ll give everybody a look, but the Trojans and defensive line coach Vic So’oto are hoping that they can keep him close to his new home. He’s young for his grade and still learning the game and his position, but the potential if off the charts as he continues to put it all together. USC found a good local one in the middle in Jay Toia last year. Backing him up with Kanu this year would be a major win.

2023 California must-gets

QB Malachi Nelson (Los Alamitos, Calif./Los Alamitos) OR QB Nico Iamaleava (Downey, Calif./Warren)

It’s 2020 all over again, when Bryce Young and D.J. Uiagalelei were far and away the top two quarterbacks in the state and USC absolutely needed to bring in a quarterback. The Trojans missed on both, getting an early commitment from Young and allowing Uiagalelei to commit to Clemson, then losing Young’s commitment when Alabama came calling. Similar to that situation, trying to determine the better prospect between Nelson, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound five-star prospect and nation’s No. 4 overall prospect, and Iamaleava, a 6-foot-5, 195-pound, four-star prospect and nation’s No. 50 overall prospect, is very difficult considering Iamaleava has been coming on of late and Nelson has been a known prospect for much longer. At this point, Nelson looks ticketed for Oklahoma (he’s set for a mid-July announcement), which means USC’s attention could shift heavily toward Iamaleava, a top UCLA target as well. There is still an opportunity for more 2023 quarterback prospects to pop up, but seeing Nelson go to Oklahoma and Iamaleava go to UCLA would be a major hit to USC’s recruiting pedigree at the position.

ATH Matayo Uiagalelei (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco)

Uiagalelei checks in as the nation’s No. 47 overall prospect, but based on what he showed this past spring playing defensive end and tight end/wide receiver, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound prospect is going to eventually be in the discussion as a five-star prospect and the state’s top player. He could play on either side of the ball for any program in the country and USC can’t allow another Uiagalelei to escape its grasp. The Trojans should have an advantage with USC’s music school (Uiagalelei is very interested in music production) and USC also has two positions to which Uiagalelei seems uniquely suited — both the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker spot and the hybrid tight end/wide receiver position.

ATH Makai Lemon (Los Alamitos, Calif./Los Alamitos)

The five-star, 6-foot, 180-pound Lemon could play wide receiver or cornerback in college, but he’s most likely going to wind up on offense, where he could be an instant impact player with speed and ability after the catch. He is teammates and good friends with Malachi Nelson, so the Oklahoma factor could come into play if Nelson does indeed commit to the Sooners. But USC has found a way to typically reel in the area’s best wide receivers and the Trojans hope that will continue with Lemon.

ILB Tre Edwards (Chula Vista, Calif./Mater Dei)

Edwards has already proven himself to be a productive, three-down inside linebacker in this era of spread offenses with his ability to play inside against the run and hold his own in coverage as well. Like offensive line and defensive tackle, California is usually not a hotbed for inside linebackers. So when one like Edwards comes around, the Trojans need to capitalize.

S R.J. Jones (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany)

USC has offered a number of 2023 defensive back prospects in the state already and California is rarely ever short on cornerbacks or safeties. Jones was one of the earliest offers at the position for USC and it’s clear he’s a priority. He’s the No. 104 overall prospect in the country and should be well within the top 100 by the time the rankings are all finalized. There are some 2023 cornerbacks who could have made this top-five list, but the importance of the safety position in this defense means Jones gets the nod. Alemany has become an increasingly-important school for USC and Jones is one of a few defensive backs the Trojans are pursuing there.

2024 California must-gets

OT DeAndre Carter (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei)

In-state, 6-foot-4, 340-pound, offensive tackle who can move and attends Mater Dei? Check, check, check and check. Must-get.

DT Aydin Breland (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei)

Breland picked up a very early offer from USC (and several other Pac-12 programs) and could play offensive or defensive tackle. He already checks in at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds and has tremendous strength. He went through the same Winners Circle program that helped produce USC signees Korey Foreman and Kyron Ware-Hudson, and USC commit Domani Jackson.

LB Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco)

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound prospect is going to be a star. He’s already proven himself on the field as a freshman at St. John Bosco and will continue growing at the position, likely into a potential five-star prospect.

ATH Aaron Butler (Calabasas, Calif./Calabasas)

Butler is a 6-foot, 170-pound athlete who plays wide receiver and cornerback and can return kicks as well. His best position might still to be determined, but he is going to make an impact at the next level.

Local defensive backs

It’s tough to put one ahead of the others at this point, but no position has hauled in more in-state offers in the 2024 class than defensive back, where it’s often easier to project players forward based on pure athletic ability.

Safety Peyton Woodyard (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) could wind up as a top-five player in the country at that spot and cornerbacks Marcelles Williams (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), Khristian Dunbar-Hawkins (Playa Del Rey, Calif./St. Bernard) and Zabien Brown (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) are already big-time prospects with size and speed.

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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