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Former USC commit leaves Trojans out of updated top five

Four-star linebacker Niuafe Tuihalamaka (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany) became USC’s first 2022 commitment all the way back in February of 2020, but the 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker backed away from that pledge in late January. On Monday, Tuihalamaka announced a list of his top five schools, and USC did not appear on it, as the nation’s No. 68 overall prospect listed Arizona State, Notre Dame, Oregon, Stanford and Texas as his potential destinations.

There is still plenty of time before Tuihalamaka signs as part of this 2022 recruiting class, and USC could continue to chase him (USC signed both Korey Foreman and Raesjon Davis in the 2021 class when they were committed to Clemson and LSU, respectively, at this time in their recruiting process), but it says something that Tuihalamaka did not include USC as one of his options at this point, and instead included five recruiting rivals. If USC is indeed going to reel him back in, it’ll be an uphill challenge.

Notre Dame was considered the frontrunner following Tuihalamaka’s decommitment from USC, but Oregon has put together a charge and Texas is working hard to make an impression on California’s top prospects, after landing a commitment from five-star quarterback Maalik Murphy (Gardena, Calif./Serra). Arizona State is looking to continue planting its flag in California, with former Trojans and current Sun Devils’ coaching Chris Claiborne and Chris Hawkins helping to lead the charge. And Stanford presents the academic opportunity that Tuihalamaka could be looking to pursue.

Alemany High School has been an important one to USC over the last class and into the next few. The Trojans signed quarterback Miller Moss and defensive back Jaylin Smith out of the school in the 2021 class, and held a commitment from offensive tackle Saia Mapakaitolo until he transferred to Arizona last fall and ultimately signed with Minnesota. USC is also targeting 2022 four-star cornerback Ephesians Prysock and three-star defensive end Rashad McKenzie, as well as 2023 defensive backs R.J. Jones and Jshawn Frausto-Ramos.

USC bounced back a bit following Tuihalamaka’s decommitment in January, as the Trojans were able to secure a commitment from fellow inside linebacker Ty Kana (Katy, Tex./Katy), a three-star prospect USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and safeties coach Craig Naivar were familiar with during their time at Texas. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Kana isn’t nearly the thumper that Tuihalamaka is in the middle of the defense, but Kana does possess the physical and mental ability to play sideline to sideline the way Pac-12 offenses demand of an opposing inside linebacker.

Linebacker could be an important position for USC in this class, as the Trojans signed just two in the 2021 class — albeit two great ones in Raesjon Davis and Julien Simon — and did not sign any in the 2020 class. The Trojans were shorthanded at inside linebacker this past season, as both Jordan Iosefa and Solomon Tuliaupupu suffered season-ending injuries before the season began, and Palaie Gaoteote entered the transfer portal during the year. Sophomore Ralen Goforth and junior Kana’i Mauga played a bulk of the snaps, with redshirt sophomore Raymond Scott and redshirt freshman Tuasivi Nomura serving as backups.

If everybody returns and is healthy, there should be plenty of depth there, with Eli’jah Winston and Tayler Katoa potential additions as well. But Iosefa will exhaust his eligibility after the 2021 season and injuries have taken their toll on the linebacker position over the past couple of years.

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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