by Greg Katz – WeAreSC
LOS ANGELES – Even in this age of intense media recruiting coverage and endless recruiting prognostications, USC Trojans head football coach Clay Helton and his newly assembled coaching staff proved that there’s still room for cloak and dagger intrigue and unexpected surprises.
Shunning all the naysayers that the Trojans recruiting class of 2016 would be an apocalypse of epic cardinal and gold proportions, Helton and staff quietly, methodically, and efficiently turned Wednesday’s signing day into a statement moment, as it pertained their own credibility.
Wednesday’s euphoric Trojans recruiting results were such an unforeseen scenario that even the most pessimistic USC follower gladly returned all sharp objects back into the kitchen drawer and returned the bottle of Advil back into the medicine cabinet.
Heading into national signing week, there were all sorts of rumors and negative innuendos that the storied Trojans would suffer one of their all-time recruiting collapses.
A reason for the gloom and doom was because of the unaccustomed silence that became deafening leading into Wednesday’s signing day. Normally expecting a big recruiting day finish, Trojans fans were preparing – by USC standards – for the worst.
Well, something unexpected happened along the way to USC’s recruiting version of the Titanic.
The worst never happened and, in fact, just the opposite occurred.
The Trojans finished No. 11 in the ESPN national recruiting rankings and within the top 10 in other media outlets. ESPN also had the Trojans ranked highest of all Pac-12 schools.
Given all the obstacles of a mid-season head coaching change, assistant coach uncertainty, and toxic comments that a recruiting doomsday was at hand, Clay Helton and his new staff rallied to serve notice that they’ll probably be a bigger recruiting force in the future when given a full year to organize, bond, and network with future recruits.
Watching Wednesday’s stunning results become public, one could only comprehend with amazement as Georgia’s all-star offensive tackle E.J. Price signed with Trojans while spurning the local Georgia Bulldogs, Hawaii’s all-time leading rusher Vavae Malepeai’s flipping from an Oregon commitment to signing with USC, and former Florida State safety commit Jamel Cook switching from the Seminoles to the Men of Troy.
And even though it had been long expected, the official signing of 5-star defensive back Jackie “Jack Jack” Jones (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) in the afternoon was reassurance that the Trojans recruiting magic was still intact at storied Poly High.
Too much hyperbole?
Not when you consider the negative outlook that was the expectation.
In their signing day anxiety, many Trojans fans had mostly forgotten about the seven previously enrolled freshmen, who took full advantage of the early spring enrollment process. Some of those names would have made the national “wow” list had they waited until Feb. 3 to make it official.
The early enrollees?
Let’s start with the Gardena (Calif.) Serra man-child, defensive lineman Oluwole Betiku, who is so physically mature that security at Las Vegas casinos wouldn’t even bother asking for his ID. Remember, Betiku was basically recruited by everybody and was once committed to UCLA.
Moving on, some call wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (Westlake, Calif./Oaks Christian) one of the best receivers on the West Coast and one of the premier catch-and-run performers in America. If he had signed with the Trojans on Wednesday, there would have been celebrations from Ventura County down to Orange County.
However, despite all the successes on Wednesday, there was one big fish that swam away, and that was tight end/defensive lineman Devin Asiasi (Concord, Calif./De La Salle) to Michigan.
A lifelong USC fan, Asiasi rebuffed his dream school to sign with Michigan, but there might have been extenuating circumstances. Former Trojans lead recruiter for Asiasi, Marques Tuiasosopo, whom Asiasi had grown close in the recruiting process, left Troy shortly before signing day to take a position with UCLA. For Trojans fans, the consolation prize for losing Asiasi was that he didn’t sign with the crosstown rival Bruins.
Had Asiasi signed with the Trojans, they would have likely cracked the ESPN top 10.
But at the end of the day, most would agree Clay Helton and his staff proved that they could recruit in spite of some very difficult circumstances, and they slugged it out with some major competition right down to the last precious minutes.
Now the next question to be asked: If Helton and staff can accomplish what they did with minimal time for the Class of 2016, just what are they capable of accomplishing with a full recruiting year to sell their program?
Most Trojans fans would agree now that instead of casting a weary eye on the Class of 2017, they are rather looking forward to it, and at this point in time, who can blame them?