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IMHO Sunday: Three more years and plenty of talent

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.

In the year 2023: If you’re Clay Helton (photo above), this past week must have been like winning the lottery. Less than 24 hours before Wednesday’s National Letter of Intent Day, Helton, who has won nearly 75% of his games and is the first Trojan coach in history to have 10-win seasons in each of his first two full seasons, was “inked” to a contract extension through 2023. On LOI Wednesday, the Trojans finished with a consensus Top 10 – some say top 5 – national recruiting class. It certainly appears that Helton’s tenure is solid for the foreseeable future, so now all he has to do is win a national title along the way, right?

The assistants: Perhaps the direct beneficiaries of Helton’s contract extension is his assistant coaches. Prior to the announced contract extension, the rumor on the block was that athletic director Lynn Swann was hesitant to give Helton’s assistants multi-year contracts because of his unsureness of his head coach’s future. However, with a Pac-12 title and appearances in two major bowl games, Swann’s perspective may have changed. Offensive coordinator Tee Martin is reportedly set for a multi-year contract, and the rumor that defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze was on his way to the NFL seems to have been silenced.

A sign: In a recent Kenechi Udeze signing day tweet to future Trojan defensive lineman Trevor Trout, Kenechi wrote, “The largest Trout ever recorded was captured today by the Trojans! All the way from the St. Louis. Let’s get to work Trevor!” I would say that is an encouraging sign that maybe Udeze isn’t off to the NFL.

Swannie says: In his comments regarding Clay Helton and the coach’s contract extension, Trojans’ athletic director Lynn Swann said, “We have lofty goals at USC and Clay can get us to those goals. He has shown that he can lead our team with integrity and stability and that he has the ability to win conference and national championships. I am happy with the job Clay has done so far. He has made good progress and is moving our program forward. Winning national championships is a process, and Clay has built a championship foundation through consistently successful recruiting, hiring outstanding assistant coaches and providing a vision for our program.”

The coincidence: Just how coincidental was it that on the day before National Letter of Intent Day, the Lynn Swann announced that Clay Helton had been given a three-year contract extension? Timing is everything.

Sign of the times: One of the first things that friends called to ask after the Clay Helton extension was announced was, “How much is Helton’s buyout?” Obviously, there are enough Trojan fans out there who want to see what the coach can do without Sam Darnold and the future of incoming superstar prep quarterback JT Daniels.

The Recruiting MVP: According to ESPN, Trojans’ recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach Johnny Nansen was ranked the fifth best national recruiter for the Class of 2018.

Cotton Bowl revisit: It was pretty much out there that during Ohio State’s dominance of the Trojans, a number of high-profile former Trojan legends along with Lynn Swann were in an AT&T Stadium suite, and they weren’t happy campers in watching the less physical Trojans get tossed around, especially in the first half. It figures some of that conversation made its way back to Helton in meetings with Swann, so it will be intriguing to see the residual effects in spring ball as it pertains to physical football.

The invitation: As you have probably already read, QB Sam Darnold, RB Ronald Jones ll, WRs Deontay Burnett and Steven Mitchell, DE Rasheem Green, and LB Uchenna Nwosu have all been invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis (Feb. 27 – March 5). Of the six invites, the most intriguing, IMHO, is probably Steven Mitchell, whose Trojan career was marred by two knee surgeries.

From the press box…

The hidden nugget: Certainly, the recruiting Class of 2018 is well deserving of all its accolades but lost in the shuffle was the somewhat under-the-radar announcement that Gardena (Calif.) Serra wide receiver John Jackson lll would arrive in the fall at a walk-on. How long that status lasts is unknown, but what is known is that Jackson is a heckeva talent with a great gene pool. The kid will leave his mark and could be another Deontay Burnett type story. Stay tuned.

Hand in hand: Are you aware that Trojans’ heralded incoming freshman quarterback JT Daniels throws with his right hand and writes with his left hand?

The Golden Child: Best announcement video from the group of 2018 signees that hadn’t been seen previously has to be the one by Mission Viejo DB Olaijah Griffin, who announced his Trojan commit through a workout video, which showed Griffin refusing to take cell phone calls from his many suitors while pumping the iron. At the end of the video, the only call Olaijah did take was from USC, which was at the climax of the video announcement.

Best recruiting announcement: The most memorable recruiting day announcement had to be the one by Trojans’ new wide receiver Devon Williams at Antelope Valley High. As soon as Devon said he would be a Trojan, his high school band played the UCLA fight song. Zing!

No surprise here: The least surprising announcement, IMHO, came from Utah offensive lineman Penei Sewell, who selected Oregon over the Trojans. Don’t know about you, but I never got good vibes about Sewell wearing cardinal and gold.

The gold mine: Obviously, national high school championship Mater Dei had a mother lode of talent in 2017, some of the best coming to Troy. In assessing the talent on his past season’s national champs, legendary Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson told USA Today, “It’s all about what you have up front. You can win nine million passing tournaments and you can have skill players up the gazoo, but if you don’t have horses in the stable, it’s just not going to work.” FYI, four of Mater Dei’s starting offensive linemen signed with D-1 schools and the fifth was an underclassman.

The post-game show…

Coliseum progress report: As a continuing public service, the IMHO Sunday presents the latest Coliseum website camera update. First, a brief moment of silence for the now destroyed old Coli press box.  https://app.oxblue.com/open/usc/lacoliseumrenovation

Time cards: Because the Rams hosted a playoff game, the Coliseum renovation began a week late, but the renovators are putting in 20-hour days Monday through Saturday to catch up.

Passing the torch: Nelson Agholor’s nine receptions in Super Bowl Lll were the most by a Trojan in Super Bowl history, surpassing Lynn Swann’s seven catches in Super Bowl XIII. Nelson’s 84 receiving yards ranks third in Super Bowl history by a former Trojan.

The ring:  Nelson Agholor became the 61st Trojan to earn a Super Bowl ring.

A legend lost: If you grew up in the late 60s, you may remember one of college football’s most dominant nose tackles being Ohio State’s Jim Stillwagon. Even in those days, Stillwagon, who recently passed away at 68, was almost mythical. For Trojan fans, Stillwagon, the first player to win the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award in the same year, was a stud for head coach Woodie Hayes’ teams that faced the Men of Troy in the Rose Bowl. Stillwagon was part of a super sophomore Buckeyes’ group that defeated O.J. Simpson and the Trojans, 27-16, in the 1969 Rose Bowl game.

The last word: Obviously, the traditional USC Football Spring Football Game will not be held in the Coliseum in April because of the ongoing renovation. So, the question is where will it be played? Clay Helton mentioned there is some talk about having it on campus (Loker Stadium?). Wouldn’t it seem more logical to have it at the StubHub Center? Maybe the Rose Bowl? That would get a rise from the boys from Westwood, wouldn’t it?

Greg Katz
Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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