We’re about a month away from the first major scheduled commitment from a 2023 quarterback, with five-star Malachi Nelson (Los Alamitos, Calif./Los Alamitos) set to announce his decision on July 18.
It’s a significant date in that it’s his parents’ anniversary, but Nelson said committing that early in the process — about 17 months before he can officially sign with the program of his choice — is deliberate as well.
“I want to get it done because there’s a lot of kids I want to come with me and recruit them,” Nelson said following a standout performance at Sunday’s Elite 11 Los Angeles regional. “I want to build a class and be the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, wherever I choose. I have a couple guys on my list I want to try to get with me.”
Nelson said five-star wide receiver Brandon Inniss (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./American Heritage), five-star athlete Makai Lemon (Los Alamitos, Calif./Los Alamitos) and five-star wide receiver DeAndre Moore (Las Vegas/Desert Pines) are the top targets on his list to take with him to his school of choice.
Nelson’s commitment on July 18 will be massive news. At this point, Oklahoma appears poised as the frontrunner, but Nelson said he hasn’t officially trimmed his list down yet and is still speaking to coaches at Alabama, Clemson, Florida, LSU, Ohio State, USC and other programs. Between now and that commitment date, the most important thing will be an unofficial visit to Oklahoma, which will take place June 18-22. Nelson said he could take a trip to USC at some point as well.
The feeling Nelson gets from his time in Norman could determine everything as far as his commitment is concerned. The Sooners have been able to develop a ton of momentum in this recruitment despite Nelson never having stepped foot on campus. Oklahoma hopes the visit can help seal things for the 6-foot-3, 180-pound quarterback and nation’s No. 4 overall prospect in the 2023 class.
“It’s going to be feeling comfortable on campus,” Nelson said of the ultimate determining factor in his recruitment. “The only place I haven’t been is Oklahoma, which is why I’m going there. You kind of get the vibe on campus. When I was choosing a high school, it was the same thing. I really felt comfortable at the place I chose. I’m going to get on campus at a couple of these places and we’ll go from there.”
Nelson said he anticipates being quite busy with football upon his return from Oklahoma, so it will be worth watching his whereabouts for those subsequent weeks to see if USC can indeed get him on campus, and how often.
The draw for coaches to Nelson is evident. He just completed a 6-0 spring season where he completed 74% of his passes for 1,513 yards and 23 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He has everything you want in a quarterback, including arm strength, a solid frame, great athleticism and the confidence to make all the throws. Nelson said that confidence helps set him apart.
“I feel like my selling point, I get put in these big moments and I perform,” he said. “I feel like that’s the biggest thing for a quarterback, really. You don’t want to be put in positions in front of all these people and just kind of choke it. I’ve been down before and I’ve kept my team in the game and we end up winning, so I think that’s a big thing is not being rattled by the noise.”
Mentally, it doesn’t appear Nelson is pressing at all with this commitment date closing in. Instead, Nelson has spent time this offseason focusing on things that will make him a better quarterback at the next level.
“This whole time, with Covid and all that, really helped me sit back and be the classroom warrior,” Nelson said. “Watching film, on the white board, and all those types of things…Being in the classroom and focusing on all the little things and kind of perfecting those. Sometimes you get the stars, the offers and you forget about the things that really got you there and you kind of get lackadaisical on those types of things. That’s been big for me, is trying to focus on the little things. Once you get to this level, most people can throw the ball really well. You want to be able to have those little things that set you apart.”
It appears as though Oklahoma does not have a 2022 quarterback target, but the Sooners have some big names at the position on the roster, in 2021 five-star and No. 1 overall quarterback Caleb Williams, and 2019 five-star and No. 1 overall quarterback Spencer Rattler. The Sooners also added Penn State redshirt freshman quarterback transfer Micah Bowens this offseason.
USC targeted Nelson early and he was the only 2023 quarterback the Trojans were seriously chasing until a fairly recent offer to fast-rising signal-caller Nico Iamaleava (Downey, Calif./Warren). Iamaleava just completed a college tour where he picked up offers from Alabama and Ohio State, confirming that he’ll be a top target for a number of major programs over the coming months.
This has a similar feel to the 2020 recruiting class, where Bryce Young and D.J. Uiagalelei were the top two quarterbacks in the country, right in USC’s backyard. USC grabbed an early commitment from Young, but eventually lost him to Alabama. USC did not land a quarterback in that 2020 class and the depth chart has suffered for it. It would be a major swing and miss if USC isn’t able to close on either Nelson or Iamaleava in the 2023 class.