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O/NSO: Rising Star gazing edition

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC

The Obvious: On Wednesday and Thursday of this week, Trojans head coach Clay Helton, his coaching staff, and invited instructors hosted the prestigious Rising Stars Camp on campus, welcoming and showcasing some of the nation’s top prep prospects.

The Not So Obvious: There were plenty of big names in attendance for the camp, but none was bigger than Class of 2017 tailback Najee Harris, the Alabama commit from Antioch Senior High in Antioch, Calif. Although Najee did not participate on Wednesday, he was getting the full VIP treatment, which included a personal escort into the lavish John McKay Center.

The Obvious: Despite his early Alabama commitment, Nagee Harris is still considered in play for the Trojans, and Clay Helton and his staff are making a strong push to keep Harris local.

The Not So Obvious: Trojans running back coach Tommie Robinson (photo above) has apparently made some recruiting inroads with arguably the nation’s premier schoolboy tailback. If Robinson ever wanted a recruiting challenge, flipping Nagee Harris from the clutches of Nick Saban to the cardinal and gold would be a resounding showstopper, but you can bet that former Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin will have his Alabama recruiting fingertips in the process, as well.

The Obvious: A number if evaluators believe – including the O/NSO – that Najee Harris’s running style is reminiscent of former Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch. FYI, Harris is taller (6-foot-2) than Lynch (5-foot-11).

The Not So Obvious: However, in seeing Najee up close, his stature reminded the O/NSO of former Trojans legendary fullback/tailback Sam “Bam” Cunningham. Size wise at USC, Sam Bam played at 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds while Harris, going into his senior prep season is listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds.

The Obvious: There is a general perception that the biggest and nastiest linemen come from SEC country.

The Not So Obvious: At this week’s Rising Stars Camp, it was hard to argue. What stood out to the O/NSO was a pair of humongous offensive tackles in Alabama commit Alex Leatherwood (Pensacola, Fla./Washington) and Miami (Fla.) commit Navaughn Donaldson (Miami, Fla./Central). From the O/NSO prospective, it would be hard to say that Leatherwood (photo above) wasn’t as impressive as anybody. Both players looked to be at least 6-foot-6 and well over 300 pounds. Simply put, these are two future NFL draft choices.

The Obvious: The real value of the Rising Stars Camp is not only the arrival of many noted prep players, but watching them compete against each other.

The Not So Obvious: One of the top wars was in the linemen competition between offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and Class of 2017 Miami D-line commit Jon Ford (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Dillard). It was one heck of battle between two of the nation’s finest. Will they be Trojans? While they are committed to other universities, you know how that can change in the next several months.

The Obvious: Trojans defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze was very intense during the Rising Stars Camp in trying to capture the attention of D-line prospects that could make a significant presence on future Trojans rosters.

The Not So Obvious: Another defensive lineman that stood out at the Rising Stars Camp was Elijah Conliffe (Hampton, Va./Hampton), a very big, fast, and quick nose tackle. At 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds, he is not your standard short and stocky nose tackle. Conliffe plays for the Hampton High Crabbers and is being pursued by many including Michigan, Virginia Tech, and Miami (Fla.).

The Obvious: According to a recent WeAreSC story by our Johnny Curren, Class of 2017 DB/WR star Darnay Holmes (Calabasas, Calif./Calabasas) is again strongly considering the Trojans, thanks to Clay Helton’s new coaching staff.

The Not So Obvious: Holmes made a point of the thought process of many of today’s recruits. Darnay said, “I can’t compare my game to his (Adoree’ Jackson) game. He’s one of the greatest of our generation. But I’m trying to build my brand to be even better than him.” Certainly not meant as braggadocio comments, but today’s recruits are well versed on what building their image and making a marketable name for themselves can mean. You can bet legendary coach John McKay never heard a recruit use a term like “brand” during his time.

The Obvious: Class of 2017 safety C.J. Miller (Powder Spring, Ga./McEachern) announced his verbal pledge to USC earlier this week and was in attendance at the Rising Stars Camp.

The Not So Obvious: In case you didn’t make the connection, Miller attends the same high school as current Trojans offensive lineman Chuma Edoga. Miller, who was recruited by Auburn and Minnesota, was discovered by Trojan coaches after shining in front of members of the USC coaching staff at satellite camps at West Georgia and Georgia State.

The Obvious: It is no longer unusual that an out-of-state player will commit to a school that they haven’t even visited.

The Not So Obvious: Until attending the Rising Stars Camp, recent Trojans commit C.J. Miller had never seen the USC campus in person nor had he ever been to California.

The Obvious: There was some question whether the Trojans defense would face Alabama’s junior All-SEC offensive tackle Cam Robinson, who along with junior safety Lawrence “Hootie” Jones, were arrested on allegedly having bag of marijuana and a handgun in plain sight, and a stolen handgun that was found under the passenger seat.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans, who will face Alabama on Sept. 3 in Dallas, may or may not see both players after it was decided by authorities that they didn’t believe there was enough evidence to prosecute. The O/NSO is all for the right justice, but the quotes from authorities on why the two Bama players would not be prosecuted raised eyebrows that went to the back of my head.

“I want to emphasize once again that the main reason I’m doing this (not prosecuting) is that I refuse to ruin the lives of two young men who have spent their adolescence and teenage years, working and sweating, while we were all in the air conditioning,” district attorney Jerry Jones told KNOE-TV in regards to Robinson and Jones. Couldn’t the DA come up with something a little less laughable?

The Obvious: In Phil Steele’s 2016 national magazine preview, the respected publisher has the Trojan opening at No. 25 in the country.

The Not So Obvious: Steele has been very generous in past rankings of the Trojans, even when media types like the O/NSO didn’t see the Men of Troy that worthy of such high preseason rankings. Steele had the Trojans ranked No. 3 in last season’s preseason poll and is apparently taking a much more conservative approach in 2016.

The Obvious: The Trojans did not have a throwing session on Tuesday.

The Not So Obvious: Given the recent heat, Clay Helton took his team to the beach to do any early morning Tuesday workout, which the coach later sent out photos and tweets of his team on the sand with the Pacific Ocean in the background. Ya think that photo shot was delivered to active recruits across the land?

The Obvious: And finally, the Trojans will play their home opener on Sept. 10 when they host the Utah State Aggies, and fans in attendance will receive a Marcus Allen bobblehead.

The Not So Obvious: Well, it was only a matter of time before the Trojans decided it was time for their own version of bobblehead giveaways. The O/NSO thinks it’s a great idea and should be a highly successful promotion. There certainly are enough Trojans football legends for cardinal and gold bobblehead mania, and who will get the honor of being the next bobblehead giveaway after Allen?

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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