Garry Paskwietz: Erik – the spring evaluation period has ended and the team is ready to start player-run-practices on Friday. Before we move forward, however, let’s take a look back at what we saw from the spring period and what we’re looking for with the rest of the class. First of all, what is your overall impression of how the coaches did in spring?
Erik McKinney: I think they probably get an “incomplete” for the spring, and I think they’re fine with that. When you aren’t able to point to a significant number of commitments like Alabama, which went on a phenomenal run in April and May, it’s usually about setting the groundwork for the rest of the recruiting calendar. There were no splashy commitments, but I assume enough seeds were planted to harvest a great class come signing day. Truthfully, this year, USC did not feel like a strong spring recruiting team simply because the program and coaches don’t use social media like other schools and they just don’t rush to fill up a class early. But they found a quarterback they liked and they continued to make progress with a few important pieces.
GP: Yeah, I think this is pretty much “par for the course” when it comes to Helton and staff with the way they’ve approached spring recruiting in the past. As you said, they got a quarterback (which is always important) and they have a big-time offensive lineman in place as well (Jason Rodriguez, photo above), but other than that it was fairly quiet. In fact, I thought the biggest storyline of spring was the run of four commits that took place in a short time in May (Taufoou, Davis, Quinones, Slovis) and they came from recruits who were not necessarily highly-ranked, all three-stars or unranked at the time of their Trojan commits. There was some hand-wringing on the message boards about the lack of stars in their rankings, much ado about nothing?
EM: Definitely much ado about nothing. First of all, with more scholarships available this year, you have a few spots where you can take a couple guys you think have some upside and won’t be ranked as highly. But more importantly, USC coaches have proven over the past few years that not only can they hit on a few of those lower-ranked prospects (Deontay Burnett, Jordan Iosefa, Juliano Falaniko, Kana’i Mauga, to name one each from the past four classes), they’ve shown that they can smoothly get out of a commitment if the prospect doesn’t play up to the level they anticipate moving forward. And there are examples every year of that happening as well. As always each spring, nothing is set in stone, both with commitments as well as rankings.
GP: And I think each of the four commits point to a specific position or skill that isn’t readily available in this class. With Taufoou it’s a run stuffer with size in the front 7, either at ILB or off the edge. Davis is probably the one who is questioned most based on Sacramento State and Portland State as his only other offers but Randy Taylor points to his size, length and versatility as reasons why he is attractive, especially as the local DB class is not overly strong this year. Quinones is a key projection at offensive guard, where you need someone and there aren’t a ton of options. With Slovis, you had to get someone who is comfortable coming in behind JT and ahead of either Bryce or D.J., and Slovis has caught the attention of a lot of people this spring. One thing I found surprising about the Slovis commit is that it’s rare for a QB who has USC-level skills to be so under-the-radar at this point in the recruiting process that some ranking services didn’t even have him ranked at the time of his USC verbal. His OC/QB coach Kurt Warner sure seems to think a lot of him, and I like the fact that he didn’t waste any time committing after he got his offer. Any surprises to you so far with what we’ve seen?
EM: Slovis was definitely a surprise, both how quickly and, like you said, how seemingly out of nowhere he came. But the biggest surprise so far was defensive tackle Faatui Tuitele leaving USC out of his top five. There isn’t much to argue against the schools he included–Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Texas, and Washington–but he seemed headed for USC last spring and the Trojans have done a terrific job with Hawaii prospects lately. There is still time in his recruiting process, but that was definitely a bit of a surprise.
GP: No doubt on Tuitele. He had talked a lot about SC, he took an unofficial visit and things seemed to be lining up well. Would sure love it if things get flipped around on that one. With a full class load this year and the fact that only two players were taken on each side of the line last year makes it so important to load up with the big guys as a priority for the remaining spots. I like having options like Jonah Tauanu’u and Sean Rhyan on the offensive side of the ball and local guys such as Kayvon Thibodeaux, Drake Jackson and Stephon Wright on the d-line. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see up to 5 guys taken on both sides of the line just like we saw two years ago. What do you see as the priories moving forward?
EM: Exactly what you said. Offensive and defensive lines–especially offensive line. Taking just two offensive linemen in the last class makes me think that USC needs at least five in this one. Five would match what USC signed in the 2017 class, and that looks like a terrific group so far. And while there are a couple redshirt senior starters from the 2014 class, this 2019 class needs to cover for some serious holes created by the 2015 and 2016 groups due to injuries and transfers. USC hit the jackpot with West region linebackers last class and they need to do the same along the offensive line this year. Tauanu’u and Rhyan, along with juco tackle Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu would be terrific additions to Jason Rodriguez, and you also have a couple out-of-state longshots like Devontae Dobbs and Stacey Wilkins continuing to mention USC.
GP: I have visions of Deuce Lutui with Aumavae-Laulu, and would be very happy with Deuce part 2. In addition to the lines, I’m going to be paying attention to a couple skill positions in tight end and running back. The TE spot is loaded and you shouldn’t be able to screw it up with options like Jude Wolfe, Ethan Rae, Michael Martinez and Isaiah Foskey to name a few. I don’t think there’s any question the Trojans would like to add two in this class and I’m fine with that. At RB it’s not so clear because there aren’t as many options but I can make an argument for two RB’s as well. I really like Jordan Wilmore (a Ricky Ervins type) and I thought Sean Dollars would have made a nice complement, I’m anxious to see if any RB’s emerge at Rising Stars. Speaking of Wolfe, he is one of the USC targets who will be announcing a decision this summer, let’s go ahead and make our projections for him, Bryce Young and Chris Steele. I’ll go first and say that I think Wolfe ends up a Trojan while the other two are still up in the air. I can see both Bryce and Steele picking USC and that’s where I will project them now but Oklahoma and Florida are schools are still in the mix. What are your thoughts?
EM: I think Wolfe commits to USC. And, like you, I think Young and Steele are moving toward toss-up range. I’m exactly with you. Right now I think they both pick USC. By the day they are scheduled to make their commitments, I think Florida and Oklahoma are still definite players. But Steele to Florida would surprise me more than Young to Oklahoma.
GP: Thanks Erik. We will do this again after the upcoming camps.