USC has commitments from two wide receivers in the 2021 recruiting class, but the Trojans are chasing a third, in four-star athlete Titus Mokiao-Atimalala (Ewa Beach, Haw./James Campbell.
USC offered Mokiao-Atimalala back in March and the Trojans–led by wide receiver coach Keary Colbert–are still firmly in play for the 6-foot-1, 175-pound two-way standout. He’s reeled in offers from Arizona State, Cal, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon, UCLA, Utah, Washington and others, with the Fighting Irish one of the other teams posing a real threat at this point for the nation’s No. 288 overall prospect.
Mokiao-Atimalala is being recruiting by some schools as a receiver, some as a defensive back and some as an athlete. USC likes him on the offensive side of the ball and he said wide receiver is where he’s leaning toward slightly in terms of a preferred position, but he’s still open to figuring out where he fits best in each program.
There is no set top list yet, but Mokiao-Atimalala said he’s close to releasing a top-10 list, and the Trojans will be included when he does.
He’s very familiar with USC. His father and linebacker Palaie Gaoteote’s father are cousins, and he’s also played with or against a number of Trojans, including Jordan Iosefa, Vavae Malepeai, Kana’i Mauga and Kaulana Makaula. Gaoteote, whose younger brother Ma’a Gaoteote (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) is already part of USC’s 2021 recruiting class, continues to put a recruiting push together for Mokiao-Atimalala.
“He says, ‘Boy, get your butt over here; you know where you belong,'” Mokiao-Atimalala said of Gaoteote’s pitch.
The receiver is being pursued by Colbert, defensive line coach Vic So’oto and the rest of the USC staff, and he said the relationship he’s able to develop with the coaches will be one of the biggest factors when it comes time to commit. He added that having players from Hawaii who have seen success is a big selling point as well, and he’s looking for a program where he can see the field quickly.
USC is always going to have a stocked cupboard when it comes to wide receivers, but it’s also one of the schools that can consistently get talented true freshmen involved early. That was seen last season, as Drake London broke into a veteran receiving corps and finished the season with a touchdown catch in each of the final five games of the season.
The success USC has had at the position is a big selling point for Mokiao-Atimalala. He took note of the season the group had last year and that Michael Pittman became an early Round 2 selection in the 2020 NFL Draft.
“USC is Wide Receiver U,” Mokiao-Atimalala said of what comes up often during his conversations with Colbert. “They have some ballers right now and they’ve shown they can get guys to the NFL.”
Mokiao-Atimalala is familiar with USC outside of the football program as well, as he would like to major in business and has looked into the academic side of the programs recruiting him. He also isn’t quite as affected as USC’s other out of state targets by the extended dead period, as he has been on USC’s campus before, during his sophomore year. Mokiao-Atimalala called USC a “beautiful campus.” He’s also had a virtual visit with USC during this time.
Like many West region prospects, Mokiao-Atimalala won’t have a fall season and he’ll spend the next few months working out and preparing for his senior year in January. He has no plans to graduate early and head to college as a spring enrollee.
At this point, the dead period has been extended through September 1, and there’s obviously a chance it could go beyond that as well. Not getting recruits on campus will hurt USC’s recruiting efforts, and Mokiao-Atimalala said not being able to watch certain teams play this fall is a negative.
“It makes it a little harder, if I’m being honest,” he said. “You can’t see what they’re doing in a season. But as long as I have a good relationship with the coaches and me and my family feel safe, and we feel comfortable, it doesn’t matter where I go.”
In addition to researching the academic and athletic aspects of all his potential destinations, Mokiao-Atimalala said he’s also dug into the film of the committed quarterbacks in the 2021 class. Notre Dame commit Tyler Buchner (La Mesa, Calif./Helix) is a guy who has impressed him, and so too has USC commit Jake Garcia (Valdosta, Ga./Valdosta).
Mokiao-Atimalala calls himself a big film guy and USC is looking to take advantage of that part of his personality. He said something the Trojans have done during the recruiting process that sticks out is that he’s been able to watch via FaceTime as Colbert puts his wide receivers through drills.
“I like to do those drills because it prepares me for the next level,” he said. “That’s one thing that pops out–to see what they’re doing in practice and to see why they’re so good.”
If the Trojans can finish this wide receiver class with Mokiao-Atimalala, he would join committed receivers in Quay Davis (Dallas/Skyline) and Michael Jackson III (Las Vegas/Desert Pines). None of these are the traditional big receiver that USC tends to bring in, but all would seemingly provide some positional versatility in the offense and all have tremendous talent after the catch. In breaking down his game, Mokiao-Atimalala said his biggest strength is turning any throw into a catch.
“As long as the ball is in range, I’m going to catch it,” he said as to what stands out about his ability on the field. “I also believe my mindset is what separates me. I feel like every time I touch the ball, I’m going to finish in the endzone.”
Like Jackson III, Mokiao-Atimalala said the USC coaches have compared him a bit to St. Brown in the versatility he would bring to the USC offense, with his ability to line up at both inside and outside receiver. There is a chance that USC could be rebuilding a bit at the receiver position when the 2021 class steps on campus, as both St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns would seemingly have the option to make themselves available for the upcoming NFL draft–though both could also elect to stay at USC for the 2021 season. If both leave, there will be plenty of room for young receivers to step up, and that could be a major selling point for Mokiao-Atimalala.
“I want to play right away,” he said. “I want to go to a school that at least gives me the opportunity to prove myself. I don’t want to be just another kid where they recruit me just because. I want to play.”