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USC joins the chase for 2022 DL standout

Since the new USC Trojans defensive coaching staff’s arrival, they’ve been clear on several points when it comes to recruiting. They’re going to outwork other programs, and they’re going to try to lock down local recruits.

The USC staff will have an opportunity to prove itself on both points with defensive end Gracen Halton (San Diego/St. Augustine). While San Diego isn’t quite the same thing as Los Angeles when it comes to “local” recruiting for the Trojans, it’s an area that USC absolutely needs to lock down if it’s going to pride itself on owning the Southern California territory.

The Trojans have signed a couple of San Diego standouts recently, in tailback Kenan Christon and cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart, and obviously former USC great Reggie Bush still resonates in the area.

Halton, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end, already held offers from Arizona State, Michigan, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State and others before offers from Syracuse and USC came on Monday.

Halton said news of the USC offer came via his head coach, and caught him by surprise, but it was a welcome development.

“I like USC,” Halton said, “watching them play when I was a little kid. Nothing but good things about USC.”

Halton was on campus earlier this spring, when USC hosted its elite junior day. Halton said it was a “great experience” and that he’s hopeful to get back on campus this summer. As far as the visit, Halton was able to tour the campus and the Coliseum, but what really stood out was the defensive meeting, led by defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

“Coach Orlando was just talking about how they run the defense and how they want their players to be physical,” Halton said. “It was cool and I felt like I was in college already.”

Halton has also developed a relationship with USC defensive line coach Vic So’oto–something that is not uncommon for recruits, as So’oto has been able to establish quick connections in recruiting.

“The first time we talked, we built a bond,” Halton said of So’oto. “He welcomed me and everything.”

USC under So’oto was fairly aggressive in going after top 2021 defensive linemen when he took over the position, but offers to 2022 prospects have been sent somewhat sparingly, which shows where Halton ranks on the list of USC targets in his class.

Getting several linemen in this 2021 class is imperative, as USC will likely lose defensive tackles Jay Tufele and Brandon Pili, as well as defensive ends Caleb Tremblay and Connor Murphy following this season. Then, defensive end/outside linebacker Drake Jackson and defensive linemen Nick Figueroa and Jake Lichtenstein could be entering their final seasons in 2021. And Marlon Tuipulotu will either play his final season this fall or next, depending on whether he leaves early or not. USC did sign three defensive linemen in the 2020 class, but those are a lot of bodies along the defensive line likely leaving the roster over the next two seasons.

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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