By Johnny Curren
While his team ended up on the losing end of a 47-10 battle with St. John Bosco this past Friday night, Santa Margarita Catholic offensive lineman and USC commit Brett Neilon still managed to stand out, all while going up against a talented Braves defensive line.
The fact that the Class of 2017 star is performing at a high level this season is hardly a surprise. There is one small difference compared to years past, however — the position he’s lining up at. Having made a name for himself at tackle and guard, the 6-foot-2, 285-pounder made the move inside to center prior to his senior campaign, and judging by his play, it’s safe to say that he’s made a seamless transition.
“I definitely feel the most comfortable at center,” Neilon said. “It’s coming to me every game, and just taking live reps has been huge. Being inside I honestly feel suits me better, you know, knocking people around, getting double teams and making the calls. I definitely feel like I’m having one of my best seasons, so I’m excited.”
Easing the adjustment has been Santa Margarita Catholic first-year offensive line coach Lenny Vandermade – someone who knows a thing or two about playing Neilon’s position. As a four-year starter at USC, Vandermade lined up at both center and guard during his time in the program, which included a national championship run in 2003.
“It’s huge being coached by someone who’s won a national championship playing guard and center,” Neilon said. “He definitely knows little tricks and tips of playing center, just to help me out and make my job easier, and that has been really big for me this season.”
Center is also the position that Trojans offensive line coach Neil Callaway – whom Neilon speaks to every Wednesday night – envisions him lining up at on the next level.
Neilon brought an early end to the recruiting process when he committed to Callaway and the rest of the USC staff this past June over the likes of Michigan, UCLA and Washington just to name a few. It’s a pledge that he says is just as strong today as when he gave it due to a host of factors, including some notable family ties.
“It’s very solid right now,” Neilon said. “I’m not looking anywhere else. I’m definitely in love with the school. My brother goes there, my dad went there and my two sisters played golf there. There’s the campus, the academics, and I want to study business, and the Marshall school has one of the top programs. And then there’s the rich tradition of USC football. Watching them growing up, they’ve had great centers like Ryan Kalil and Khaled Holmes. It’s been great to see.”
USC got off to a rocky start on the field this season, but with his mind already firmly set on the Trojans, Neilon was not a recruit who was ever impacted by their negative performance. And now that Clay Helton’s team has turned things around, he’s more encouraged than ever.
“The first couple games it’s hard playing as a senior with four coaching changes, but they’ve definitely picked it up,” Neilon said. “You can see them getting better and better each week, and that’s huge.”
Having taken in USC’s victories over Arizona State and Colorado in the Coliseum this season, Neilon has already been able to get a head start on becoming familiar with his future surroundings. More than that, it’s also provided him the opportunity to get to know the other Trojans commits from the Class of 2017.
“It’s awesome,” Neilon said. “I’ve hung out with Andrew Vorhees, I met Alijah [Vera-Tucker], Hunter [Echols}…a lot of guys. And I love the class right now. They’re really good kids and really good players. We’re bonding pretty well.”
Having garnered a reputation as one the most vocal recruiters amongst USC’s current collection of verbal pledges, Neilon has his eyes set on a few other targets on the Trojans’ wish list, including a certain prized offensive tackle out of Phoenix (Ariz.) North Canyon.
“I helped Alijah commit, I helped Andrew commit, and I’m trying to get Austin Jackson now,” Neilon said. “We’re all trying to get him.”
Neilon will be unable to make USC’s next home game, the Thursday night clash with California next week, but he does have plans to attend the team’s following matchups in the Coliseum against both Oregon and Notre Dame.
Neilon’s is tentatively scheduled to take his official visit to USC on the second weekend in January. He does not plan to visit any other schools.