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USC Recruiting Reset: Defense

While it’s still fairly early in the 2021 recruiting cycle and timing for spring and summer unofficial and official visits has been thrown off completely by the coronavirus pandemic, programs continue to pile up commitments and the USC Trojans especially have put their best foot forward with this recruiting class.

Here, we break down what USC’s recruiting class looks like at this point, and where it could be headed, on the defensive side of the ball. In case you missed it, here’s the reset for USC’s offensive targets.

Defensive line

USC holds one verbal commitment along the defensive line, as Jay Toia (Simi Valley, Calif./Grace Brethren) announced his pledge all the way back in the summer of 2018. While he is still looking at other schools, the Trojans are still clearly on top for the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder.

As for the rest of the defensive line, there is a significant need to help restock the depth chart with this class, especially at defensive end.

And it just so happens that USC is in the mix for the top two defensive ends in the country, in Korey Foreman (Corona, Calif./Centennial) and J.T. Tuimoloau (Sammamish, Wash./Eastside Catholic). Not only are their the Nos. 1 and 2 defensive ends in the country. They are the Nos. 1 and 2 overall prospects. Foreman created some big news when he announced his decommitment from Clemson recently.

USC is in great shape for Foreman right now, as the Trojans staff will recruit him as hard or harder than any other program and the ability to stay close to home and play with friends and former teammates in Drake Jackson and Gary Bryant is a positive for USC. But Foreman also isn’t worried about heading out of state, and the 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end is going to receive plenty of attention from some power programs that have recruited Southern California extremely well in recent years, as Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State and Oregon are just a few that will continue to chase Foreman until he signs somewhere.

Tuimoloau is more of a longshot for the Trojans, but this staff, and Vic So’oto specifically, won’t stop chasing top targets. Alabama, Ohio State, Stanford and Washington are a few schools in the mix along with USC. Several schools plucked prospects out of Eastside Catholic last season, as Ohio State grabbed wide receiver Gee Scott, Cal signed tight end D.J. Rogers, Washington landed running back Sam Adams, and Stanford received a commitment from cornerback Ayden Hector before recently withdrawing his scholarship offer. USC swung and missed with all of those players but it hoping it can hit it big with the 6-foot-4, 277-pound Tuimoloau.

USC is also in on other defensive ends to varying degrees. Two-way lineman Tiaoalii Savea (Las Vegas/Desert Pines) is a USC lean and the 6-foot-4, 260-pounder would likely wind up along the defensive line for the Trojans. So’oto built a great relationship with a number of East Coast defensive linemen during his time at Virginia, and three-star defensive end Colin Mobley (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic) has the Trojans among his top schools.

The Trojans are also in on in-state defensive ends Keanu Williams (Clovis, Calif./Clovis) and Derek Wilkins (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita).

Defensive line coach Vic So’oto has been busy chasing elite out-of-state prospects as well, as Shambre Jackson (Orlando, Fla./Boone), Aaron Armitage (Blairstown, NJ/Blair Academy), Tobechi Okoli (Kansas City, Mo./Lincoln College Prep), and Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge (Portland, Ore./Jefferson) are just a few prospects the Trojans have offered and are recruiting.

The Trojans have also tossed out a few defensive tackle offers, and are in fairly good shape with Toia already committed and 2020 signees Kobe Pepe and Jamar Sekona likely headed inside.

So’oto will go big-game hunting here as well, as five-star prospect Maason Smith (Houma, La./Terrebonne) is a top target. The 6-foot-5, 316-pound Smith and Foreman have gone back and forth about playing together in college and USC, just like any school, would certainly be receptive to that idea. But getting Smith away from LSU and the SEC will be a tall, tall task.

Closer to home, defensive tackles Braezhon Ross (Las Vegas/Desert Pines) and Michael Mokofisi (Woods Cross, Utah/Woods Cross) hold USC offers.


USC is on the board with a commitment from four-star Ma’a Gaoteote (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), and is considered the favorite for four-star athlete Julien Simon (Tacoma, Wash./Lincoln), who will announce his commitment on Sunday would play inside linebacker for the Trojans. The Trojans are loaded with bodies at linebacker, but didn’t sign anybody at the position in the 2020 class, which makes this an important position this year.

Four-star Ethan Calvert (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) is a top target for this USC defensive staff and if the Trojans can pull in those three, it would give them three top-100 overall prospects and three top-7 prospects at their respective positions (Gaoteote is the No. 7 OLB, Simon the No. 5 ATH and Calvert the No. 3 ILB).

Even with those three, the Trojans could make this arguably the best linebacker class in the nation if they can find a way to flip five-star outside linebacker Raesjon Davis (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) from his LSU commitment. Davis is the nation’s No. 28 overall prospect and No. 3 outside linebacker. LSU is an attractive destination right now and Davis put a lot of thought into that commitment, so it won’t be an easy flip, but USC is the local school and could generate a lot of momentum with Southern California recruits if it has a big season.

Defensive back

USC has gotten off to a fantastic start with defensive backs, as four-star safety Xamarion Gordon (Downey, Calif./Warren) and a couple of four-star defensive athletes in Calen Bullock (Pasadena, Calif./Muir) and Anthony Beavers (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne) have committed already. Bullock could play safety or cornerback (or even wide receiver) at the next level, though he might be best suited for safety. Beavers could play safety or bulk up into a linebacker–or potentially work in a hybrid role combining the two.

Local four-star athlete Jaylin Smith (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany) is yet another defensive back capable of playing corner or safety, and a top USC target. The Trojans have also quickly gained traction for two-way standout Nathaniel Wiggins (Atlanta/Weslake), the nation’s No. 195 overall prospect and a player who would likely slot in at cornerback for the Trojans.

Local four-star cornerbacks Ceyair Wright (Los Angeles/Loyola) and Jaylin Davies (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) are both top-100 national prospects and would be terrific additions to the class. In-state cornerback prospects D.J. Harvey (Chatsworth, Calif./Sierra Canyon) and Jamier Johnson (Pasadena, Calif./Muir) hold USC offers, and the Trojans are among the finalists for out-of-state defensive backs Denzel Burke (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro) and Deuce Harmon (Denton, Texas/Guyer).

While USC loaded up with defensive backs to finish off the 2019 recruiting class, there wasn’t a single cornerback or safety signed in the 2020 class, so this group will be important to build depth at all spots, and could have a path to some early playing time.

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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