The event had a new name, it is now the Opening Regional instead of the Nike Camp, but there were still plenty of talented performers on hand today at Redondo Union High School with interest to USC fans.
The quarterback spot had the top QB prospect on the Trojans wish list right now in K.J. Costello and he didn’t disappoint. K.J. has developed into a traditional pocket passer who will thrive in these settings with his strong arm and good touch. It also doesn’t hurt that he throws a lot in the off-season with some of the top receivers at this event, which is always good for the timing. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a ton of depth behind him this year, and that comes on the heels of one of the best quarterback classes we’ve ever seen in the area. USC class of 2017 offer Tua Tagovailoa from Hawaii was there and he shows a lot of promise, not overly big but athletic and a lot of savvy.
The running back group was better than expected and I liked guys such as Melquise Stovall, Chase Lucas, Sean McGrew and class of 2017 offer Stephen Carr. Stovall picked up a USC offer yesterday and is getting a look both as a running back and defensive back. He worked out exclusively at running back in the camp and had one of the highlight plays of the day with a move to elude a defender in a one-on-one drill. Stovall had a 38.6 inch vertical leap and said USC was his dream offer. Carr is well built in the upper frame for a sophomore runner and was wearing a Trojans sleeve on his arm.
It was expected that the wide receiver group would be one of the best in recent memory, which is saying something, and I think it lived up to the billing even though it wasn’t a completely whole group. Theo Howard was not in attendance and Javon McKinley was there but did not participate due to injury. Jackie Jones, who was the MVP of the day in my opinion, is known more as a slot receiver but he played primarily corner. That left the receiver show up to guys like Tyler Vaughns, Steffon McKnight, Dylan Crawford and, somewhat surprisingly, Trevon Sidney (I say that because Sidney is projected more as a corner, even though his interest is more at receiver).
Vaughns was the only one of the group to come away with an invite to The Opening and he certainly deserved it. Tyler knows how to use his long arms and he made some acrobatic grabs. McKnight isn’t as tall as Vaughns and he doesn’t get as much attention from the San Diego area but he also has long arms and uses them well. McKnight shouldn’t be left out when discussing the elite receivers in SoCal this year. Crawford is very aggressive in his routes (we also saw that aggressiveness in his blocking last year) and there was one funny moment today when he celebrated a catch and one of the coaches told him “finish the play, don’t come out with that Hollywood stuff”. I was definitely more impressed with Sidney at receiver than I expected to be, and that’s after seeing him play twice last season. Today he belonged in this elite group, without a doubt, including a highlight catch in the air showing his athleticism. He did flip over and play some corner as well but most of his work was on offense.
I also saw good stuff from Zion Echols (a slot receiver type), Damian Alloway (very fluid), Joseph Lewis (a tall 2017 USC offer) and both St. Brown brothers (Osiris and Amon-Ra).
It wasn’t a great year for offensive linemen either. Michael Eletise from Hawaii visited the SC practice yesterday and came away from today’s camp with an invitation to The Opening. Eletise worked at left guard and was clearly the top performer from the group although Frank Martin certainly gave a solid effort. Martin measured in at 6-5, 300 and worked at right tackle. There is some Trojan interest in Alex Akingbulu (very skinny and a project) as well as Tucker Scott, another solid lineman from the San Clemente program.
The best defensive lineman at the camp didn’t take part, as Oluwole Betiku watched from the sidelines in street clothes (he did spend a lot of time talking with Rasheem Green and Noah Jefferson, who were there along with other Trojans such as Iman Marshall, John Houston, Viane Talamaivao, Paul McDonald, Willie McGinest, Marc Tyler and Peter Sirmon, whose son was taking part).
The linebacker group had some good ones, led by USC commit Mique Juarez along with Krys Barnes and Lokeni Toailoa. Juarez has such an athletic and powerful frame and it’s so easy to see the kind of potential he has at the next level. He’s not refined in his technique, which is to be expected for someone who splits time at quarterback, but his overall skills are so good that he wound up with a deserved invite to The Opening. Barnes has a physical upper body and he also got an invite to The Opening. Lokeni is pretty polished, rock solid and reminded me a lot of Hayes Pullard on the field, especially when he was going over drill instructions to some of his confused position mates.
C.J. Pollard had his usual solid effort at safety and got an invite to The Opening. He patrols the middle of the field so well and his ball instincts are very good, I know he has interest in playing corner but he is such a natural safety. I liked 2017 corner Thomas Graham, and 2017 offer Greg Johnson is known more as a running back who got a long look at corner today as well.
We finish this report talking about Jackie Jones. As mentioned above, Jones is known as a dynamic slot receiver, one who high school TV analyst John Jackson said was the closest thing he’s seen at Poly to Desean Jackson since Desean Jackson. Desean may have his share of detractors but those who followed his on-field work at Poly know that is meant as a pretty high compliment. But a lot of people at Poly think Jones has a brighter future at corner, and based on what we saw today it wouldn’t surprise me at all. He is so quick and darting, and can change directions so fast. Don’t think he is just a finesse type guy though, he went head to head with guys like Vaughns and Crawford in some nice battles and came away the winner. He also came away with an invite to The Opening. And one other thing that I liked, when each of his reps was done Jones was always trying to jump back in line quickly to get the next rep. Some players shy away at events like these, not Jackie, I was definitely impressed.