USC Football: 9 Recruits Trojans Must Land on National Signing Day 2014
With the February 5 national signing day drawing near, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian and his newly christened staff will be pulling double duty trying to deliver the Trojans a top-flight recruiting class for 2014.
Already very active on the recruiting front since arriving, Sark doesn't have many scholarships to work with as he puts the finishing touch on a class already consisting of 17 verbal pledges to its credit, which includes four early-entrant players already enrolled and taking classes at USC.
Theoretically, that leaves Sark only two available scholarships, although that number is very likely to change, as there are three "soft verbals" included in those pledges. Some may wind up elsewhere, either by their own choice or with a soft "nudge" from the recruiting department.
Because of the limitations of those few available scholarships, Sark is not in a position to pursue a gaggle of high-profile recruits, but no matter what, there are a few who—by hook or by crook—USC must have in this recruiting class.
This slideshow will look at these mega-recruits and explain why they are so needed. In addition, there is a few extra recruits profiled just in case the Trojans fall short with their primary targets.
So, without further delay, here are the guys Sark must land in February...
Damien Mama (Offensive Tackle)
Anyone who follows USC and recruiting will immediately recognize Damien Mama, the massive Scout.com 5-star tackle from St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Calif.
Mama has long been a target of the Trojans, not only because of his affinity for the program, but mostly because Mama is simply the best prep offensive lineman in the nation.
Absolutely huge (6'5", 370 pounds), Mama is surprisingly nimble and has a mile-long nasty streak.
Already in possession of a very nice prep offensive line class for 2014, a Mama commitment to USC would be one very huge feather on the cap of "big uglies" for this year's class.
John "Juju" Smith (Safety/Wide Receiver)
Like Damien Mama, Long Beach Poly High School (Long Beach, Calif.) safety/wide receiver John "Juju" Smith has also been on USC's radar for quite some time.
Smith is also a Scout.com 5-star prospect and is outstanding both on offense and defense, and if he signs with the Trojans, he will be given an opportunity to show his wares on both sides of the ball.
At 6'1.5", 185 pounds, Smith has the frame to add weight without losing his explosiveness, and he possesses the kind of talent to change the game at any time.
The good news for USC fans is that not only Smith has the Trojans high on his interest list, but his uncle, Johnny Nansen, was recently added to Steve Sarkisian's staff as their running backs/special teams coach.
Adoree' Jackson (Cornerback/Wide Receiver)
While Damien Mama and Juju Smith could be viewed leaning to USC, the picture is much murkier when it comes to Scout.com 5-star cornerback/wide receiver Adoree' Jackson.
Jackson is an electric player from powerhouse Serra High School (Gardena, Calif.) who can affect the game in a myriad of ways, including on special teams, where kick returning is another one of his specialties.
Though not big at 5'10", 170 pounds, Jackson is one of the most athletic players in the nation and is a human blanket when it comes to coverage in the defensive backfield.
Although Jackson has USC on his list of teams that he is interested in, he also has a few others, and the best thing the Trojans have going for them is that they will get the last visit (subscription required) from the talented youngster.
Bryce Dixon (Tight End)
"Wait a minute," you might be saying to yourself, "Didn't Bryce Dixon already give his verbal commitment to USC?"
To that question, the answer is you are absolutely right, and, typically, a player who has already given his pledge to the Trojans wouldn't be included on a list such as this.
However, Xavier Grimble, USC's junior tight end who was expected to return for 2014, announced that he was leaving for the NFL, which makes the signing of the 6'4", 220-pound Dixon no longer a luxury but a necessity.
With only two scholarship tight ends now on USC's roster, the Trojans need more than a verbal commitment from Dixon—they need a signature on February 5.
Tee Shepard (Defensive Back)
The next five players to be profiled here are not necessarily "must gets" for USC on February 5, but instead, these are "fallback" players in case any of the first four players highlighted in this slideshow leave the Trojans at the alter on signing day.
The first of these players who USC would love to get in a year when they had available scholarships is a JUCO defensive back who almost came to USC right out of high school.
Tee Shepard is a 6'1", 195-pound cornerback who is very reminiscent of USC cornerback Josh Shaw, in that he is a big, physical player who is great in man-to-man coverage.
In fact, Shepard might be even more athletic than Shaw, and anyone who has seen Shaw play will know that has heady praise.
Shepard started his college career at Notre Dame, but eligibility issues forced him to go the JUCO route where he has continued to improve his already exceptional defensive-back skills.
To be certain, Shepard would be a huge signing for the Trojans, and it would come as no surprise if USC's recruiting staff were to manipulate things to ensure Shepard got a scholarship if he indicated that he wanted to sign with the men of Troy.
Oh, and there is one more thing to consider. Shepard's last visit will be to USC on the weekend of January 17, and that can only be good news for the program's chances to land him.
Courtney Garnett, Trey Lealaimatafao and Zaycoven Henderson (Defensive Tackles)
Okay, this is a stretch, but did anyone notice the exodus of Texas Longhorns defensive tackles when it was announced that defensive line coach Bo Davis would be leaving to coach the same position at USC?
At least one (Garnett) has already reached out to Bo Davis to gauge USC's interest in his coming to play for the Trojans:
However, at this point, it looks as though Oklahoma or Tennessee lead for Garnett's services.
Of the three, Henderson is probably the best of the bunch, and Davis' departure from the Longhorns obviously played a big part in his decommitment:
Why Did Bo Davis Leave Texas 😒— Zay-Coven Henderson (@lobo5540) January 7, 2014
Exactly how this all plays out remains to be seen, but if USC has some defections of their own, snagging one of these Texas defensive linemen would certainly be a huge coup for the Trojans and new coach Bo Davis.
Arrion Springs (Defensive Back)
This is also a reach, but if for some reason the Trojans strike out on either (or both) Juju Smith or Adoree' Jackson, USC's recruiting department has a backup plan, and it involves a player who, at one time, had USC way up there on his interest list.
Arrion Springs is a Scout.com 4-star defensive back from Roosevelt High School (San Antonio, Texas) who combines very nice size (6'0", 190 pounds) with excellent speed (4.4 forty) to offer a complete package as a dominant secondary player.
Unfortunately for USC, Lane Kiffin neglected to offer Springs, and he gave Oregon his verbal commitment earlier this year.
However, Steve Sarkisian and his staff are now trying to make amends, and this resulted in an offer to Springs on Tuesday.
In and of itself, the fact that USC is offering a very highly regarded defensive back would not be big news, but there was a time that Springs would have jumped on a Trojans offer.
In a July 2012 article by Scout.com's Jeremiah Glenn (subscription required), Springs had this to say about USC and his interest in them, "Mainly, Florida and USC are standing out to me."
Now a year-and-a-half later, is that still the case? Probably not, but what a fallback option Springs would be if everything goes to hell with USC primary targets Smith and Jackson.
Oh, and one more thing, Scout.com's Greg Biggins is reporting that Springs was the one who reached out to USC, which makes this something to keep an eye on.
With very few scholarships available for these viable candidates, USC is in the unique position of having most of its ducks in a row as the Feb. 5 signing day draws near.
This is not to say that all is completely rosy for Sark and his staff, and anyone who follows the zany world of high school football recruiting will gladly tell you that until the letter of intent is signed; nothing is for sure.
Of course, there are those pesky "soft verbals" who stick out like a craw in a recruiting staff's throat because those players are tantalizingly close to being delivered, yet they could bolt for another program at the 11th hour (remember De'Anthony Thomas and others?).
Nonetheless, if things go as expected, Sark and his crew will have delivered an exceptional class to USC in 2014, and they have done it under very difficult circumstances.
Considering what Sark has had to deal with in 2014, Trojans fans should be fired up to see what he can do next year with a full complement of scholarships.