USC is hoping to return to prominence in 2014 and it could get a big boost towards that lofty goal by bringing in a solid haul of letters of intent on national signing day.
New head coach Steve Sarkisian has his work cut out for him, as the former Washington coach was just hired approximately two months ago. Fortunately for the Trojans, he has been working tirelessly to make up for lost time and help Southern California earn commits from a number of 3- and 4-star recruits.
However, Sarkisian has his sights set on loftier goals during and is hoping to get some good news from at least one of the 5-star talents he has been recruiting come national signing day.
Let’s take a look at who has already enrolled and is on campus, which prospects the Trojans expect to get a letter of intent from and which stars are still considering USC as of national signing day.
|Toa Lobendahn||#8 OG||La Habra, CA, La Habra High School||6'3''||293||4||94|
|Claudeson Pelon||#6 DT (JC)||Orlando, FL, Mesa Community College||6'5''||280||4||90|
|Jalen Greene||#27 QB-DT||Gardena, CA, Junipero Serra High School||6'2''||194||3||87|
|Don Hill||#29 DE||Boise, ID, Timberline High School||6'4''||235||3||86|
|Jordan Austin||#149 OT||Claremont, CA, Claremont High School||6'5''||273||3||84|
|Adoree' Jackson||#3 CB||Gardena, CA, Junipero Serra High School||5'10''||182||5||100|
|Juju Smith||#3 ATH||Long Beach, CA, Long Beach Polytechnic High School||6'1''||206||5||99|
|Lamont Simmons||368 CB||Jacksonville, FL (Raines)||6'2"||180||3||84|
|Bryce Dixon||#1 TE-H||Ventura, CA, Saint Bonaventure High School||6'4''||230||4||95|
|Damien Mama||#1 OG||Bellflower, CA, St. John Bosco High School||6'4"||370||4||97|
|Viane Talamaivao||#5 OG||Corona, CA, Centennial High School||6'2''||330||4||96|
|Rahshead Johnson||#29 ATH||Long Beach, CA, Cabrillo High School||5'10''||164||4||92|
|Chris Brown||#16 OT||Los Angeles, CA, Loyola High School||6'6''||290||4||91|
|Jonathan Lockett||#25 CB||Santa Ana, CA, Mater Dei High School||5'11''||168||4||92|
|Uchenna Nwosu||#83 OLB||Harbor City, CA, Narbonne High School||6'2''||195||3||83|
|John Plattenburg||#72 S||Houston, TX, Lamar High School||5'10''||179||3||88|
|Olajuwon Tucker||#124 DE||Gardena, CA, Junipero Serra High School||6'3''||214||3||88|
|Ajene Harris||#29 QB-DT||Los Angeles, CA, Crenshaw High School||5'10''||176||2||79|
|Malik Dorton||#21 DE||Bellflower, CA, St. John Bosco High School||6'2''||235||3||87|
ESPN (Ranking) and 247Sports (Composite Grade and Stars)
John "JuJu" Smith
As if the addition of Adoree' Jackon earlier in the day weren't enough, the USC Trojans went on to add John "JuJu" Smith to their impressive outing on national signing day. ESPN broke the news first:
Listed as a safety and receiver, Smith ranks as the No. 20 overall prospect in the nation according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He recorded 49 catches for 752 yards and nine touchdowns on offense, and added 51 tackles and six interceptions on defense.
Smith will have to decide which side of the ball he wants to play on at USC, but may have already done so, according to Blair Angulo of ESPN.com:
Lane Kiffin pulled the electric Long Beach (Calif.) Poly two-way standout aside Sunday afternoon and asked him which side of the ball he prefers. Smith was blunt, telling the Trojans coach the defensive side of the ball is great, but playing offense makes him happy.
That is a dream come true for the Trojans, as Smith can play wideout, while Jackson takes over a starting gig on defense.
USC won national signing day as it reeled in star cornerback Adoree' Jackson, the lone top-10 undecided prospect who had yet to make his decision. ESPN captured the moment:
Jackson is the No. 7 overall recruit nationally, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. A pure athlete at 5'9.5" and 182 pounds, Jackson's contributions in the defensive backfield and as a returner produced some eye-popping numbers—he tallied 114 tackles and 17 interceptions in three seasons.
While big programs such as Florida State were in the hunt for Jackson, there was hardly any doubt where he would truly end up considering he is a California native and USC was his only top potential destination on the West Coast.
Jackson figures to be an immediate contributor in a rotational capacity in the Trojans' secondary and will provide an electric presence on returns.
USC got a major commit as Mama decided to join the Trojans (via Lindsay Thiry of Fox Sports):
Lane passed on signing with USC, deciding to sign with Florida State (via 247Sports):
Thomas chose not to attend USC in favor of another high-ranking program on the West Coast, according to Josh Ward of The Sports Animal WNML in Knoxville, TN:
DE Solomon Thomas pulls out a tree to announce he's signing with Stanford. pic.twitter.com/GvdH3BsPjm— Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward) February 5, 2014
Toa Lobendahn, OG
Lobendahn is already on campus and looking to get familiar with the program where he will spend the next few years protecting the quarterback and clearing paths for the running backs.
The 6’3”, 293-pound is built like a rock-solid guard and should develop into one for Sarkisian’s offense sooner than later. He has some room to bulk up, but that shouldn’t be hard for the young man.
Lobendhan is adept at keeping his man in front of him and isn’t afraid to work in tight spaces by going upright. He can dig in to deal with the power rushers, but also move quickly enough and lock up with the speedier pass-rushers.
When he gets a chance to move forward and run block, Lobendhan is just a beast. He’ll dig deep and shows flashes of a mean streak that coaches love to see in an offensive lineman.
It might take a season or two before this kid shows up on the line full time, but defensive lineman had better watch out when he’s finally ready. This La Habra native has plenty of upside and should be a solid contributor.
Bryce Dixon, TE
The coaching staff is going to have a lot of fun coming up with ways to integrate this tight end/h-back into the offensive gameplan.
Dixon isn’t lacking in the physical department, as he stands a solid 6’4”, 230 pounds and is immensely graceful for someone of his age and size. It wouldn’t even be surprising to see him pack on a few more pounds while still retaining his trademark speed and agility.
He does need to work on his initial burst coming off the line, but Dixon is devastating when working in space. His hands are some of the best in the business, while his knack for making big plays and leaping up for tough catches will make him a fan-favorite on Saturdays.
Blocking is definitely not his forte, but he should be used more as a weapon in the passing game rather than an additional lineman until he gets the hang of it. The upside is there to become a solid blocker, especially given his power and strength.
Dixon could just be the next big offensive star at USC and should see plenty of pay dirt during his time in Los Angeles.
Rahshead Johnson, ATH
Rahshead Johnson is an athlete that is capable of playing a number of positions with equal effectiveness. However, there is a good chance he ends up as a wide receiver or cornerback for the Trojans after he followed Sarkisian from Washington to USC.
While he’s only 5’10”, 164 pounds, this Long Beach native is explosive as can be and dangerous on both sides of the ball.
As a wideout, Johnson tends to leave defenders in his wake and is great at hauling in passes that come his way, but needs to work on his hands a bit more. Once he has it in his possession, however, he’s shifty enough to make multiple would-be tacklers miss and creates interesting paths to the end zone with his breakaway quickness.
At corner, this kid knows how to come up with the interception and makes good reads. He can recover from mistakes in an instant due to his athleticism and agility, while possessing the type of fluid hips that stars need to excel at this position.
It’s going to be tough for the coaching staff to find a permanent place for Johnson, because he plays both of these positions so well. Regardless of where he lines up, he’s going to make big plays and help the Trojans win ball games.