USC Trojans: Football Recruiting

As USC head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff sprint down the recruiting stretch with a legitimate chance to finish with the nation's top signing haul Insider, there are a couple position groups that they're still working hard to shore up. Though, it's safe to say that the running back spot isn't one of them -- thanks in part to a pair of Texas standouts in McKinney North's Ronald Jones II and Cedar Hill's Aca'Cedric Ware.

Jones, the No. 1 ranked running back in the ESPN 300, is a highly acclaimed 6-foot, 187-pound explosive game-changer who rushed for 2,009 yards (8.4 avg.) and 28 touchdowns in 2014.

[+] EnlargeRonald Jones II
Miller Safrit/ESPNRonald Jones II, ranked No. 34 in the ESPN 300, says USC has always been one of his top choices.
Ware is a shifty, yet surprisingly physical ball carrier who had an even bigger senior campaign, amassing 2,440 yards (8.4 avg.) and 34 touchdowns on the ground while leading his team to its second consecutive state title. He's also added some bulk to his 6-foot frame as of late, recently weighing in at 200 pounds -- up 10 pounds from the weight he played at this past fall.

Both are solidly committed to the Trojans, and combined with speedy Southern California product Dominic Davis (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany), they make up what is sure to be one of the top running back classes in the nation come signing day.

It's been quite awhile since any coaches at USC have spent the time and energy recruiting the Lone Star State that Sarkisian and Co. have over the course of the past year.

USC did pull in John Plattenburg out of Houston (Texas) Lamar last February, but in that case it was actually at Corona (Calif.) Centennial -- where he spent his sophomore and junior seasons -- that the talented safety first caught the eye of the Trojans' coaches. Before that, the last time USC signed a player from Texas was back in 2008 when Houston Aldine offensive lineman Daniel Campbell inked with the Trojans. Campbell failed to qualify, however, and he never played a down at USC.

So how did the Trojans reel in two running backs from the heart of Big-12 country this time around?

For Jones, it actually wasn't that difficult. USC first grabbed his attention at a young age, when he watched former head coach Pete Carroll's teams bring home victory after victory on television.

"USC has just always been one of my favorite schools," said Jones, who de-committed from Oklahoma State in mid-December before choosing the Trojans over Notre Dame a few weeks later. "I grew up watching Reggie Bush and all of those guys, so I knew I would always look at them closely."

Ware's interest, meanwhile, stems more from his desire to branch out.

"I was born and raised in Texas," said Ware, who also held offers from the likes of Florida, Ohio State and Arizona State. "I want to get out and explore the world and experience Cali life, and just have fun outside of Texas. I want to experience new things."

The turning point for both players, however, came when they were able to check out the USC campus in person for the first time. That was especially true for Jones, whose mother was initially hesitant to let her son go to school so far from home.

"My mom didn't want me to go far at all," said Jones, whose mother accompanied him on his official visit to USC in December. "But once she was able to see it for herself, she said that she'd be a fool for telling me not to follow my heart. That official visit was big. I was always sold, but for her, that's what did it."

Ware took his official visit to USC in September, but it was following his earlier unofficial visit for the Rising Stars Camp last July that he made up his mind.

"When I first went out there this summer I really liked the whole environment and the players' and coaches' attitude about football," Ware said. "I could really tell that they were passionate about football, and I knew that was the place that I wanted to be."

Set to arrive on campus early this summer, Jones and Ware, in addition to Davis, all appear to possess the talent to vie for immediate playing time, especially with the recent announcement by last year's leading Trojans' rusher, Javorius Allen, that he will forgo his senior season at USC to enter the upcoming NFL draft.

But the Trojans also still have a pair of talented veterans returning at the position in junior Justin Davis and fifth-year senior Tre Madden. That, coupled with the fact that this year's crop will also have each other to contend with, means that competition will be the name of the game come fall camp.

But that concept doesn't bother either Texas running back. In fact, both Jones and Ware are more excited about the idea of playing each other, as well as Davis, than anything else.

"I love competing and working for it," Jones said. "I don't look at it like those guys are my rivals or anything. I think we can really complement each other. Back when USC was rolling, they would have different running backs with different styles that they would go to, and I think that's what we're doing in this class."

That's something that Ware, who was a part of deep tailback group at Cedar Hill, knows about first-hand.

"At Cedar Hill, my junior year, we had three running backs, and my senior year it was me and Denvre Daniels," Ware said. "When you have that much talent, you can rotate the running backs and wear the defense down. I like that. We can inflict a lot of damage."

And with that trademark Texas confidence, Ware and Jones are determined to do everything they can to ensure that they're more than ready to do their part in making that idea become a reality -- and sooner rather than later.

"We're going to bring that Texas flavor to Cali," said Ware. "We're going to show everybody how it's done."

Pac-12 recruiting class breakdowns

January, 26, 2015
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Here's a look at how programs in the Pac-12 are faring on the recruiting trail heading into national signing day on Feb. 4.

Arizona

Commitments: 28

ESPN 300 commitments: 1

Who they have: The Wildcats hit it big with their top two commitments in ESPN 300 offensive tackle Keenan Walker and ESPN JC 50 defensive tackle Anthony Fotu. Arizona also will add four-star tackle Cody Creason, three-star tackle Harper Sherman and three-star guards Alex Kosinski and Nathan Eldrige to the offensive line. There are a number of skill players on both sides of the ball, including running backs Orlando Bradford and Darick Holmes Jr., cornerbacks Shun Brown, Anthony Mariscal, Samuel Morrison and Dane Cruikshank, wide receiver Cedric Peterson and athletes Antonio Parks and Brion Anduze.

Who they want: There aren't many spots left in this class for the Wildcats, but there are a few important names left on the board. The wide receiver spot could see another addition with Jaylinn Hawkins, though rival Arizona State will put up a fight there. Arizona also will look to continue its run of success in Louisiana, as teammates Arthur McGinnis and Darrell Clark (New Orleans/Warren Easton) are two of the top prospects left for the Wildcats, as well as teammates of Arizona commit Kendal Franklin.



To read the rest of our Pac-12 recruiting class breakdowns, click here Insider.
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The Trojans added another big piece to their 2015 recruiting class on Friday with the news that ESPN 300 linebacker Osa Masina committed to USC.

Here is a quick rundown of the three major upcoming high school football all-star games for USC fans:

Under Armour All-America High School Football Game
Location: Tropicana Field (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
Date: Friday, Jan. 2
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PT
TV: ESPN2
Practice dates: Dec. 29-Jan. 1 (Dec. 30-31 practices air at 5 p.m. PT on ESPNU)
Roster: Click here

USC commits:
TE Tyler Petite (Moraga, Calif./Campolindo) -- Black team

USC targets:
ATH Terry Godwin (Hogansville, Ga./Callaway) -- White team
LB John Houston Jr. (Gardena, Calif./Serra) -- Black team
RB Ronald Jones II (McKinney, Texas/McKinney North) -- White team
WR DaMarkus Lodge (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill) -- Black team
CB Iman Marshall (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) -- White team
DL Tim Settle (Manassas, Va./Stonewall Jackson) -- White team
CB Kendall Sheffield (Missouri City, Texas/Thurgood Marshall) -- White team
LB Roquan Smith (Montezuma, Ga./Macon County) -- White team
WR Equanimeous St. Brown (Anaheim, Calif./Servite) -- White team

* Tight end Chris Clark (Avon, Conn./Avon Old Farms) was originally scheduled to play in this game, but he will now sit out due to injury. His interest in USC has reportedly waned following the commitment of Petite.

USC targets tentatively expected to announce decision:
Jones -- Notre Dame, USC
Settle -- Louisville, Oklahoma State, USC, Virginia Tech, Washington State
Sheffield -- Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Texas A&M, USC


U.S. Army All-American Bowl
Location: Alamodome (San Antonio, Texas)
Date: Saturday, Jan. 3
Kickoff: 10 a.m. PT
TV: NBC
Practice dates: Dec. 29-Jan. 1
Roster: Click here

USC commits:
DL Jacob Daniel (Fresno, Calif./Clovis North) -- West
QB Sam Darnold (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente) -- East
OL Chuma Edoga (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern) -- East
DB Isaiah Langley (Pleasanton, Calif./Foothill) -- West
DL Christian Rector (Los Angeles, Calif./Loyola) -- West
QB Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure) -- West

USC targets:
LB Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah/Salem Hills) -- West
DB DeChaun Holiday (San Marcos, Calif./Mission Hills) -- West
ATH Donte Jackson (Jefferson, La./Riverdale) -- West
LB Osa Masina (Salt Lake City, Utah/Brighton) -- West
ATH Ykili Ross (Riverside, Calif./Poly) -- West
DB Marvell Tell (Encino, Calif./Crespi) -- West

* USC defensive line target Rasheem Green (Gardena, Calif./Serra) is on the West roster, but he will not participate due to injury.

USC targets tentatively expected to announce decision:
Ross -- Arizona State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC
Tell -- Oregon, Texas A&M, USC


Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl
Location: StubHub Center (Carson, Calif.)
Date: Sunday, Jan. 4
Kickoff: 6 p.m. PT
TV: Fox Sports 1
Practice dates: Dec. 31–Jan. 3
Roster: Click here

USC commits:
DL Noah Jefferson (Henderson, Nev./Liberty) -- West
WR Tristan Payton (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) -- East

USC targets:
TE T.J. Wheatley Jr. (Buffalo, N.Y./ Canisius) -- East

USC targets tentatively expected to announce decision:
None

Class rankings: Dec. 17 update

December, 17, 2014
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A flurry of commitments and decommitments has led to considerable movement in the latest class rankings update. Several top-10 programs added ESPN 300 prospects, including Tennessee, which picked up top-10 ILB Darrin Kirkland Jr. The Vols already have a class that features a talented group of defensive linemen, and have now added a big, powerful inside linebacker that can develop into a tough downhill run-stopper. Butch Jones now has Tennessee in contention for a second-straight top-five finish.

Outside the top 10, USC landed a verbal from in-state tight end Tyler Petite, a tall, lengthy prospect with the size, speed and leaping ability to potentially create mismatches as a receiving target at the position. After landing the former Duke commit, USC's class features eight ESPN 300 prospects.

Ole Miss also saw a move up in the rankings with a pair of additions. The Rebels landed ESPN Junior College 50 QB Chad Kelly, a player who is physically gifted enough to be a strong candidate to replace QB Bo Wallace, a one-time junior college transfer himself. Ole Miss, who not sits at No. 17, also landed ESPN 300 OT Michael Howard. He is a lean OL prospect that needs to fill out, but is an athletic and tenacious player and with development could end up being a real strong pick-up out of Florida for the Rebels.

Inside the rankings

Coach Art Briles has had two very distinct luxuries when it comes to recruiting in today's complicated landscape -- recruiting in the shadows and recruiting without pressure. Both are actually in many ways, one in the same. As Briles has built this program, he's been able to do it his way without public pressure or booster interference because early on, nobody thought it could be done and nobody cared.

This staff was able to go after who they wanted, on their own timetable and without much scrutiny. In today's recruiting world, that's a huge luxury. Players like Levi Norwood, Antwan Goodley or Tevin Reese, who was a late qualifier, were all bypassed by other Power 5 programs, but nobody even noticed Baylor signed them or griped, "who are these guys" on signing day.

As a result, prospects like these were brought along at a normal pace and developed properly by the coaching staff. Redshirting the bulk of the classes for the first few years has also been huge for the Bears. The challenge going forward will be dealing with increased program exposure and expectation level which almost always brings with it increased recruiting scrutiny from boosters and fans alike. But the Bears don??t need to change a thing.



To see the full class rankings, click here.

USC Trojans weekend recruiting visits 

December, 10, 2014
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After two big recruiting weekends in a row, the USC Trojans are set to host yet another strong collection of Class of 2015 official visitors this coming Friday through Sunday. And while there is a good chance some more names will be added to the list in the next couple days, here are the three prospects we’re hearing will make the trip at this point:


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USC Trojans recruiting notebook 

October, 13, 2014
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Sidelined since the end of the 2013 season after injuring his knee and undergoing surgery, ESPN 300 defensive tackle and USC commit Jacob Daniel made his highly anticipated return to action this past Friday night, helping his Fresno (Calif.) Clovis North team take down Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West 32-0.

Moving well and showing no obvious lingering effects from his injury, the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Daniel made his presence felt right from the get-go when he recorded a sack on his very first series.

[+] EnlargeJacob Daniel
Johnny Curren/ESPNUSC defensive line commit Jacob Daniel made his season debut last Friday and says he's "100 percent Trojan."
“It just felt good to see all of my hard work come together,” said Daniel, who was presented with his U.S. Army All-American Bowl jersey one day prior to his 2014 debut. “I’ve worked so hard coming back from surgery, and it just felt good for all of that to pay off and to actually have a pretty productive night.”

Daniel, who committed to the Trojans in May, had an opportunity to travel down to Los Angeles Oct. 4 to see USC take on Arizona State. And while Steve Sarkisian’s squad ultimately came out on the losing end in that contest, the unofficial visit still left a positive impression on him.


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When the USC Trojans scrimmaged in the Coliseum last week, there was a notable sideline visitor in highly ranked cornerback Iman “Biggie” Marshall.


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Pac-12 preseason recruiting report card 

August, 18, 2014
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Nearly 90 recruits -- including 10 ESPN 300 prospects -- made commitments to the Pac-12 since the start of June, as the conference recruiting race heated up alongside the weather this summer. Not surpisingly, even with the boon over the past two and a half months, the Pac-12 still lags behind other conferences when it comes to sheer commitment numbers. Many Pac-12 programs have become content to wait until the season, or after the season, to put an emphasis on official visits and commitments. At this point, 35 programs hold commitments from 16 or more recruits, and only one of those -- Arizona -- resides in the Pac-12.


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ESPN 300 wide receiver Tristan Payton gave a verbal commitment on Friday to the USC Trojans.



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DE Christian Rector commits to USC 

August, 6, 2014
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USC scored a big get following Day 2 of fall camp on Tuesday as Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola Class of 2015 defensive end Christian Rector verbally committed to the Trojans.


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Steve Sarkisian added some intrigue to the future of USC's quarterback recruiting last week with a pair of offers to Class of 2016 prospects Shea Patterson and K.J. Costello.

 It may seem a little early to be jockeying for position with players who haven’t started their junior years of high school yet, but that’s not the case in the current world of quarterback recruiting. This process seems to move up every year.

Sarkisian had already extended one offer earlier in this spring to Malik Henry, the No. 2-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300. Henry, a terrific athlete at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, has received interest from schools such as UCLA, Texas, Tennessee, Notre Dame and Florida State.


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The tailback recruiting picture got a little clearer for the USC Trojans on Monday night with the verbal commitment from Aca'Cedric Ware.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian had stated at the beginning of the recruiting cycle for the Class of 2015 that he would be looking to take two tailbacks, and that was before the transfer of Ty Isaac at the end of spring ball. With only one underclass scholarship tailback on the roster (Justin Davis), there was a definite need at the spot and it figured the Trojans would have their pick of players to choose from.


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Aca'Cedric Ware commits to USC

July, 28, 2014
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The Trojans scored a big get on Monday night when Cedar Hill (Texas) Class of 2015 running back Aca'Cedric Ware committed to USC. The Trojans, who likely need two tailbacks in this class, just lost out on Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany's Dominic Davis to Washington State last weekl. There simply aren’t a lot of prospects at the position on USC’s radar, so Ware’s commitment is significant.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound ball carrier attended the Rising Stars camp earlier this summer, and he obviously impressed enough for the Trojans staff to continue in their pursuit of him. Ware rushed for 1,289 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013, and he averaged 9.27 yards per carry. He chose USC over Iowa, Notre Dame and Ohio State, and he becomes the 13th commitment for Trojans from the Class of 2015.

Steve Sarkisian and the USC Trojans received a verbal commitment on Saturday from ESPN Junior 300 athlete Daelin Hayes.


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