- Erik McKinney, ESPN Staff Writer
The USC Trojans extended a scholarship offer to defensive lineman Elijah Qualls (Petaluma, Calif./Casa Grande) on Tuesday after defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron watched Qualls during an evaluation visit.
Qualls had been in contact with quarterbacks coach Clay Helton throughout the process and understood the need for USC to be deliberate in their evaluations due to limited scholarships. Qualls said he was told that the slower movement might mean an offer could be on the way sometime during the summer, but that changed quickly once Orgeron set his sights on the 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive lineman.
"Coach O loved what he saw and he wanted to speed up the process," Qualls said. "I guess he wanted to offer me about 30 minutes after my spring ball started, but he wasn't allowed to talk to me there."
Qualls said his coach told him to give the USC coach a call after practice, and the offer was extended.
"I was pumped," Qualls said of the news. "I still am."
The offer jumps the Trojans into a top group of schools, which includes Arizona, California, Iowa State, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA and Washington. Qualls had trimmed the list to eight -- excluding USC, Oregon and Oklahoma -- but said if those three schools offered, they would immediately jump into the mix.
"USC has been an offer I've wanted for a while," Qualls said. "I have a lot of great offers and I'm not going to knock off anybody, but they've moved up on my list. I'm definitely still evaluating and I have a lot to learn about these schools. I'm taking my time with it."
A two-way athlete for Casa Grande, Qualls plays running back, defensive end and middle linebacker. As a junior, he rushed for 1,139 yards and 13 touchdowns, caught 13 passes for 215 yards and another score, registered 76 tackles and four sacks, and even completed a 36-yard touchdown pass. He said that while he enjoys playing any and every position on the field, the USC offer came as a defensive lineman, and he is willing to allow the coaches at the next level to slot him wherever they see fit.
"Whatever school I decide to go to, I'll play wherever will benefit the team the most," Qualls said. "Whatever the coaches feel is best for me and my potential is where I'll play. They're coaches for a reason."
This offer adds to a big spring for Qualls, who now holds around 15 scholarship offers. Qualls said he has enjoyed the developments, specifically the opportunity to serve as inspiration.
"I'm definitely telling my friends about everything -- especially my friends in Sacramento," Qualls said. "Not a lot of people got to make it out of there and I'm happy I can make my city proud, both Sacramento, where I'm originally from, and Petaluma."
Qualls plans to spend part of Wednesday speaking to children at a middle school about the opportunities playing football has presented him.
"I'm extremely grateful that people look up to me like that," Qualls said. "I'm extremely blessed."
3dChantel Jennings and Kevin Gemmell