MISSION VIEJO, Calif. -- ESPN 300 athlete John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) might just be the most feared safety on the West Coast given his tackling ability and instinctual style of play. His receiving skills might not be far behind, forcing some schools to recruit him as an offensive player.
Here’s the scarier thing for high schools scheduled to face Long Beach Poly this fall: the 6-foot-1, 206-pound prospect figures to have a role as a ball carrier. That much was evident in a victory against powerhouse Corona (Calif.) Centennial in the Mission Viejo Classic. Smith scored two touchdowns and had 150 yards of total offense.
On Monday of game week, Smith practiced at wide receiver. On Tuesday, he focused on defensive back and worked at running back the following day.
“And on Thursday,” Smith said, “I played a little bit of quarterback. It’s a great feeling to do whatever I need to help out my team.”
Smith grew up playing running back before moving to receiver four years ago, so it’s not entirely a new concept. The selfless attitude is just one of the many reasons why Smith has drawn droves of college coaches to Long Beach.
Where Smith will go, though, has yet to be determined. The No. 3-rated athlete will take all five official visits, including one to Notre Dame on Oct. 18 for the USC game and another to Oregon on Oct. 25 for the UCLA game.
Smith has not seen childhood favorite USC in person this season. Rather than attend the Trojans’ game against Boston College on Saturday, Smith opted to watch close friend Damien Mama of powerhouse Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco take on Chandler (Ariz.) instead. He was glad to not have been at the Coliseum for the Trojans’ loss to Washington State in the home opener.
“I was happy I didn’t go,” Smith said. “I’m not saying it’s embarrassing but, dude, it’s USC. … With Lane Kiffin’s situation, it’s really depressing to me and probably a lot of guys.”
Smith, like many of the top local recruits, will continue to take a wait-and-see approach with the Trojans.
“It’s a home school. I love USC,” Smith said. “Growing up as a kid watching Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and all those guys.”
According to Smith, recruits talk with each other about the USC coaching situation. Some wonder what is wrong and already have their eyes set on different options. Others, like Smith, are content to let things unravel.
“You know what would be crazy? If Pete Carroll came back,” Smith said jokingly. “I would commit on the spot. ... We all love Tee Martin. We all love our recruiting guy. I want to hear more from the DB coach at USC. I don’t want to be recruited just as a wide receiver -- I want to do both. If I do go to USC, I would love to be back there with Su’a Cravens.”
‘Biggie’ steps up in big game
Class of 2015 cornerback Iman Marshall (Long Beach, Calif./Poly), one of the top priorities for the Trojans in next year’s recruiting cycle, has been a known commodity in Southern California for two years and continued to show why last week against Corona Centennial, holding UCLA receiver commit Barry Ware without a reception. It was truly a shutdown performance by the ESPN Junior 300 member who is rated No. 4 among 2015 cornerbacks.
“I was playing real fast,” Marshall said. “The last couple of weeks, I had been playing real slow. I tried to go back to what made me who I am by going to the press. Most importantly, it was about having fun. That’s what football should be. Each and every week I’m trying to go against the best receivers. If that’s Barry Ware, then he’s going to be my guy and I’ll do my best to keep him to no catches like I did.”
Top City Section athlete emerges
Class of 2014 dual-threat quarterback Ajene Harris (Los Angeles/Crenshaw) committed to San Diego State recently, but he could surface as a potential option for the Trojans as a defensive back. Harris guided Crenshaw to the title at the USC passing league tournament this summer and also drew a visit from Martin.
Though firmly committed to the Aztecs, Harris intends to listen if the local schools reach out in the coming months.
“The coaches were basically saying they all love me and that I’m a good leader,” Harris said. “Coach Martin dropped by Crenshaw before we competed in the 7-on-7 tournament and he’s contacted me on Facebook since then.”