- Greg Katz, Columnist, WeAreSC.com
LOS ANGELES -- After watching both Florida State and Auburn slug it out in a BCS classic final, USC Trojans fans are reminded that if they’re going to once again challenge for a national title, much less a Pac-12 South Division crown, it will probably come down to having a dominating defensive line.
Historically speaking, the Trojans have generally recruited most of their defensive linemen from California, but that doesn’t mean they’re averse to making a recruiting push outside of their state -- even if it means long recruiting ventures and time investment into the Midwest and East Coast.
For longtime Trojans fans who have followed the celebrated, modern day history of USC football, it’s not hard to recall familiar out-of-state defensive linemen as All-Americans John Grant (Idaho) and Gary Jeter (Ohio) and past all-conference performers like Richard Dimler (New Jersey), Art Riley (Illinois), Walter Underwood (Georgia), and Tony Colorito (New York).
In today’s college football recruiting world, there is little argument that in the South defensive linemen grow in abundance like Florida citrus oranges. Considering the dog-eat-dog recruiting of defensive linemen in the South, there still seems to be an endless supply of those big, fast and mean physical specimens.
A case in point regarding the overload of Southern defensive line talent is the Trojans’ very own ESPN sophomore All-American Leonard Williams, who hails from Daytona Beach, Fla. Williams was a recruiting bonanza, thanks to former defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron, who used his nationally respected recruiting prowess and some Williams family connections in L.A. to help get a letter of intent faxed to Troy in 2012.
Orgeron, who was the Trojans’ highly successful 2013 interim head coach for the fired Lane Kiffin, abruptly resigned following the conclusion of the regular season after not being named the permanent head coach by Trojans athletic director Pat Haden, who instead hired former Washington head coach and former USC Pete Carroll assistant Steve Sarkisian.
The departure of Orgeron also meant the loss of its lead national recruiter, who has proven his ability to go into the Deep South and compete for talent with the SEC and ACC.
On Tuesday, hoping to help repair some of that Southern recruiting damage, Sarkisian hired former Texas and Alabama defensive line coach Bo Davis, whose résumé includes three seasons under the Longhorns legendary coach Mack Brown, and before that eight of nine seasons with the incomparable Nick Saban at LSU, Alabama, and the Miami Dolphins.
In new DL coach Davis and second-year wide receivers coach Tee Martin, Sarkisian is hoping these two former SEC players can be effective out-of-state as recruiters as they were as performers in the nation’s most publicized conference.
Meanwhile across town at UCLA, aside from the announcement of quarterback Brett Hundley’s return, the Bruins will also be placing much of their 2014 championship hopes on a young defensive line that reeks of former Trojans D-line recruiting losses, or perhaps you have forgotten the likes of Californians Eddie Vanderdoes, Kylie Fitts, and Ellis McCarthy?
With those recruiting defeats still fresh in the memory, a compelling argument can be made regarding a sense of urgency to secure future blue chip D-linemen, whether it be from in-state and/or out-of-state.
Speaking of in-state, the Trojans will also need to make sure that they leave no local defensive lineman recruiting stone unturned, as the was the case with Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton, the Pac-12’s 2013 Morris Award winner as the conference’s most valuable defensive lineman as voted by the conference’s offensive linemen. Out of SoCal powerhouse Corona (Calif.) Centennial High, Sutton somehow slipped past the Trojans’ recruiting radar back in 2008.
As for the current Trojans roster of defensive linemen, just this week it lost junior defensive lineman George Uko to the NFL draft, but they do have some D-line reinforcements already on the way. Redshirt defensive lineman Delvon Simmons, formerly of Texas Tech and a past U.S. Army All-American out of McKeesport, Penn., immediately comes to mind and may be the frontrunner to replace Uko in spring ball.
Joining Simmons for spring ball competition will be defensive tackle Claudeson Pelon, a junior college transfer from Arizona Mesa JC and former a native of Orlando, which keeps the Southern pipeline alive and well.
As for incoming prep talent, Sarkisian has a verbal from defensive end Don Hill (Boise, Idaho/Timberline), a former Washington commit, who will be an early spring entry.
So now with a new defensive line coach in place and his coaching staff complete, Sarkisian can turn his full attention into finishing kick to this recruiting cycle, which could mean things just might go “South” in a good way.