- Blair Angulo, Reporter, WeAreSC.com
Soon-to-be USC linebacker Michael Hutchings (Concord, Calif./De La Salle) could have taken a much-deserved vacation, but instead used his spring break trip to Los Angeles over the weekend to size up the competition.
The Northern California-based prospect had visited the USC campus a handful of times, but not since national signing day. He attended Thursday’s practice and Saturday’s scrimmage at the Coliseum.
“It was more serious,” Hutchings said. “Now I’m trying to learn and pick up things as fast as I can.”
Hutchings, who is set to arrive on the USC campus for good on May 21, has been focusing solely on football. The four-star recruit recently received a Trojans workout schedule – which outlines the conditioning and weight lifting program – and has put on 20 pounds since the end of his senior season.
The three-time state bowl game champion also met new linebackers coach Mike Ekeler for the first time.
“He’s just another great SC linebacker coach, really,” Hutchings said. “I liked the way he coaches guys up. He’s energetic. He’s not a screamer as far as yelling at you, but he is a good teacher. It’s great to see that. I was comfortable around him. The feedback from the guys was that they love him. He’s been real patient with those guys, knowing they’ve got a new coach on staff and a new defense, but he’s been extremely patient with them and has been coaching them up well. ... (Former coach) Scottie Hazelton was more laid back and more of a teacher. Ekeler, like (Joe) Barry, was fired up on the field and likes to have fun at practice, but also gets on you too when you’re not doing it right. I really like it a lot.”
Hutchings, who was the only linebacker in USC’s 2013 recruiting class until four-star prospect Quinton Powell (Daytona Beach, Fla./Mainland) committed on signing day, said he had preliminary conversations with Ekeler about where he’ll fit in this fall. The coach’s message was clear: Compete.
“Lamar Dawson, Hayes Pullard, Anthony Sarao, Will Andrew; they all looked great,” Hutchings said. “They’re all going to be great players and really stood out to me. It kind of encouraged me. It gave me a bit of fire to amp up my workouts, knowing I’ll be competing against some great guys soon.
“I’m going to have to raise my game up a lot,” Hutchings added. “I’m going to have a lot of competition, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Highly coveted 2014 RB lands Trojans offer
ESPN Watch List running back Nathan Starks (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) had consistently included USC in his top five for a while despite not holding a scholarship offer from the Trojans, but that moment finally arrived Monday.
“It makes it more of a reality now,” Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said. “He’s done a good job of making sure he’s searching through this whole thing. From the start he’s talked about Notre Dame, USC, Alabama, Oklahoma and Arizona, but really the only school that hadn’t offered him out of his original group that he was really fired up about was USC. Finding that out (Monday) really excited him. Now he can really look into it and see what he wants to do. … I guess he had the offer but there was a communication mix-up. He didn’t know and I didn’t know, but he found out (Monday).”
Sanchez said he spoke to new assistant coach Tommie Robinson, who extended the offer, for the first time on Monday.
“They like his durability, they like his size, they like his explosion,” Sanchez added. “It is kind of what everybody else is saying. Nate’s that high-caliber back they expect to have at USC.”
According to Sanchez, Starks currently does not have a decision timetable but intends to take a handful of unofficial visits this offseason to sort through all the possibilities. He is scheduled to take a trip to Notre Dame this weekend, and has his eyes set on Oklahoma and Alabama as other summer destinations.
“Where he gets to this summer will determine whether he commits early or not,” Sanchez said. “There’s no timetable. When it feels comfortable and right, he’ll do it. It could be as early as the end of the spring or it could be as late as the end of the season. … Of the schools he’s looking at to this point, he’s just getting to know SC. He doesn’t really know them yet. He’s got a good relationship with some of the other coaches at the other schools, which makes it comfortable for him. He’s really interested in the academic side and life after football, which is a very big deal. It’s just about finding the shoe that fits.”
USC signed a pair of four-star running backs in the 2013 recruiting cycle – Justin Davis and Ty Isaac – and is also in pursuit of highly regarded Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom), perhaps the West Coast’s top prospect at the position.
Regardless, Sanchez said his star is not afraid of the competition.
“Obviously you’ve got to be smart about it and you’ve got to look around, especially at the schools that have made you a priority, but you’re going to compete no matter where you go,” Sanchez said. “No matter which school you go to in the Pac-12 – each one of those schools is going to have a good running back. Nate knows that and, to be honest, he hasn’t even thought much about it. He’s looking at the school he wants to go to, not who’s on the roster.”
Trojans offer another lineman
USC’s recent offer spree continued on Monday when fast-rising offensive lineman Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh, Pa./Mount Lebanon) picked up a scholarship offer from the Trojans.
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound Bookser has also been offered by the likes of Alabama, Florida State, Georgia and Ohio State.
The Trojans, despite having verbal commitments from three offensive linemen, have not been shy on the trail. Juco offensive tackles Jermaine Eluemunor (Rockaway, N.J./Lackawanna College) and Dontavius Blair (Anniston, Ala./Garden City Community College) have confirmed offers, while local guard Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) remains a big priority. Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra), Jordan Poland (La Jolla, Calif./Country Day School) and Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) all committed before their junior seasons.