If there was a positive to draw from ESPN 150 offensive tackle Casey Tucker's decommitment from USC this week, it’s that it happened in April rather than, say, nine months from now.
Offensive line recruiting is undoubtedly a major focus in the 2014 recruiting class for the Trojans and new position coach Mike Summers. And while losing the top-rated lineman on the West Coast is never a good thing, there is a silver lining here: Summers and assistant James Cregg know where they stand.
Tucker, a 6-foot-6, 290-pound lineman from Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton, was committed for nine months. He visited the USC campus with his father, taking in a game at the Coliseum before returning home with what he called an "even stronger" commitment. He saw the Trojans limp their way through a rough 2012 season, yet stuck with his original pledge.
Tucker, though, admittedly never stopped listening to other schools. It got to the point where he wanted to start anew.
“I’ve opened things back up,” the top-rated player in Arizona said in a text message on Wednesday.
Tucker has not completely shut the door on signing with USC, but even if he doesn’t rejoin the class, there are many other options for Summers and Cregg. The Trojans have verbal commitments from offensive guard Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra) and offensive tackle Jordan Poland (La Jolla, Calif./Country Day School). Both intend to enroll early.
With 20 available scholarships for this class -- five unused spots from the last cycle, plus the 15 in 2014 -- USC could theoretically take four linemen, especially after only signing Nico Falah and Khaliel Rodgers in February.
To this point, Summers has extended scholarship offers to two junior college offensive tackles: Jermaine Eluemunor (Scranton, Pa./Lackawanna College) and Montavius Blair (Anniston, Ala./Garden City Community College). They would be candidates to step in right away next fall, and would surely soften the blow dealt by Tucker's change of heart.
We’ve seen the coaching staff take an aggressive approach with local recruits, and ESPN 150 members Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial) are two Southern California-based offensive linemen to keep tabs on. Mama, the nation’s No. 3-rated guard, has a USC offer and has been a lifelong Trojans fan, but is also being pursued by the likes of Alabama, Florida State and Notre Dame. Talamaivao, also in the ESPN 150 and the No. 7-rated guard, has not been offered, but that could change with a strong performance in the upcoming Rising Stars Camp.
Assistant coach Mike Ekeler this week paid a visit to No. 10-rated tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic), and Cregg has also had prior contact with No. 3 Damien Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara), No. 8 Jamarco Jones (Chicago, Ill./De La Salle Institute), No. 14 Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh, Pa./Mount Lebanon) and No. 25 Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge).
So while Tucker’s decommitment wasn’t necessarily the best news USC received this week, it’s far too early to gauge its significance.
The good news, at least for Summers, Cregg and the rest of the staff, is that there is plenty of time to fill a major need.