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Wednesday, July 3, 2013
USC receiver targets soar at The Opening

By Blair Angulo

BEAVERTON, Ore. -- The offensive line group of ESPN 300 members Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra), Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial) might have been difficult to top in Day 2 of The Opening, but the receivers -- namely those targeted by USC -- certainly did their best to upstage the trenchmen.

Led by No. 1-rated athlete and SPARQ national champion Speedy Noil (New Orleans, La./Edna Karr), the batch of receivers turned in impressive performances in the preliminary 7-on-7 competition.

Speedy Noil
Speedy Noil turned in an impressive performance.in the preliminary 7-on-7 competition.
No. 1-rated receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead Senior) and No. 6-rated athlete John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) had a very good day for Team Alpha Pro, while Noil and Josh Malone (Gallatin, Tenn./Station Camp) were equally outstanding for Team Superbad. Four-star athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central) proved to be a reliable option for Team Apocalypse quarterback commit Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain), a Texas A&M commit and Elite 11 contender.

Their common interest in USC, though, must have receivers coach Tee Martin salivating.

“Great receivers come out of there,” Noil said. “No. 9 [Marqise Lee] and No. 2 [Robert Woods] get the ball like a thousand times a season. They get yards, so I’m looking at them.”

Looking at the Trojans so close, in fact, that Noil has them in his top four along with LSU, Florida and Texas A&M. He intends to officially visit the Los Angeles campus this fall before deciding at the Under Armour All-American Game.

The 6-foot-2, 196-pound Lane demonstrated the physicality and great hands often associated with the top receivers. He too has high interest in the Trojans.

“I was supposed to visit them for their camp last week, but there was a death in my coach’s family so we didn’t go,” Lane said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to get there unofficially. I was in contact with coach Tee Martin a whole lot during the spring, so they’re high up there. They’ve told me I could be a big part of that offense and I’d be going to the pros. I also like the weather there and the swag they have at receiver.”

Lane’s teammate, Smith, has exclusively played offense at The Opening. Though Smith could undoubtedly line up at safety without much trouble, he was one of the more productive receivers in the passing tournament. Quick, based on what he’s displayed in numerous events this offseason, might be the West region's most explosive player when he’s in open space. He once again listed USC in his top schools on Tuesday.

“If I had a choice, I would play receiver in college,” said Quick, the No. 3 overall prospect in California. “My relationship with the USC coaches has been pretty good since around junior day. I’ve been keeping in contact with them and I have strong relationships with coach Tee Martin and Coach O [Ed Orgeron]. Tashon Smallwood is trying to get me out there with him. That’s my boy. He’s always trying to say something to me. I guarantee you if I pull out my phone from my backpack right now, he has said something about USC.”

Malone, meanwhile, quietly went about his business to haul in passes from Alabama commit David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North) and turned in perhaps the best day out of all the USC targets. The ESPN 300 receiver was a deep threat all afternoon and said he won’t mind going long for college.

“I’m looking at USC because they have one of the greatest receiver traditions,” the 6-foot-2, 191-pound Malone said. “The offense has stayed consistent throughout the years there and they throw the ball a lot. Coach Tee has told me how they do things out there and mentioned I would have an opportunity to come in and play right away.

“I guess we’ll see about them when the time comes. Hopefully I can narrow this down before the season starts. Right now, USC is on the hot seat. There’s word that Coach [Lane] Kiffin could be getting booted and someone else will come in. But at the same time I just really have to feel the place out. That’s what I’m concerned with. If I don’t have that feeling with a place, there’s no need to be messing with it.”

Four-star prospect Steven Mitchell was the only receiver USC signed in the 2013 class, but he is out for the season after tearing ligaments in his knee during offseason workouts. Receiver is one of the most pressing needs in this cycle, so the feedback from some of the top pass-catcher at The Opening was, if nothing else, promising for Martin and Co.

West Coast running back down on USC

While the top overall prospect in the ESPN 300, five-star running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans, La./Saint Augustine), stated earlier this week he’s “definitely” using one of his five official visits on USC, the most coveted running back on the West Coast is not as high on the Trojans.

Four-star prospect Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom), one of the two in-state running backs USC has offered, said he has cooled on the Trojans considerably since the spring when he visited campus unofficially.

“I don’t know for sure if I’ll keep them in my top 10 when I release it in two weeks,” Mixon said. “I want to come in and be comfortable with my program and my recruiter. I’m not saying USC hasn’t done that, but it’s not like it is at other schools at this point.”

When asked if the presence of two freshmen on USC’s depth chart had anything to do with the new outlook, Mixon said no. He intends to compete for a starting position wherever he goes.

The ESPN 300 member had a stellar afternoon in the 7-on-7 action, showing enough versatility to line up at receiver against some of the nation’s best corners.

“It’s a good experience for me,” Mixon said. “Not everybody has the opportunity to come out here. I’m here to compete and win. I want to develop and show everything I can do.”

Quarterback target appreciative of Trojans

Four-star quarterback Keller Chryst (Palo Alto, Calif./Palo Alto), the No. 1-rated pocket passer in the ESPN 300, committed to Stanford over USC and Pittsburgh last weekend before the Elite 11 competition kicked off, but he showed appreciation Tuesday for the way Trojans assistant coach Clay Helton recruited him.

“USC is a great school. I liked everything about it,” the 6-foot-4, 234-pound Chryst said. “I love Coach Helton down there and what they have for the future, but I fit best at Stanford. I want to be around guys that aspire to be the best on and off the field and in the classroom. I felt like I fit best across the street.”

Chryst was the No. 1 priority at quarterback for the Trojans, who now must turn elsewhere to fill a pivotal role in the 2014 class. He said he was “close” to committing to USC last year before the Trojans limped their way through a disappointing season.

“I was close,” Chryst said. “I was considering USC and Stanford evenly at one point.”