Friday, July 12, 2013
Top USC targets at The Opening
By Johnny Curren
This year’s edition of The Opening in Beaverton, Oregon featured an absolutely phenomenal collection of prospects with off-the-charts talent -- a number of which currently sit high atop the wish list of the USC coaching staff. Keeping in mind the current areas of need in the Trojans’ upcoming recruiting class, here are seven targets who shined at the event, showing that they have the raw talent, as well as the physical tools to potentially make an immediate impact at USC.
With cornerback arguably the most crucial position to fill in the 2014 class, perhaps no prospect is more important than Jackson, and he definitely didn’t disappoint at The Opening. Possessing quick hips, standout speed and incredible instincts, he locked down receiver after receiver in Oregon. There was one play in particular during 7-on-7 that seemed to put his entire skillset on display at once. Quarterback David Blough (Carrollton, Texas/Creekview) attempted to hit wide receiver Josh Malone (Gallatin, Tenn./Station Camp) along the right sideline, but in one swift move Jackson broke on the ball before Malone ever had a chance -- leaping in the air to pick it off and take it back the other way for six.
Ermon Lane showed why the Trojans, along with many other national powers, are interested in adding him to their 2014 class.
The Trojans -- who are down to just five active scholarship wideouts -- simply don’t have a ton of depth at the position. Throw in the potential departure of Marqise Lee following this season, and it’s vital that they add two or three receivers in the next class, and Lane was arguably the best of the bunch in Oregon. Selected to the 7-on-7 All-Tournament team, he provides an offense with a big, athletic target with great body control, and he was particularly deadly in the red zone -- making an acrobatic catch over highly regarded cornerback Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) on day 2.
Pickett upped his stock dramatically after starring throughout the week. Lining up opposite Jackson at the other cornerback spot for the Field Generals, it was the duo’s stellar performance in coverage that played a major role in the team coming away with the 7-on-7 championship. Another All-Tournament selection, the more notable the opponent that Pickett faced, the more that he seemed to elevate his game. The El Cerrito standout was particularly impressive on day 2, especially on a play where he showed off his athleticism and out-leapt Lane to bat a ball away high in the corner of the end zone.
4. ATH Speedy Noil (New Orleans, La./Edna Karr)
6-0, 176 pounds
ESPN 300 ranking: 8
The 2013 SPARQ national champion, Noil posted an eye popping 45.3-inch vertical leap and a 4.4 40-yard-dash. Much more than just a combine monster, he was also impressive during 7-on-7s, utilizing his speed and fundamentally sound play to emerge as Superbad’s clutch performer at wideout. Showcasing gamebreaking ability throughout the event, he could certainly add a unique dimension to the USC offense.
5. OG Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./Saint John Bosco)
6-4, 370 pounds
ESPN 300 ranking: 67
You don’t often hear about offensive linemen making an impact early on at the FBS level, but Mama has that potential. An absolute mammoth of a player, he’s also surprisingly nimble, and he showed a ton of versatility in excelling at both guard and tackle at the event. Mama dominated the majority of his opponents during the one-on-one drills, just as he has this entire offseason at every camp that he’s attended. He even got the better of No. 1 ranked defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge), and was also solid against Chad Thomas (Miami, Fla./Booker T. Washington), the defensive line MVP of the event.
6. OG Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra)
6-3, 293 pounds
ESPN 300 ranking: 242
The lone USC commit at the event, Lobendahn exceeded just about everyone’s expectations. Spending time at guard, tackle, and even center, he played with aggression but also maintained outstanding technique, holding his own against everyone that he faced, including Hand. Eventually selected -- along with Mama -- as one of the top 5 offensive linemen in attendance with his performance, he appeared to show that he’s more than capable of competing for playing time in 2014 for the Trojans, especially with veteran starting guard John Martinez departing after this season.
With the Trojans missing out on a number of defensive linemen in the last recruiting cycle, Ed Orgeron and Co. definitely want to load up this time around, and Willis would make a tremendous addition to a group of commits up front on defense that already includes Michael Wyche (Monterey Park, Calif./East L.A. College), Tashon Smallwood (Fresno, Calif./Central) and Austin Maloata (Corona, Calif./Centennial). Possessing a college-ready frame that would make him a natural fit on the interior in USC’s new 5-2 defensive scheme, he’s athletic enough that he lined up at end at The Opening and performed extremely well in the one-on-ones, getting by No. 1-ranked offensive tackle Cameron Robinson (West Monroe La./West Monroe) twice.