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Friday, April 4, 2014
In-state prospects work toward USC offers

By Blair Angulo

The possibility of landing a scholarship offer from USC has several in-state recruits antsy for the looming spring evaluation period, with three-star receiver Austin Aaron, three-star cornerback Jihree Stewart and fast-rising defensive end Trevor Howard among the hopefuls.

For the first time since 2011, the Trojans figure to have some wiggle room after waving goodbye to the NCAA-mandated scholarship limitations. Knowing it could bring in only 15 players per class, USC was extremely selective in its offering process the last three recruiting cycles. Full allotment has opened up a separate avenue for some prospects that might have been on the fringe in years past.

The budding receiver

After bringing in smaller, slot-type receivers in recent classes, assistant coach Tee Martin figures to aim for taller targets in the 2015 class.

Aaron, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound prospect from Napa, Calif., could be candidate to fill that need.

“The coaches were talking about how much they like my versatility,” Aaron said. “They would move me all over their offense. They could have me play outside or as a slot, so they definitely like what I bring to the table in terms of versatility.

“They’re extremely interested in me. They want me to come to at least one day of their Rising Stars Camp this summer to see how much I have progressed since last year, when I went to the Washington camp. All those coaches were there then, so they just want to see how much I’ve grown since last year. I feel an offer is coming pretty soon.”

The Trojans would likely catapult themselves to the top of Aaron’s list if they were to offer.

“I absolutely love it out here,” Aaron said of the Los Angeles campus. “A USC offer is not just another offer. It would be absolutely huge for my recruitment. My uncle went to USC and I have a lot of family down there. I don’t want to jump on any offer and definitely want to take my time with the recruiting process to make sure I’m going to the right school, but a USC offer would make my year, for sure.”

Aaron has been hearing from Florida on a weekly basis and also garnered interest from Oregon, Stanford and Washington, among others. He holds nine scholarship offers, including two from the Pac-12 in Cal and Utah.

“Honestly I’m not looking to commit anytime soon,” Aaron said. “Hopefully I can commit on signing day next year. I want to completely take my time with the process and make sure I’m going to the right school.

“I’m doing the Nike camp in Oakland to hopefully earn spot in The Opening and definitely plan to do the USC camp because they want to see me again before they jump in with an offer."

The cornerback clone

Stewart, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound athlete from Corona (Calif.) Centennial, might remind some of USC incoming freshman John Plattenburg, who attended the same school before transferring to Houston (Texas) Lamar last summer for his senior year.

As was the case for Plattenburg, the recruiting process has kicked off modestly for Stewart. Boise State, Colorado, Fresno State, Oregon, Oregon State, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin have offered, but local schools USC and UCLA have revved up their interest.

“I’ve been talking to a lot to coach Keith Heyward,” Stewart said. “I recently made my second unofficial visit to USC, and right now I’m checking out the campus and seeing what it’s all about. I’m still waiting for the offer from them, but they see me playing corner there. They know I’m physical and they know I can play there, but they want to see me playing corner because they have only seen me play safety. The coaches tell me they want to see me at their camp this summer.”

Plattenburg, who flipped his commitment to the Trojans from the rival Bruins, was also projected as a hybrid defensive back early in the process. Stewart already holds some noteworthy offers, but USC would undoubtedly throw itself into the picture with an offer.

“That would be huge, especially with it being an academic football school,” Stewart said. “It’s perfect for me. That’s what I’m all about.”

Stewart does not expect to drag out the process and said he will likely make a choice well before national signing day.

The unheralded local

Howard opened some eyes and raised plenty of eyebrows with a stellar showing against ESPN 300 offensive tackle Keenan Walker at the Los Angeles Nike Football Training Camp in early March. He was selected to the “final five” group at the event and didn’t disappoint, blowing past the top-rated lineman on the West Coast a couple of times.

The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Howard has not yet landed his first scholarship offer, but his recruitment has grown nonetheless.

“USC has been showing me a lot of love lately,” Howard said. “I went to their practice about two weeks ago and I liked what I saw. I really like USC. I love their tempo at practice and it looks like they have a really bright future ahead of them. I’m very excited to know they have picked up on me.”

The Trojans have expressed their interest in Howard as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker in their new scheme under coordinator Justin Wilcox, similarly to how they view the likes of 2014 class members Malik Dorton, Don Hill, Uchenna Nwosu and Olajuwon Tucker.

“That’s perfect timing because this year my school will be incorporating the 3-4 defense,” Howard said. “I’ll be a stand-up end this fall. When I’m at practice, I try to look at the coaches and players and see what their relationships are like and how they act as a team. They have very good team chemistry.”

Howard, who also plays tight end at Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian, admitted he has always been a Bruin at heart given that his mother and uncle graduated from the school. UCLA has started to recruit him, but Howard added he is open to all schools. Nothing is concrete yet with USC, either, so Howard plans to attend the Rising Stars Camp to prove himself in front of the staff.

“The Nike camp was a booster for me,” Howard said. “I’m very happy people were there to see it and write about it. Right now the schools recruiting me the hardest are Duke, UCLA, USC, Arizona State and Washington State. They have shown the most interest. I think Duke and USC are probably the closest to extending scholarship offers. I’ll be going out to the UCLA, Cal and Arizona State camps, too.”