Thursday, March 14, 2013
Defensive line a big USC focus for 2014
By Blair Angulo
At one point last summer, USC had verbal commitments from five defensive line prospects to headline what, at the time, shaped up as the country's top-rated class. Eventually, the Trojans signed only one of those five: defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow of Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy.
No. 1 tackle prospect Eddie Vanderdoes signed with Notre Dame, Kylie Fitts with UCLA and Torrodney Prevot with Oregon, meaning USC not only lost those recruiting battles, but will have to face three of its former commits at some point in their college careers.
The Trojans' shortcomings in the 2013 recruiting cycle has given some 2014 recruits doubt, a hurdle that position coach Ed Orgeron will have to overcome in his pursuit of defensive linemen.
"I wonder what went on," Lompoc (Calif.) nose tackle Ainuu Taua said. "I wish I could talk to those guys somehow to find out what made them change their mind. They were all strong commits and I always saw them posting on (Twitter) about it. I really wonder what made them change their mind because that would have been a beast defensive line."
Taua, an ESPN Watch List member who was named the defensive line MVP at the Los Angeles Nike Football Training Camp recently, attended USC junior day but did not return home with a scholarship offer. Regardless, he knows he's one of Orgeron's primary in-state targets.
Tashon Smallwood is the first committed defensive lineman in 2014. After losing out on so many top prospects on the defensive line last season, it's a vital spot for the Trojans in this cycle.
"They told me they're watching me and looking out for my competition," Taua said. "That's it, though. They didn't say they were offering or anything. But who wouldn't want to go to USC if they're from Cali? That's everyone's dream growing up. They're great. I would love to go to that school."
USC landed a commitment from 2014 defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood (Fresno, Calif./Central) on junior day, just hours after extending an offer. It was an important start for Orgeron, who stressed to visitors how crucial defensive line recruiting will be in 2014.
"Yes, he made it very clear," Smallwood said.
The Trojans, as always, will reach beyond the state's borders to pluck the best of the best, even after losing Prevot (Houston), Jason Hatcher (Louisville, Ky.) and Jalen Ramsey (Brentwood, Tenn.) so late in the process.
One of the targets is ESPN Watch List defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), whose impressive offer list includes the likes of Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State. He has his eyes set on a visit to campus in the coming months.
"They let me know that they like me and I get quite a bit of letters from USC," Carter said. "Coach Tee Martin is my recruiter. I like that it's in L.A. It's California. I know their program knows how to win. My coach was talking to me about making a trip out there this summer."
ESPN Watch List defensive tackle Joshua Frazier (Springdale, Ark./Har-Ber), who landed a Trojans offer recently, is another out-of-state possibility.
"It was pretty exciting. My coach called me into his office and said USC wanted to talk to me," Frazier said. "It came out of the blue. ... My coaches sent film to them and I hadn't really been in contact with them. But I spoke to Coach O and he liked my film. He wants me to get to campus. They are one of my childhood favorites, so it's exciting."
Though Los Angeles might be out of range for an unofficial trip, Frazier said he's "definitely" considering using one of his five official visits on USC.
"Really, USC is up there, but everything is up for discussion right now," Frazier said. "I have eight great offers and eight great programs right now. I definitely want to check it out, though, and gather all the information."
The implementation of new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's 5-2 front adds mystery to how USC intends to approach its recruiting of linemen. Highly coveted linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams (Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove), who fits the mold of a hybrid outside pass-rusher that often thrives in 3-4 defensive schemes, has shown interest.
"USC is on the bubble with UCLA and Georgia Tech at this point," Allen-Williams said. "I have to visit before I rush and say they're in my list. They aren't in my top 10 right now because I don't know what it's like out there. I'll be out there during spring break with my mom and then I'll have a new top 10. They initially liked me at defensive end but are now offering me as a linebacker."
In the same boat is defensive end Jalyn Holmes (Norfolk, Va./Lake Taylor), who said he intends to visit the West Coast sometime in July. Another out-of-state prospect to keep an eye on is ESPN Watch List defensive end Andrew Williams (McDonough, Ga./Eagles Landing Christian Academy).
"Coach Lane Kiffin called me recently and wants me to call him once every week," Williams said. "I might take a visit during the summer. He didn't say I was his No. 1, but he's taking two ends and wants me to be one of them for sure. What I like about the Trojans is the defense and their plan to get to the quarterback. That's what I'm looking for in a school. I want to get to the quarterback. Coach O and all of them talk about that. They say they're looking forward to coaching me."