USC Trojans: Malik Dorton

Now that USC's entire incoming freshman class has had an opportunity to get their feet wet in the team's summer workouts, here's a player-by-player look at how those new arrivals have looked so far, and where they're fitting in.

OL Chris Brown
6-foot-5, 295 pounds
High school: Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola
Lining up as a reserve at right and left tackle, Brown has been at virtually every workout. Having some expected struggles in the one-on-one drills against the veteran defensive linemen initially, he's made strides over the last two weeks. This past Monday he had perhaps his best practice session, drawing cheers from his offensive line-mates when he delivered a fantastic punch move that caught Scott Starr by surprise and knocked him back on his heels.

TE Bryce Dixon
6-4, 240
High school: Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure
A big target at tight end, Dixon has been working hard with Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick to learn the ins and outs of the offense, and it's paid off as he's come on during the last few workouts, hauling in a number of passes. Still fairly lean, it will be interesting to see how he fares in terms of blocking when the pads come on in August.

RE Malik Dorton
6-2, 250
High school: Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco
Another consistent attendee at the workouts, Dorton has been taking reps at the rush-end spot behind Starr and J.R. Tavai. He's shown off some nice pass-rush moves already, and he had a big day on Monday when he came up with his first interception of the summer.

WR Ajene Harris
5-11, 180
High school: Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw
Primarily a quarterback and defensive back on the high school level, Harris has been making a name for himself at receiver. Possessing sure hands, he's been surprisingly steady at the spot, providing more than enough evidence to suggest that he can be a valuable contributor -- perhaps sooner than most expected.

[+] EnlargeAdoree Jackson
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsAdoree' Jackson's play has stood out at both cornerback and wide receiver.
WR/CB Adoree' Jackson
5-11, 185
High school: Gardena (Calif.) Serra
No player arrived on campus with more hype, and to Jackson's credit, he's lived up to every ounce of it so far. Spending the first few workouts at cornerback, he's been playing at wide receiver as of late, and he's shined at both spots. A unique athlete with outstanding football instincts, he certainly has the look of an instant impact performer at either position, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him get reps at both spots in the fall. Jackson came up with an outstanding 60-yard touchdown reception this past Monday where he outleaped Ryan Dillard for a Cody Kessler pass.

WR/CB Rahshead Johnson
5-11, 175
High school: Long Beach (Calif.) Cabrillo
Like Jackson, Johnson has seen time at both cornerback and receiver. He's another excellent athlete with plenty of speed, and it will be interesting see which side of the ball he ultimately ends up on.

CB Jonathan Lockett
5-11, 175
High school: Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei
Lockett has been the surprise of this group so far. He's only been at two workouts, but he was the arguable star of both of those sessions. He came up with an interception in each practice, and also broke up a number of passes. Strong in coverage, with a nose for the ball, he's certainly someone worth keeping an eye on.

OL Damien Mama
6-5, 370
High school: Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco
A mammoth-sized lineman, Mama has been taking reps at left guard, where he's performed more like a veteran than a green newcomer. Remarkably nimble for how big he is, he's more than held his own during the one-on-one sessions. The big question with Mama is whether or not he'll be able to keep up with the frenetic pace of the offense when fall camp begins. If he's able to do that, however, look out.

LB Uchenna Nwosu
6-3, 210
High school: Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne
After spending his first few initial workouts at inside linebacker, the versatile Nwosu saw some time on the outside in the team's most recent practice session. A former high school safety, he's shown a knack for being around the ball when he's dropped back in coverage.

Here’s a look at some of the major offseason storylines for a USC linebacker corps that, under the direction of a new position coach in Peter Sirmon, performed at a high level this spring as a key piece of the puzzle in defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s 3-4 multiple-front scheme.

Pullard’s return provides boost in more ways than one

[+] EnlargeHayes Pullard
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergHayes Pullard's decision to return to USC was huge for the Trojans due to both his play and his veteran leadership.
Shortly after Hayes Pullard announced that he would remain at USC for his senior season -- bucking the trend established by many of the other high-profile, draft-eligible players on the roster such as Dion Bailey and George Uko to leave early -- Wilcox referred to the veteran inside linebacker as the staff’s “biggest recruit,” and for good reason. After all, the Trojans not only regained the services of a stellar performer who has paced the defense in tackles in two of the past three seasons, they also held on to a leader who commands a level of respect from his teammates that would have been impossible to replace.

That fact was obvious during spring ball, when Pullard played an important role in making sure each member of the USC defense was on the same page as they acclimated to the new system. Pullard was a captain in 2013 who figures to hold on to that title in 2014. His return bodes well for the Trojans not only when it comes to the immediate success of the team but also in the long term as younger players like sophomore Michael Hutchings -- Pullard’s primary backup -- are afforded the opportunity to continue to benefit from the knowledge Pullard has to pass down for another season.

Can Dawson reclaim the starting spot at WILL?

One of the most tightly contested position battles leading up to the 2013 campaign was at WILL linebacker, with Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao duking it out for the right to line up alongside Pullard. Dawson ultimately came out on top, but he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee midway through the season, and it was Sarao who started the final seven games of the season.

Dawson is scheduled to be back in time for fall camp, but with Sarao performing solidly in his stint with the No. 1 unit -- both last fall and into the spring -- if Dawson wants his old job back, he’ll have to fight for it once again. Coming off a serious injury, however, it won’t be easy, particularly when you consider the fact he missed the entire spring -- a time when many of his teammates grew accustomed to the lightning-quick tempo of each practice under the new regime. And with Sarao having now proven himself to a certain extent, there’s reason to believe that Dawson, who has shined at times but underwhelmed at others, will need to come back in top form.

Competition at SAM one to watch

The competition between Dawson and Sarao at the WILL spot won’t be the only head-to-head duel to keep an eye on in fall camp. In fact, after what both Jabari Ruffin and Quinton Powell showed this spring, the battle at SAM linebacker has the potential to develop into one of the biggest storylines of fall camp.

Ruffin, a third-year sophomore, and Powell, a sophomore, each stood out throughout the recent March and April practice sessions, providing more than enough evidence to suggest this position should be in good hands, regardless of which player is in there at any given time. Both candidates are tremendous athletes who are strong at the line of scrimmage as well as in coverage, and they possess the size and length head coach Steve Sarkisian has said he covets at the SAM position.

Powell, who plays with a ton of energy, began the spring as the starter, but by the later stages of camp it was the rangy Ruffin who was going with the No. 1 group. Still, there certainly isn’t a lot separating these two, and when the post-spring depth chart was released, both were listed on top with the trademark “OR” designation sitting between their names, meaning this competition is still very much ongoing. It figures to remain that way through fall camp, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both of the up-and-comers play quite a bit in the fall.

Newcomers ready to join the fray

While USC possesses a solid collection of talent up and down the two-deep at linebacker, with the scholarship restrictions put in place due to NCAA sanctions the Trojans still don’t have what you’d consider ideal depth just yet. That said, a number of outside linebacker/defensive end types are set to arrive on campus this summer who will help remedy that issue, and it will be interesting to see if any are capable of jumping right into the mix.

Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne’s Uchenna Nwosu is a former safety with 6-foot-3, 210-pound size who looks tailor made for the SAM linebacker position, although he’s athletic and versatile enough that he could even conceivably play on the inside. Olajuwon Tucker, from local powerhouse Gardena (Calif.) Serra, is another player who looks like a natural fit at SAM. Standing 6-3 and 220 pounds, he has the ability to cover a tremendous amount of ground in coverage, and he’s just as strong coming off the edge after the quarterback.

Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco’s Malik Dorton and Boise Timberline’s Don Hill, an early entrant who sat out spring ball with an Achilles' injury, are two more promising additions who could certainly factor in at SAM linebacker, although their larger frames suggest they might be better suited on the opposite side at rush end.

Revisiting USC's 2014 resolutions 

February, 10, 2014
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Shortly after the calendar flipped to 2014, we presented five possible New Year’s resolutions for USC recruiting and new head coach Steve Sarkisian.

Here they are again, with accompanying retrospective analysis that indicates how much the Trojans truly accomplished in the month leading up to national signing day:


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Trojans capitalize on big weekend 

January, 27, 2014
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ESPN 300 prospects Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) might have headlined the list of official visitors who spent the weekend at USC, but it was a pair of teammates from Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure who stole the spotlight.

Class of 2015 quarterback Ricky Town verbally committed to the Trojans on Saturday night, just hours after decommitting from Alabama, and No. 1-rated tight end Bryce Dixon re-affirmed his pledge on Sunday morning, capping a monstrous weekend that put USC in great shape with national signing day just over a week away.

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Eleven recruits set to visit USC 

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
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video
The mother of all recruiting weekends has arrived for the USC Trojans.

With less than two weeks remaining until national signing day, seven members of the ESPN 300 are expected to be on campus beginning Friday. Head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff hope these visits lead to success on Feb. 5.

Heading into the weekend, the Trojans have four empty slots in their 2014 recruiting class.

Here are the expected visitors:

No. 3 ATH John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly): The four-star prospect recently narrowed his list to a final four of Notre Dame, Oregon, UCLA and USC, but the Trojans have to believe they are in the lead. Smith dropped by USC last week and, while wearing a Trojans jersey, posed for photographs that have gone viral on social media and message boards. He is being recruited at receiver by the staff, including his uncle Johnny Nansen, but Smith said he wants to sit down with defensive backs coach Keith Heyward this weekend, too. The Trojans have an opportunity to seal the deal.


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The Trojans currently have 15 commitments for 19 spots available in the Class of 2014 and early spring enrollments.

Here is how the spots fill out for the commitments that have been made so far:

QB (1) Jalen Greene
RB (0)
WR (1) Rahshead Johnson
TE (1) Bryce Dixon
OL (4) Viane Talamaivao, Toa Lobendahn, Chris Brown, Jordan Austin
DL (3) Malik Dorton, Don Hill, Claudeson Pelon
LB (2) Olajuwon Tucker, Uchenna Nwosu
DB (3) Jonathan Lockett, Ajene Harris, John Plattenburg

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Notebook: ESPN 300 ATH Smith trims list 

January, 20, 2014
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TUSTIN, Calif. -- A decision might still be two weeks away, but the picture is getting clearer for ESPN 300 athlete John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly).


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USC builds momentum during dead period 

January, 16, 2014
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The month-long dead period was part fruitful and part complicated for USC recruiting, offering a prelude to what could be a wild finish for new head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff.

Four verbal commitments highlighted the period -- which ran from Dec. 16 to Jan. 15 -- but some members of the Trojans’ class were met with uncertainty as the coaches scrambled to find additional targets. A commitment from dual-threat quarterback Jalen Greene (Gardena, Calif./Serra) was the first domino to fall, as Sarkisian nabbed his top target at a position of need, and plenty of activity followed despite the prohibition of face-to-face contact.


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Notebook: USC could reshuffle class 

January, 13, 2014
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The USC recruiting class continued to take shape last week with the commitment of three-star defensive back John Plattenburg (Houston/Lamar), reducing the number of available spots to two. Head coach Steve Sarkisian will be able to sign 19 in this class, with five of those expected to step into their first college course this week as mid-year enrollees.

Yet given limited vacancy and presence of other targets, it’s safe to assume some reshuffling is on the horizon.

New defensive line coach Bo Davis was added to the staff last week, and, while it quickly generated buzz with some Texas-based recruits, current USC commits faced more uncertainty. Three-star defensive tackle Austin Maloata (Corona, Calif./Centennial), who trails only Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra) as far as seniority in the class, said Sunday that he still considers himself a Trojan, but added he might reopen his recruitment.

ESPN 300 defensive end Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) has similar plans.

“My USC visit might be on Jan. 17 or Jan. 24, but I’m still waiting to hear back,” Dorton said. “The last time I talked to one of the USC coaches, it was around Christmas. I’m lining up some options and being more open-minded. It’s tough being committed to a school for a long time and being focused on going there, but this is a business and I have to look for the best fit.”

Dorton has scheduled an official visit to Washington for the Jan. 31 weekend and will take a trip to Arizona State sometime this month. Oklahoma, where he visited Oct. 25, remains a possibility.

“The Washington coaches are coming down for an in-home visit before I take my trip up there, and Oklahoma is still an option,” Dorton said. “I spoke to the defensive line coach, Jerry Montgomery, and he told me my offer is still there and they still want me.”

Consistent with this time of year, there were rumors that three-star outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne) was another casualty of Ed Orgeron’s departure. But Sarkisian wanted the 6-foot-2, 195-pound prospect when he was at Washington, so it would be surprising to see him end up anywhere other than USC.

“I called coach Tee Martin last week and he told me the rumors were just negative recruiting,” Nwosu said. “There might be some people who claim I will never play a down at USC, but Tee told me to make sure it’s not true. If I hear anything, he wants me to call him up. Coach Sark told me I’m not going to want to take any other visits after seeing USC, which I haven’t really been able to do aside from games at the Coliseum. I’m looking forward to my official visit this weekend.”

The Trojans could have competition, though. Washington coach Chris Petersen, who aggressively recruited Nwosu at Boise State, appears to be doing the same with the Huskies.

“Washington wants me to take my visit the last weekend in January,” Nwosu said. “It’s something I have set up, but I don’t know if I’m going to take it. I have a lot of things going on that weekend, so I’m still deciding.”

Nwosu is scheduled to play in the B2G West Coast Bowl later this month in an all-star game that will also feature Jonathan Lockett (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei), Maloata and Plattenburg, among others. Maloata has been verbally committed to the Trojans since early May. Dorton pledged in August, a week before the start of the high school season.

WeAreSC recruiting roundup

  • The Trojans appear to have zeroed in on a top target and will at least get an opportunity to woo him this week. BYU linebacker commit Fred Warner (San Marcos, Calif./Mission Hills) scheduled an official visit to USC for this weekend, marking an important weekend for assistant coach Peter Sirmon. Warner, who is set to take his trip to BYU on Jan. 31, might also visit either Nebraska or Washington on Jan. 24.

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USC's recruiting resolutions for 2014 

December, 31, 2013
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A new year usually brings new aspirations. But in the recruiting world, hanging up a new calendar signifies the final stretch. It’s the beginning of the end.

[+] EnlargeAdoree Jackson
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comNo. 7 overall Adoree Jackson would be a big get for USC's coaching staff.
With national signing day just six weeks away, we take a quick glance at potential New Year’s resolutions for USC recruiting:

1. Sign an elite prospect

USC fans want both Adoree’ Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra) and John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) to become Trojans, but either one would do, really. Whereas the 2013 class had the likes of Su’a Cravens and Max Browne as headliners, the current group lacks similar star power. ESPN 300 members Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial) and Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra) are no slouches, but Jackson and Smith would certainly take the class to the next level. New head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff would like nothing more than to finish strong heading into spring practice and the ever-important 2015 recruiting cycle.


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Notebook: USC commits win state 

December, 23, 2013
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CARSON, Calif. -- USC receiver commit Shay Fields (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) looked up to the StubHub Center bleachers Saturday night and shook his head in disbelief.

The three-star prospect had just helped St. John Bosco capture the CIF State Open Division Bowl Game championship against mighty Concord (Calif.) De La Salle, and some of his teammates sat on the front-row ledge celebrating with their friends and family. As fellow USC commit Malik Dorton sat there holding the California-shaped wooden trophy, Fields reflected on the 12-month journey and could do nothing more than shake his head.

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Breaking down USC's '14 class by position 

December, 19, 2013
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A recent string of commitments heading into the dead period has left USC with only five remaining slots in its 2014 recruiting class. The Trojans have 19 total spots to use, as long as four of them are mid-year enrollees.

Here's a position-by-position look at how USC could allocate those empty spots, with a projection of how many players at each position the Trojans will try to sign:

Offensive line: 6

The Trojans hold five commitments on the offensive line, two of those from mid-year enrollees who already have signed financial aid agreements. They might not be done, though, as a big fish is still out there and possibly leaning toward signing with his childhood favorite. If the coaching staff decides a scholarship would be more important at another position, the Trojans might have to part ways with a prospect from this bunch.


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Pac-12 class rankings analysis 

December, 18, 2013
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There's a new No. 1 team in the Pac-12, according to the updated team rankings released on Wednesday.

Arizona State made the biggest jump of any team in the rankings, leaping from No. 22 to No. 17 overall, and in the process, bypassing Arizona, which moved from No. 18 to No. 19.

Six Pac-12 teams are now in the rankings, with the addition of USC at No. 39. Stanford fell back one spot to No. 26, due to Penn State's rise, while Oregon remains at No. 29, and UCLA rounds out the rankings at No. 40.

Trending up: Red and gold in the Pac-12 South.

Sure, it's not really red for either program, but whether it's the maroon of Arizona State or the cardinal of USC, those two programs shined on the recruiting trail this past week. Few teams anywhere are as hot as Arizona State, which added six commitments --including two four-stars -- in past week. The haul featured three defensive linemen, two running backs and an offensive tackle. But if any Pac-12 program can challenge the Sun Devils over that same period, it's USC, which added three four-star commitments and a three-star cornerback since last Wednesday. The Trojans are the newest Pac-12 program to appear in the updated class rankings, as USC checks in at No. 39.

Even though those two programs have been hot over the past week, it seems slightly unfair to leave this category without mentioning the fact that a case could be made for virtually every Pac-12 program. Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, Washington and Washington State all received verbal commitments from important recruits over the past week, in what was an incredibly successful seven days for Pac-12 coaches on the recruiting trail and hosting official visitors.


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Notebook: Talamaivao solid with USC 

December, 16, 2013
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NORWALK, Calif. -- The tears in the eyes of ESPN 300 offensive guard Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial) told the story.

A part of Talamaivao was sad because high school career had just come to an end Saturday night. Another part of Talamaivao was thrilled for close friend and possible college teammate Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), who will continue his journey to the state bowl game.

A 70-49 victory by St. John Bosco at Cerritos College left Talamaivao emotional, despite the U.S. Army All-American Bowl next month and a bright future at USC.


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Notebook: USC recruits find positives 

December, 2, 2013
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Recruiting had resembled a roller coaster ride for USC heading into the weekend showdown with crosstown rival UCLA. The Trojans experienced very early success in building the 2014 class before a slew of decommitments altered the outlook. The firing of Lane Kiffin, though, was followed by a positive streak that was highlighted by the surprise commitment of ESPN 300 offensive guard Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial).

The 21-point loss to UCLA might have slowed USC’s recruiting momentum, but current class members saw plenty of positives.

Malik Dorton
Blair Angulo/ESPNFour-star defensive end Malik Dorton was on hand for the USC-UCLA game and said the outcome wouldn't affect his commitment to the Trojans.
Four-star defensive end commit Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), for instance, walked into the Trojans’ locker room following the game and was greeted by many tired faces. USC used only one defensive substitute, which drew the attention of Dorton and recruits.

“What I took away from the game is that those guys need depth,” Dorton said. “Honestly, I don’t believe the loss will negatively affect recruiting. If coach Ed Orgeron stays on staff and, with the guys we have coming in, I would think recruits would like to join us rather than go to UCLA. I know a lot of guys aren’t committed but I talk to a lot of big-time recruits that want to play for coach O and USC.”

The defeat didn’t dampen the spirit of ESPN 300 offensive tackle Jordan Poland (La Jolla, Calif./Country Day School), who became the first member of USC’s 2014 recruiting class in June 2012. The 6-foot-7, 330-pound lineman gained a deeper perspective on the situation he hopes to step into shortly.

“In life, you need true loyalty with people you are around and, at USC, there is a brotherhood,” Poland said. “We will stick together like brothers and let nothing break our bond. Everyone on the team needs to hold the rope.”

The Trojans scored their fewest points since the 14-10 loss to Notre Dame on Oct. 19, and surrendered the most points since the 62-41 loss to Arizona State on Sept. 28 that cost Kiffin his job. Three-star linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne) didn’t think USC looked particularly good in any phase, but he was not disheartened by the setback.

“The team wasn’t hustling enough and they were not fully ready to play,” Nwosu said. “Honestly, I don’t know how the loss will affect recruiting, but I know it doesn’t change my mind.”

Longtime commit hosts USC coaches

The USC coaching staff had no time to sulk in the loss to the Bruins, as the contact period kicked off Sunday. ESPN 300 offensive guard Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra), an early enrollee candidate, was the first priority for assistant coaches Mike Summers, James Cregg and John Baxter.

“They spoke about the opportunity in front of me to come in early in the spring and step right into the action,” Lobendahn said. “They pointed out how the team has turned things around and how it has made it even better for next year.”

Lobendahn attended the game along with good friends Talamaivao, Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), John "Juju" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco).

Brett Hundley really owned us,” said Lobendahn, who will have to wear a Bruins jersey sometime this week as a result of a lost bet. “It was really about [Hundley] making the best of their offense and we didn’t have our best game, as Coach O said. It wasn’t on the coaches as much as it was on the players for not executing.”

During the contact period, assistant coaches are allowed six in-person off-campus contacts per recruit from Dec. 1 through Feb. 1, 2014. There is a dead period from Dec. 16 to Jan. 15, when no face-to-face contact is allowed.

WeAreSC recruiting roundup

  • Following a season-ending loss to Bakersfield (Calif.) on Friday night, ESPN 300 athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central) was not in the mood to make the four-hour drive south Saturday for the USC-UCLA game. Quick, though, continues to consider both schools. “He’s still waiting to see what will happen with Coach O,” Fresno-based defensive backs coach Tony Perry said.

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