NCF On The Trail: Brad Kaaya

For USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, this weekend was supposed to be about sealing the deal with some top targets who were officially visiting campus, but it quickly transformed into so much more.

Most of the focus centered on a group of highly touted prospects from the 2014 class, including John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), as the Trojans hosted a large group of recruits with less than two weeks remaining until national signing day. Yet, the buzz shifted toward the future as Sarkisian reached into the 2015 class to make perhaps his biggest splash since arriving from Washington, securing a verbal commitment from Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure), the No. 2-rated pocket passer who decommitted from Alabama earlier in the day.

Consider it a major coup for USC, which made Town its top priority at quarterback and managed to flip him in a short period of time.


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Key recruiting visits -- Pac-12 

January, 17, 2014
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The recruiting dead period is over, and it's full speed ahead for a number of Pac-12 programs as coaches look to load up on official visitors over the next three weekends. A list of important official visitors for Pac-12 programs this weekend could easily extend to two or even three dozen names, so limiting it to just the top 10 was challenging -- though likely not as difficult as the task facing conference coaches looking to wrap up their recruiting classes as national signing day approaches.

1. CB Kweishi Brown (El Cajon, Calif./Grossmont College) visiting Arizona State. The ESPN Junior College 50 cornerback made an early commitment to Arkansas but pulled away from that as more Pac-12 programs expressed interest. Brown, the nation's No. 3 juco cornerback, will be at Arizona State as part of a huge group of official visitors and will be one of the main targets committed quarterback Manny Wilkins (Novato, Calif./San Marin) sets his sights on this weekend.


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Updated ESPN 300: ACC analysis 

January, 14, 2014
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With senior seasons and all-star games complete, prospects jumped all over the ESPN 300 with several making their first appearance on the list.

Here are the five biggest movers in the updated ESPN 300 among ACC commitments and targets:

Recent FSU commit rising up the ranks
Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman) jumped 21 spots in the updated list and he can thank his dominant Under Armour All-America Game performance for it. The talented receiver hauled in a handful of passes in the game including a solid catch and run against No. 1 cornerback Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic). Later in the game, Rudolph added a nice touchdown grab to complete one of the better performances of the game. Rudolph also committed to Florida State at the game, and Rudolph could see the field early with Kelvin Benjamin off to the NFL. If the Noles can also sign Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead), it would be one of the best receiver classes in 2014 -- and maybe the No. 1 overall receiver tandem of this cycle.


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How pocket passers compare 

December, 24, 2013
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It is becoming more and more difficult to find favorable comparisons for true pocket passers because the definition of the quintessential pocket passer has changed so much.

Even dropback guys now seem to have enough athleticism to make things happen with their feet. Offensive schemes almost always feature some form of the spread offense, even if it’s just a wrinkle.

Our top five pocket passers in this class all possess enough athleticism to be effective or make second reaction throws, but are at their best moving the ball with their arm, not their legs.


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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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Pac-12 weekend recruiting wrap 

December, 23, 2013
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All eyes were on the California state bowl games this past weekend, as five contests pitted teams from Southern California against Northern California. And although recruiting took something of a backseat to the final games of the season, there was some noise made in the Pac-12 conference, including a quarterback shakeup that could continue to play out down the line.


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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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The USC Trojans once again will dip into the past, as former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian accepted an offer to take over the same position at USC, according to ESPN's Joe Schad. Sarkisian was an assistant coach with the Trojans from 2001-03, and then again from 2005-08.

Born in Torrance, Calif., and having attended West Torrance High School and El Camino Junior College, Sarkisian is very familiar with Southern California, and he recruited it well for both USC and Washington. Now, coming back home, the thought from coaches and recruits alike is that he will hit the ground running on the recruiting trail.


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The Pac-12 South title is on the line at the Rose Bowl this weekend as Arizona State travels to UCLA. With USC out of town, the Bruins have the city to themselves for recruiting purposes on Saturday and will welcome in several official visitors, including some standout unofficial visitors from the 2014 and 2015 classes. With both programs looking to fill and solidify impressive recruiting classes this year, this will be a significant opportunity to make an on-field statement. While dozens of recruits will likely be in attendance or watching on television, here are 10 who will be paying close attention to the game.

OT Chris Brown (Los Angeles/Loyola): The four-star offensive tackle has come on strong during his senior season and will be taking an official visit to UCLA, his third official after trips to Texas A&M and Oregon. Brown also holds an offer from USC and his recruitment could come down to the two local programs. It's an interesting situation for Brown. The Trojans' 2014 class already has four offensive linemen in it, while the Bruins have six true freshmen linemen that came in with the 2013 class. He'll get a good look at several of those this weekend as UCLA continues to showcase its true freshmen, which has been scoring big with the 2014 class.

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Notebook: Marshall on USC experience 

November, 18, 2013
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When the final second ticked off the clock and USC completed its upset of Stanford on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, ESPN Junior 300 cornerback Iman Marshall (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) was so excited that he nearly stormed the field along with thousands of fans.

His father, Tony, was there to hold him back.

“I didn’t think it was safe so I pulled him back along with a couple of other recruits,” Tony said. “We took pictures and just looked out onto the field. It was something we have never seen or experienced before. It was something you see in March Madness. The energy level was crazy; it felt like a championship fight in Las Vegas.”


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USC commits, targets revel in upset win 

November, 17, 2013
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USC interim coach Ed Orgeron had already revitalized the Trojans’ recruiting efforts, sending out several local offers and picking up four commitments in the weeks since taking over for Lane Kiffin.

That momentum grew exponentially Saturday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where a loaded list of top-flight recruits saw USC upset Stanford in front of a crazed crowd that rushed the field in jubilance. Five-star cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), ESPN 300 athlete John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and ESPN 300 tight end Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure) were among the top targets in attendance.

The list featured all but one of USC’s nine verbal commits, as longtime pledge Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra) couldn’t make the trip but watched intently from home.

“Going into the game, I knew it was going to be a dog fight,” Lobendahn said. “I wanted the Trojans to battle no matter what and they did that. I wasn’t going to lose faith in them no matter what, but I’m so glad we got the W and so happy for Coach O and the team. I’m super mad I couldn’t go celebrate.”

Lobendahn could get the scoop from USC receiver commit Shay Fields Jr. (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), who was in the middle of the celebration.

“The locker room was really crazy,” Fields said. “Everybody was dancing and going crazy in there. The recruits were loving the intensity inside that locker room. Now I’m trying to get everybody (to join me).”

Fields had a number of recruits to choose from, as the Trojans drew the presence of local recruits whom have made pledges elsewhere, including Cal athlete commit Jaleel Wadood (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), Miami quarterback commit Brad Kaaya (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade), Cal running back commit Tre Watson (Corona, Calif./Centennial) and UCLA receiver commit Jordan Lasley (Gardena, Calif./Serra).

“It definitely gives me something to think about,” Wadood said. “It was a huge win for SC. I’m still trying to decide if I will take an official visit. My last one will be between Washington and USC.”

Kaaya, a four-star pocket passer who landed an offer from childhood favorite USC shortly after Orgeron took the helm, surprised his mother with tickets for her birthday.

“It was exciting to watch,” Kaaya said. “Funny thing is, the first college football game I ever saw was Stanford-USC at the Coliseum when USC lost. This time, it seemed like the situation switched and USC came out on top.”

For three-star offensive tackle Jordan Austin (Claremont, Calif./Claremont), the game also served as a chance to build a relationship with a future teammate.

“It was pure excitement in the locker room following the well-deserved win,” Austin said. “I hung out with Jordan Poland primarily, but we did not talk much about recruiting. Rather, it was just friend to friend.”

The Class of 2015 was also well represented, with No. 1-rated signal-caller Josh Rosen (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), No. 4 cornerback Iman Marshall (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and No. 7 wide receiver Cordell Broadus (Diamond Bar, Calif./Diamond Bar) headlining a group that also included No. 2 outside linebacker John Houston Jr. (Gardena, Calif./Serra) and No. 12 defensive tackle Rasheem Green (Gardena, Calif./Serra).

“It was a great game,” Broadus said. “The atmosphere was very electric.”

The job Orgeron and his staff have done has not been lost on recruits. ESPN 300 defensive end Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) has been open to visiting other schools while being committed to the Trojans, but that would all disappear if Orgeron were to get hired.

“Recruits want the coaches to stay on staff really bad; at least I know I do,” Dorton said. “If those guys stay, I’m definitely coming.”

Three-star outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne), who last month became the first recruiting class member from the Los Angeles City Section, left the Coliseum with a smile on his face.

“It was great. I had a good time and I feel like I made the right choice,” Nwosu said. “After the game, we went in the locker room and it was crazy in there. All the coaches were getting turned up.”

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Pittsburgh would like to get to where Miami is. Two programs down on their luck for much of the last decade, Miami has climbed out of ACC mediocrity as a conference contender. Pittsburgh is the newest middling program to leave the Big East for the ACC.

Miami has made its way to the top third of the ACC behind the success of a new coach and his recruiting, and Pitt hopes to do the same under second-year coach Paul Chryst. The Panthers are looking to finish strong in 2014, and this weekend could go a long way toward doing that.

The Hurricanes are still not where they want to be following a second-half shellacking at the hands of rival Florida State last weekend. A win Saturday night, however, and the Hurricanes essentially lock up a rematch with the Seminoles in the ACC title game, which would help regain some power in the three-way recruiting tug-of-war in Florida.

Here are five recruits who will be keeping a close eye on the Notre Dame-Pitt game and five more who will be watching Virginia Tech-Miami.

Notre Dame at Pitt

ATH Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa): It is not often the Panthers miss out on prospects from nearby Aliquippa, and Henry is related to former Pitt standouts Darrelle Revis and Sean Gilbert. The two-way star is a West Virginia lean, however. The Mountaineers have been out front for Henry for quite some time and the lead is expanding. This could be the type of game that finally brings Pitt a little bit closer to the top spot. Henry, No. 136 in the ESPN 300, will take official visits after the season, and he acknowledges the pressure to go to Pitt will increase as signing day nears. A positive showing by the Panthers on Saturday could go a long way in easing some of that pressure on the state’s top player. One problem: Henry will be at West Virginia.


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Interim head coach Ed Orgeron wasted little time to reignite USC's recruiting when he stepped into his role earlier this season.

Orgeron sent out a flurry of offers that Lane Kiffin apparently was hesitant to extend during the final weeks of his tenure.

These weren’t five-star prospects the Trojans were suddenly offering, either. Many weren’t even four-stars.


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Movers, shakers in updated ESPN 300

October, 29, 2013
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The Class of 2014 has had two months to show what it’s made of on the field. How are the nation’s elite prospects faring as we approach signing day? Here’s a look at the biggest names and notes from the most recent update of the ESPN 300:

The Big Movers

No. 37 Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South), ILB
Prior ranking: No. 59
The 6-foot-2, 224-pound Garrett jumped more than 20 spots in the rankings as he has added bulk to his frame, and at the same time retaining quickness and his fast-filling, downhill ability. Garrett has impact-type ability with a blend of lateral quickness, discipline and a nose for the ball.

Davion Hall
Max Olson/ESPNAthlete Davion Hall, who is committed to Baylor, jumped 30 spots in the latest update of the ESPN 300.
No. 45 Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), ATH
Prior ranking: No. 75
The 6-2, 194-pound Hall is one of the most impressive athletes in the class. He has a long, stoutly-built frame, is explosive, has physicality filling the alley at safety and very good ball skills at receiver. When he settles into one position at the next level, his upside is very high.

No. 64 Nick Chubb (Cedartown, Ga./Cedartown), RB
Prior ranking: No. 106
The Georgia commit is putting together a sensational senior campaign with more than 2,000 yards and 29 touchdowns through eight games. The 5-11, 217-pound tailback continues to add strength to his compact body structure while maintaining his speed, overall athleticism and ability to bend.

No. 70 Chad Thomas (Miami/Booker T. Washington), DE
Prior ranking: No. 125
The Miami commit has flashed his high-ceiling ability, even though he is playing inside more than half the snaps as a senior. His combination of first-step quickness, arm length and the ability to play with low pad level sets him apart from most ends in the class.

No. 84 Rashaan Evans (Auburn Ala./Auburn), OLB
Prior ranking: No. 150
The 6-3, 217-pound Evans has filled out physically, and displays the quick-twitch burst and speed combination to be a factor off the edge. Evans has been dominant off the edge as a senior with double-digit sacks.

No. 92 Markell Pack (Purvis, Miss./Purvis), WR
Prior ranking: No. 144
The Florida State commit continues to flash the initial quickness, ability to get to top-end speed quickly, ability to play the ball in the air and elusiveness that makes the 6-2, 180-pound wideout one of the top playmakers in the class.

No. 128 Brad Kaaya (Hollywood, Calif./Chaminade College Prep)
Prior ranking: No. 171
The 6-4, 213-pound Miami commit is one the fastest rising quarterbacks in the class. Has added bulk to his tall frame, and continues to show the foot quickness, foot work and quick release that will be demanded of him at the next level.

Other Big Movers

WR Josh Malone (Gallatin, Tenn./Station Camp): From No. 99 to 49.
Texas A&M ATH commit Nick Harvey (Richmond, Texas/William B. Travis): From No. 101 to 60.
RB Joe Mixon (Berkeley, Calif./Freedom): From No. 100 to 72.
Georgia QB-DT commit Jacob Park (Goose Creek, S.C./Stratford): From No. 157 to 94.
Oregon RB commit Royce Freeman (Imperial, Calif./Imperial): From No. 154 to 99.
RB Derrell Scott (Havelock, N.C./Havelock): From No. 176 to 108.
Ole Miss S commit C.J. Hampton (Meridian, Miss./Meridian): From No. 201 to 134.
Alabama C commit J.C. Hassenauer (Woodbury, Minn./East Ridge): From No. 246 to 188.
Georgia DT commit Dontavius Russell (Carrollton, Ga./Carrollton): From No. 266 to 201

ESPN 300 debuts
No. 89 Frank Iheanacho (Houston/Westbury), WR
The 6-6, 215-pound pass catcher returned to the football field as a senior after playing only basketball as a junior, and has quickly become one of the most coveted uncommitted prospects in the country featuring deceptive initial quickness, and the high-point timing and size to win 50-50 balls in the air.

No. 287 Darrion Owens (Orange Park, Fla./Oakleaf), OLB
The 6-3, 220-pound Owens has transitioned from safety to outside linebacker as a senior without skipping a beat. Long, rangy and with edge-rush ability, the Miami commit is a top senior riser.

No. 295 Shakenneth Williams (Macon, Ga./Rutland), WR
The 6-1, 196-pound Georgia commit was a standout at Mark Richt Camp in June. Williams is blessed with straight-line speed, change-of-direction ability, strong hands and the physicality and strength to play through contact.

[+] EnlargeJoe Mixon
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTailback Joe Mixon is ranked No. 72 in the latest update of the ESPN 300.
More Who Moved Into The ESPN 300

Ohio State ATH commit Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus Hall): No. 148.
LSU DE commit Deondre Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass): No. 298.
Baylor WR commit Ishmael Zamora (Alief, Texas/Elsik): No. 245
Alabama OLB commit Keith Holcombe (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Hillcrest): No. 284.
DT Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes): No. 257.
DT Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky./John Hardin): No. 292.
Minnesota RB commit Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn): No. 181.
Virginia Tech DT commit Ricky Walker (Hampton, Va./Bethel): No. 299.

Injured Reserve

David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North), QB
The Alabama commit suffered a season-ending knee injury. The 6-5, 241-pound Under Armour All-American is No. 44 after being 32nd previously.

Jalen Hurd (Hendersonville, Tenn./Beech), RB
The Tennessee commit suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the opener, requiring a second shoulder operation in less than a year. The 6-4, 222-pound Hurd is now No. 62 after being 39th.

Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Mich./Grand Rapids Christian), WR
The 6-3, 172-pound Harris hasn't played this season due to a lingering hamstring issue. The Michigan commit checks in at No. 85 after previously being 72nd.

Elisha Shaw (Tucker, Ga./Tucker), DT
The 6-6, 295-pound Shaw has been sidelined with a neck injury this season. He checks in at No. 186 after a prior ranking of 82nd.

Sharieff Rhaheed (Fort Pierce, Fla./Fort Pierce Central), OLB
The 6-2, 202-pound Rhaheed missed the first six games of the season before returning to the field in late October. The former LSU commit is No. 260 after being ranked 133rd previously.

Kyle Berger (Cleveland/Saint Ignatius), OLB
The Ohio State commit was sidelined his senior season with an ACL tear. He dropped out of the ESPN 300 after being ranked No. 281.

Treyvon Paulk (Milton, Ga./Milton High), RB
The Tennessee running back commitment recently suffered a season-ending knee injury. He dropped out of the ESPN 300 after previously being ranked No. 294.

ACC ESPN 300 analysis 

October, 29, 2013
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The ESPN 300 has been updated, and the shine on some of the ACC's best football classes seemingly got another layer of wax. Florida State and Miami benefit from the conference's biggest risers in the ESPN 300, and Virginia Tech saw a commitment and a heavy lean debut in the ESPN 300.

Here's a look at how the updated ESPN 300 impacts the ACC.

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