NCF On The Trail: Bryce Dixon

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:

When Steve Sarkisian took the reins at USC in early December, he immediately began to assemble a coaching staff filled with assistants known for their prowess as recruiters, five of whom made the move from the University of Washington along with him.

But when the Trojans head coach spoke to the media on Wednesday, following a banner day in which USC closed with a fury to land the nation’s No. 14 signing class, a pair of holdovers from the previous staff drew the most praise – wide receivers coach Tee Martin and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Clay Helton.

After all, it was Martin and Helton who served as the one constant for many of the prospects committed to or considering the Trojans throughout the coaching change. And it was because of their efforts that the new staff was able to make what Sarkisian called a “seamless” transition.

“What they did with the players that were committed to us, and holding on to the relationships with the players that were not committed to us yet, and then as we brought on one coaching staff member after another, the ability of those guys to integrate together and collectively recruit what I think is a fantastic class in a short amount of time,” Sarkisian said, “those guys deserve a great deal of credit.”

[+] EnlargeClay Helton
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsClay Helton kept recruiting even when his own future at USC was unresolved, and the results showed on signing day.
Standing out in particular to Sarkisian was the fact both Martin and Helton’s commitment to the program never wavered for a second, even when their future at USC was completely up in the air.

“You know, they didn’t know if they were going to be kept on, but they continued to recruit,” Sarkisian said. “It was very clear that these guys love USC, they wanted to be a part of it, they wanted to continue to work for USC, and they did it at a really high level.”

Of course, Martin’s standing as an exceptional recruiter already was firmly established before this cycle began. Still, with what he accomplished this time around, there’s little doubt that his status was elevated even further. Primarily responsible for the Los Angeles-area targets, as well as those in Florida and Georgia, he was involved with no fewer than 11 of USC’s eventual signees, including the three ESPN 300 prospects the Trojans reeled in at the end – offensive guard Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra) and athlete John “Juju” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly).

“Tee has done a fantastic job,” Sarkisian said. “Tee’s energy, his work ethic [and] his relentlessness in recruiting has been tremendous. I think he does a fantastic job of developing relationships with the high school coaches and with the recruits themselves.”

Helton doesn’t necessarily have quite the reputation in recruiting circles that Martin does, but according to Sarkisian, he was equally as impressive. He played a key part in the recruitment of at least six eventual Trojans, including the No. 1 tight end/H-back in the ESPN 300, Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./ St. Bonaventure), as well as standout offensive linemen Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra) and Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial).

Noticeably low key when he’s off the field and dealing with the media, Sarkisian was quick to point out that when it comes to Helton’s pursuit of top-notch high school players, he’s as competitive and intense as any coach around – something he learned first-hand when the two went head-to-head in the past.

“I’ve had to battle Clay on the other side where I’ve felt like, ‘Geez, this guy just won’t stop,’" Sarkisian said. “You know, I feel like I’ve got the kid, and then Clay just keeps coming around and around.”

In addition to their work ethic and determined mindset, Martin, who hails from Alabama, and Helton, a Texas native, also share an ability to communicate and relate to recruits and their families that Sarkisian believes stems from their down-to-earth southern backgrounds.

“They’ve got that southern hospitality about them that I think the parents, the kids, they feel Clay, they feel Tee,” Sarkisian said. “They can really connect with them. They don’t have rushed conversations. They take their time. And in the end, the time that they spend, the quality of conversation that they have with the parents and the kids holds true.”

It’s those unique traits that Martin and Helton bring to the table that adds an element of variety that Sarkisian believes is one of the recipes to a strong coaching staff.

And with Wednesday’s results serving as potential proof of that fact, it’s safe to say that he’s thankful to have both of them around.

“The end result,” Sarkisian said, “was that they had a big factor in the class that we signed.”

Pac-12 class rankings analysis 

January, 29, 2014
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In the final updated ESPN recruiting class rankings before national signing day, six Pac-12 schools remain among the top 40 classes in the country, and all are within striking distance of claiming the top spot in the conference. Arizona State remains No. 1 in the conference and No. 17 in the nation, and Stanford made a big jump for the second straight week, moving to No. 2 in the Pac-12 and No. 19 overall. Arizona slid one spot with Stanford's move, checking in at No. 21, and USC and Oregon remain tightly bunched at Nos. 24 and 25, respectively. UCLA rounds out the group from the Pac-12 at No. 28.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

January, 27, 2014
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There were official visitors all over the Pac-12 this weekend, as conference coaches look to close out the 2014 recruiting class. But the most noise was made by a 2015 quarterback who committed to stay home for his college football career.


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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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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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National signing day for the Class of 2014 is less than two weeks away, but the USC Trojans might have received some great news on Saturday in regards to next year's class.


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Key recruiting visits -- Pac-12 

January, 24, 2014
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Just two weekends of official visits remain before signing day, so it's no surprise that just about every Pac-12 program will have visitors on campus this weekend. It's a huge opportunity for USC, which will have arguably it's most important host weekend of the recruiting calendar. Other programs will have a few recruits on hand in hopes of making a big splash the following weekend. While every visit is big at this stage of the game, here are a look at 10 of the most important for the Jan. 24 weekend:

1. ATH John "JuJu" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly)
Visiting: USC


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: If USC is going to close strong, landing some of this weekend’s 11 official visitors are key; even though neither are going to land him, Alabama and Oregon earned high praise for their recruiting efforts with offensive lineman Braden Smith’s coach; and Lorenzo Carter has become priority No. 1 for several of the Southeast's top teams.

11 recruits set to visit USC


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Eleven recruits set to visit USC 

January, 23, 2014
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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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Shifting power: Los Angeles 

January, 23, 2014
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It's tough to imagine one college football player changing the fortunes of his program and its closest rival over the course of more than a decade.

But that might just be the case with Reggie Bush, whose on-field actions helped USC become the dominant recruiting force in Southern California between 2006 and 2012, and whose off-field actions largely led to the NCAA taking 30 scholarships away from USC for the 2012-2014 seasons and creating a hole in the Southern California recruiting scene large enough for UCLA to climb through.

When the heavy sanctions were brought down upon USC in the summer of 2010, it was thought to be a now-or-never situation for UCLA. The Trojans were 10-1 in the previous 11 games against the Bruins and had the virtual first pick of just about any recruit in the region.

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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Bryce Dixon, the nation’s No. 1 tight end prospect, has committed to USC, but that hasn’t stopped UCLA from pursuing him; Clemson’s receiver class is making a case for the best in the country; and junior college cornerback Darius White was afraid he wasn’t going to find a home after he wasn’t able to enroll at midterm, but that changed this weekend.

Trojans, Bruins duking it out for Dixon
Things have certainly gotten interesting in the battle to sign Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure tight end Bryce Dixon. The nation’s No. 1 tight end prospect committed to USC at the U.S. Army All-America Bowl, but since then rumors have continued to swirl about Dixon’s pledge. One Pac-12 coach told me Dixon publicly is telling people he’s still with the Trojans but privately he’s looking very hard at UCLA. “The key is going to be whatever team ends up stepping up and taking his teammate, cornerback Davonte Nunnery,” the coach said. “They’re a package deal.” Dixon is scheduled to visit USC this weekend, likely with Nunnery in tow, and UCLA is scheduled to get a visit on Jan. 31. Don’t be surprised, however, if some wrangling occurs and USC tries to push the visit back to the final weekend of the recruiting calendar.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

January, 20, 2014
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The first big official weekend of crunch time for the 2014 recruiting class came and went, and if the past 48 hours are any indication of what's to come in the Pac-12, this will be a very interesting ride to signing day.


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USC might have pushed back the visits of some of its premier recruiting targets, but the weekend could still be considered a productive one for head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff.

With the likes of John "Juju" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure) postponing their official visits, ESPN 300 athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central) was the headliner in a group that made it to campus for the three-day trip. The coaching staff also brought in a pair of uncommitted prospects who could be viable options on national signing day.


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Updated ESPN 300: Pac-12 analysis 

January, 14, 2014
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There were a several shifts for Pac-12 commits and targets in the newly updated ESPN 300. While it's difficult to make big jumps for players toward the top of the list, Oregon, UCLA and USC target John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) made a considerable move up 14 spots to No. 24 overall, while Arizona State and Stanford target Casey Tucker (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) slid up seven spots and into the top 40 at No. 39 overall. But there were several others with Pac-12 ties who saw their stock rise even more:

[+] EnlargeViane Talamaivao and Austin Maloata
Blair Angulo/ESPNUSC offensive guard commit Viane Talamaivao (right) has moved up nine spots in the updated ESPN 300.
TE Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure): The USC verbal commitment moved up 37 places and now sits at No. 89 overall. He is now the No. 1 player at his position. The Trojans will need to hold off a late push from UCLA, which was his other finalist, but coach Steve Sarkisian's history with the tight end position as well as the fact that USC lost tight end Xavier Grimble to the NFL draft should allow the Trojans to keep hold of Dixon's commitment.


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