NCF On The Trail: JuJu Smith

Top position classes: Athletes 

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and Big Ten)
Ohio State continues to add speed and versatility, and the 2014 class was more of the same. The Buckeyes signed five athletes, and versatility was the name of the game. The Buckeyes' haul included potential corners to big wide receivers to safeties to speedy playmaking receivers and return men. The uber-impressive list includes future cornerback and ESPN 300 No. 45 Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville), No. 153 Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus Hall), No. 178 Parris Campbell Jr. (Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent-St. Mary), and four-star prospects Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII) and Malik Hooker (New Castle, Pa./New Castle).

The Buckeyes had the nation’s best athlete class; these programs had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:

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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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.”

Early Offer: It’s a wrap 

February, 6, 2014
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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: Alabama’s 2014 class is special, but is it the best class ever? Who were my biggest winners Wednesday, and what can we look forward to with the class of 2015?

Special class for Bama


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Signing day wrap: Pac-12

February, 5, 2014
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While it was a terrific day for the Pac-12 overall, USC stole the signing day spotlight on Wednesday, hitting for the cycle in landing its top four targets.

The day began well for new coach Steve Sarkisian, as three-star cornerback Lamont Simmons (Jacksonville, Fla./Raines) faxed over his signature, but that was only an appetizer for the Trojans. With 19 scholarships available this year -- NCAA sanctions limited the Trojans to just 15 scholarships in this class and USC was able to roll four unused rides over from the 2013 class -- Simmons took the class to 16. Left on the board were a trio of Southern California ESPN 300 prospects in No. 9 overall prospect, cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), No. 24 overall prospect, athlete John "JuJu" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and No. 67 overall prospect, offensive guard Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco).

[+] EnlargeJohn
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsJohn "JuJu" Smith was part of a huge signing day for USC.
Sarkisian and the Trojans were able to land all three, giving USC one of the best signing days of any program in the country. The signings give USC 19 additions in the 2014 class, including nine ESPN 300 pledges, one ESPN JC 50 prospect and impact players on both sides of the ball. There is really no way to overstate how well Sarkisian and the Trojans closed on signing day, posting what amounted to a perfect day.

The Trojans wound up with the No. 1 class in the Pac-12, but the rankings in the conference were bunched at the top.

Stanford made a huge run late, landing commitments from all six recruits it targeted over the past two months. The Cardinal added signatures from ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Tex./Coppell) -- at No. 25 overall, the highest rated Stanford addition since ESPN began its rankings in 2006 -- and three-star cornerback Terrence Alexander (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian). Though the Cardinal lost a late commitment from defensive end Uriah Leiataua (Compton, Calif./Dominguez), it was a very strong visit and a terrific class headed to the Farm.

Alexander wasn't the only recruit from John Curtis Christian to commit to the Pac-12, as Oregon and UCLA took their biggest commitments of the day from that program. The Ducks landed ESPN 300 safety Mattrell McGraw, while UCLA picked up its lone signing day commit in Kenny Young.

Oregon missed out on Smith and defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Earl Warren) but was able to land safety Khalil Oliver (Meridian, Id./Rocky Mountain) in a battle against Washington.

UCLA coaches will likely be disappointed with the day. Although the Bruins did reel in Young, UCLA missed on Thomas, No. 1 overall wide receiver Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian) and the Southern California trio, which made matters worse for Jim Mora & Co. by committing to the Trojans. UCLA brought a very good recruiting class into signing day and did a good job of holding onto everybody, but the Bruins took some big swings at some big prospects across the country and didn't get the results they were hoping for.

Arizona State slid a few spots in the national rankings, but the Sun Devils did everything they could on signing day. Todd Graham brought a relatively full class into the day and was able to add two huge signatures in ESPN JC 50 prospects defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey (De Funiak Springs, Fla./Pearl River CC) and cornerback Kweishi Brown (El Cajon, Calif./Grossmont). The Sun Devils were also able to hold onto another junior college standout in wide receiver Eric Lauderdale (Fayetteville, Ga./Saddleback College), who received a significant late push from Florida.

Arizona was relatively quiet. The Wildcats brought in a huge list of verbal commitments and didn't lose anybody off the top of the class, landing five ESPN 300 prospects. Defensive tackle Marcus Griffin (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue) was the big addition, as the big lineman selected Arizona over Cal, Mississippi State and Washington State.

Oregon State grabbed a signature from offensive guard Kammy Delp (Pomona, Calif./Diamond Ranch), who will play defensive tackle for the Beavers. Utah announced defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham) as a part of this class after he attempted to sign with the Utes in 2013.

Washington's big addition came Tuesday night in the form of ESPN 300 safety Bishard "Budda" Baker (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue), but Chris Petersen and the Huskies also received a signing day commitment from intriguing 6-foot-5 receiver Brayden Lenius (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade). The Washington State Cougars closed with their second four-star commitment in this class, safety Deion Singleton (Paco, Wash./Chiawana).

But the day in the West belonged to USC, which jumped from No. 4 in the conference to landing the Pac-12's top 2014 recruiting class. Nationally, the Trojans moved from No. 24 to No. 15 overall.

Stanford (15th), Arizona State (21st) and Arizona (23rd) all finished among the top 25 recruiting classes in the nation.

Signing day winners and losers

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
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The ceremonies have concluded, the ink has dried and the fax machines have been turned off once again. And with that, the Class of 2014 is mostly in the books. As is the case annually, there were a number of winners but also some losers on national signing day. Here is a look at a few schools that excelled -- and a couple others that didn't.

THE WINNERS

LSU: The Tigers began the day at No. 3 in the RecruitingNation class rankings and ended with 2014's No. 2 class. The reason is simple: Les Miles and staff got the prospect they had to have in the nation's No. 1 wide receiver, Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian). The Tigers lost both Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson to the NFL, making defensive tackle a key position of need, and they inked a pair of talented tackles in ESPN 300 Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnant Catholic) and four-star Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio, Texas/Earl Warren). Under the radar but significant is three-star defensive end Sione Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller), who flipped from Texas to LSU. Teuhema’s younger brother Maea Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller) is the No. 38 junior in the ESPN Junior 300 and has pledged to LSU as well. Holding off Auburn and UCLA to keep ESPN 300 defensive end Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine) was another win on Wednesday.

Florida State: The Seminoles entered signing day with the No. 4-ranked class but were poised to close with a vengeance, and Jimbo Fisher and staff did just that. While the Seminoles moved up only one spot to No. 3, the hits on Wednesday are significant. Leading the way was No. 2-ranked wide receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead). The Noles weren’t done at receiver either, as Fisher and staff flipped Virginia Tech commit and No. 117 overall Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen). No. 158 Roderick Johnson (Saint Louis, Mo./Hazelwood Central) and No. 253 Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes) were key gets at offensive tackle and defensive tackle, respectively. Three-star offensive tackle Derrick Kelly Jr. (Quincy, Fla./East Gadsden) was another key win over rival Florida.

USC: The Trojans stood to have a big signing day, and Steve Sarkisian and staff certainly delivered. Not only did USC win the hotly contested battle for five-star athlete Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra), but the Trojans won the race for ESPN 300 No. 24 Juju Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and signed No. 67 overall Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) as expected. More than the names and rankings, Wednesday was a huge perception win for the Trojans and Sarkisian. USC jumped to No. 14 from No. 24 in the RecruitingNation class rankings.

Georgia: The Bulldogs didn’t have a big day in terms of number of commits, but quality ruled the day. Mark Richt and staff signed the player they had to have in five-star outside linebacker/defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross). While Carter’s announcement was the big one Wednesday afternoon, the morning started off with a bang for Georgia with the signing of No. 286 overall Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), who was first offered on Monday and never even visited Athens. Those two big signings kept the Bulldogs in the top 10 at No. 9.

South Carolina: One of the big movers in the class rankings on Wednesday was the Gamecocks. Not only did South Carolina make a jump from No. 27 to No. 19 throughout the day, but the Gamecocks also addressed major areas of need. Steve Spurrier and staff had key areas of need at cornerback and along the defensive front, and they delivered by picking up a pair of ESPN 300 corners in No. 87 overall Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) and No. 120 Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King), as well as flipping ESPN 300 defensive tackle Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) from Florida State and three-star defensive end Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) from Nebraska. Fighting off the late January runs by Alabama and Georgia for ESPN 300 linebacker commit Bryson Allen-Williams (Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove) has to be included in the huge wins in recent days.

Kentucky: Sure, Kentucky plucked only one key target on Wednesday in three-star former Vanderbilt and Penn State defensive end commit Lloyd Tubman (Louisville, Ky./Seneca), but it was still a huge day at the finish line for the Wildcats. The 2014 class marks the first time in the nine years that ESPN has ranked recruiting classes that the Wildcats have finished with a top 25 class, and that includes a big win over Alabama for in-state four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky./John Hardin). Signing six defensive backs fills a huge need as well.

Michigan State: The Spartans had a near dream season on the field, and followed it up by closing strong in recruiting. Not only did Michigan State jump nine spots in the class rankings from No. 38 to No. 29 on Wednesday, but it did so while filling a big need on the defensive front with big-time talent. ESPN 300 defensive end Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) was a big win over Ohio State, Florida State and Michigan, while flipping four-star defensive tackle Craig Evans (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) from Wisconsin earlier in the week was another huge win for the Spartans.

Pac-12: The conference as a whole was quite possibly the big winner on signing day. Of the 13 live commitments on ESPNU throughout the morning and afternoon, seven committed and signed with Pac-12 programs. The winner within the Pac-12 was USC, but Stanford also enjoyed a big day with No. 25 overall Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) and three-star corner Terrence Alexander (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian).

THE LOSERS

UCLA: Along with USC and South Carolina, the UCLA Bruins came into today with the most to gain. While Jim Mora and staff scored with four-star linebacker Kenny Young (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian), it was mostly misses throughout the day. Jackson and Smith picked crosstown rival USC, while Dupre opted for home-state LSU. At defensive end, the Bruins missed out twice on Wednesday with Thomas selecting Stanford and Godchaux sticking with LSU. And finally, No. 52 overall Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) stayed in state by picking Alabama over Auburn.

Ole Miss: It’s difficult to place the Rebels' No. 17 class with the losers on signing day, but that was the case in Oxford, Miss. Not only did Ole Miss drop a spot in the class rankings, but it also came up dry with explosive ESPN 300 receiver and return man Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), after Hugh Freeze and staff worked the Under Armour All-America Game standout all the way up until Wednesday morning before McKenzie announced for Georgia. While Dupre was a long shot, he was yet another prospect who went elsewhere. The Rebels also lost out on Alexander, who selected Stanford over Notre Dame. The bright spot for the Rebels on Wednesday was signing former Notre Dame transfer and No. 22 in the ESPN JC 50, Tee Shepard

ESPN 300 players announce decisions

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
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The nation's top players announced their college decisions Wednesday. Here's a look at where the ESPN 300 committed:

No. 9 Adoree' Jackson: USC
No. 14 Lorenzo Carter: Georgia
No. 17 Malachi Dupre: LSU
No. 22 Ermon Lane: Florida State
No. 24 John "Juju" Smith: USC
No. 25 Solomon Thomas: Stanford
No. 26 Damian Prince: Maryland
No. 52 Rashaan Evans: Alabama
No. 60 Malik McDowell: Michigan State
No. 67 Damien Mama: USC
No. 75 Michiah Quick: Oklahoma
No. 87 Chris Lammons: South Carolina
No. 120 Wesley Green: South Carolina
No. 127 Braden Smith: Auburn
No. 138 Donte Thomas-Williams: West Virginia
No. 158 Roderick Johnson: Florida State
No. 163 Treon Harris: Florida
No. 164 Travonte Valentine: LSU
No. 174 Andrew Williams: Auburn
No. 179 Dexter Wideman: South Carolina
No. 194 Mattrell McGraw: Oregon
No. 243 Nifae Lealao: Vanderbilt
No. 249 Myles Autry: Georgia Tech
No. 253 Derrick Nnadi: Florida State
No. 264 Poona Ford: Texas
No. 286 Isaiah McKenzie: Georgia

You can watch ESPNU online via WatchESPN.

To see where we think these guys will go, check out the predictions on our Hot Board.

Long Beach (Calif.) Poly's John "Juju" Smith, who is rated as the No. 3 athlete in the 2014 class and the No. 24 player in the ESPN 300, committed to USC over Oregon, Notre Dame and UCLA on Wednesday.


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Viane Talamaivao, Damien MamaTom Hauck for Student SportsViane Talemaivao and Damien Mama are longtime friends, and they picked up John "Juju" Smith and Toa Lobenhahn along the way. All four will attend USC.
They don’t wear friendship bracelets or bust out a secret handshake, but the bond shared by USC signees Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), John “Juju” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial) is unmistakable.


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Bold predictions: Pac-12 

February, 4, 2014
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If the past several years are any indication, it's always fairly safe to expect something unexpected on signing day. From supposed locks signing elsewhere to supposed flips staying put, signing day wouldn't be signing day without the accompanying element of surprise.

With that being said, we look ahead to Wednesday and offer five predictions as to how the Pac-12 will fare.


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Biggest flips: Pac-12 

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
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Many of the biggest flips relating to Pac-12 teams came fairly early in the process, which means there might not be much chaos on signing day when it comes to recruits flipping commitments. However, as with every year, flips will help and hurt a number of conference programs come Wednesday, and we take a look at the five biggest in the Pac-12 during this recruiting cycle.


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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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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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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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