In the midst of an up-and-down campaign on the field for his football team, USC coach Lane Kiffin is quietly doing what he does best off of it: recruiting.
With scholarship reductions set to kick in once the NCAA decides on USC’s sanctions appeal, this year’s recruiting season might be the Trojans’ last chance to bring in a full class for several seasons.
USC’s coaches are off to a good start: 16 high school seniors have already verbally committed to play their college ball for the Trojans.
Although nothing is written in black ink just yet — National Signing Day isn’t until February — it is likely that most of the 16 will suit up for the Trojans next season.
USC fans certainly have reason to be excited.
De’Anthony Thomas, a senior at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, headlines the class. Recruited as an Athlete by USC, the 5-foot-9, 160-pound standout is a five-star recruit at both running back and defensive back.
Defensive end Jalen Grimble of Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, Nev., the cousin of USC freshman tight end Xavier Grimble, is ranked the No. 4 player at his position by Scout.com.
Wideout Victor Blackwell, a speedster from Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif., will add to USC’s already impressive young wide receiving core led by freshman Robert Woods.
The Trojans also snagged verbal commitments from two of the nation’s top four pro-style quarterbacks as ranked by Rivals.com. Max Wittek, a teammate of Blackwell’s at Mater Dei, and Cody Kessler of Centennial High School in Bakersfield, Calif., will likely compete with current USC freshman Jesse Scroggins to replace Matt Barkley, once the sophomore ultimately heads to the NFL.
The real headliners, though, play at a much more underappreciated position.
With this class, the Trojan coaching staff seems to finally be addressing USC’s need for a stronger kicking game.
Kicker Joe Houston’s struggles this season have been well-documented. The senior has made just seven-of-13 field goals while his longest make came from only 34 yards. A former walk-on who transferred from El Camino Junior College and just earned a USC scholarship this year, it’s hard to blame Houston for not being one of the nation’s top kickers.
USC simply hasn’t been able to recruit elite high school kickers during the last several years. In fact, the last time the Trojans brought in a kicker or punter directly from high school was way back in 2005, when Troy Van Blarcom came to USC from Orange Lutheran.
Enter Andre Heidari of Stockdale High School in Bakersfield, Calif.
Scout.com ranks the 5-foot-11 kicker as the nation’s top recruit at his position. Heidari committed to the Trojans in June after attending a kicking camp at USC.
Heidari has connected on six of his nine field goal attempts this season for Stockdale, including a 50-yarder last week in his school’s homecoming game. He’s also made kicks this season from 47, 44 and 41 yards.
Heidari said he plans to graduate in December and enroll at USC for the spring semester.
Senior Jacob Harfman has done a respectable job handling the punting and kickoff duties for the last two seasons. USC is tied for 21st in the nation with 14 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Harfman, though, will graduate this year and leaves no apparent heir to take over as the Trojans’ starting punter.
That’s where Kris Albarado of St. Louis Catholic in Lake Charles, La., comes in.
Ranked the No. 5 punter in the nation by Scout.com, Albarado committed to USC two weeks ago.
Albarado is averaging just less than 48 yards per punt for his high school team, besting Harfman’s 42.5 yard average for the Trojans. Gifted with a strong leg, Albarado has booted punts this season of 65, 62 and 61 yards.
It’s much too early to say that Heidari and Albarado will vastly improve USC’s kicking game. Heck, it’s not even a sure thing that these two will honor their verbal commitments and play for the Trojans.
It can be said, however, that by aggressively recruiting these two kicking prodigies, Kiffin and the rest of the USC coaches are putting their best feet forward.
“Sellin’ the Sizzle” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org.