Football adds depth during Early Signing Period

USC football entered Wednesday’s Early National Signing Day in an unfamiliar position. The Trojans have been struggling to attract the best high school seniors, coming in at 25th in ESPN’s 2019 football class rankings. Wednesday’s events certainly didn’t shoot the Trojans up the rankings, but USC did leave with a few key victories as they welcomed 18 signees.

USC needed to shore up an offensive line that allowed 27 sacks in 2018, and succeeded with the signing of tackle Jason Rodriguez from Oak Hills High School in Hesperia, California. The four-star Rodriguez is USC’s highest-rated signee of the early period and boasts a monstrous 6-foot-6, 326-pound frame. The Trojans also added three-star offensive guard Tilini Livai from Narbonne in Harbor City.

“We were really excited to get this young man and what he brings to the table with size,” head coach Clay Helton said about Rodriguez. “He’s one that could step in and help us with depth immediately.”

The leading signee early in the day was four-star cornerback Max Williams from Junipero Serra High School in nearby Gardena. The second signee after three-star quarterback Kedon Slovis, Williams was not the only defensive back who signed with the Trojans. Three-star safety Briton Allen from IMG Academy in Florida will provide greater depth for a safety position that was depleted due to injuries in 2018, while three-star cornerback Trey Davis will come down from Washington to battle for playing time.

“One of the more special athletes, we thought, out of the city,” Helton said of Williams. “[He has] the ability to play corner or nickel and is very quick-twitch.”

The Trojans gained a pair of four-star tight ends in Jude Wolfe from St. John Bosco and Ethan Rae from Orange Lutheran. Both standing at least 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, the duo present new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury with a greater number of red zone options moving forward. Helton said that he thought of both as among the best in the country at their position and that the team planned on using them as in-line tight ends because of their athleticism and ball skills.

USC also added to its strongest position: wide receiver. Four-star Drake London out of Moorpark should become a familiar face on campus as a two-sport recruit for both the football and basketball teams. Munir McClain, a three-star receiver from JSerra Catholic in San Juan Capistrano, will join his brother Abdul-Malik, who served as a freshman linebacker for the Trojans this season. Three-star running back Kenan Christon out of Madison High School in San Diego will join the talented group of running backs.

The Trojans added three linebackers to an already solid group. The highlight is four-star Maninoa Tufonu, who joins fellow Hawaiian freshman Palaie Gaoteote at inside linebacker. In addition, the Trojans secured three-star recruits Ralen Goforth from Bosco and Stanley Ta’ufo’ou from Grace Brethren in Simi Valley.

Four-star Centennial defensive end Drake Jackson’s announcement that he would be committing to USC rather than Pac-12 South rival Arizona State marked a huge win for a Trojan defensive line that sought to replace departing senior linebacker Porter Gustin. Three-stars Nick Figueroa out of Riverside C.C. and Gino Quinones out of Hawaii join Jackson at the defensive end.

“[He has] one of the unique body types that is out there, kind of a hybrid outside linebacker and defensive end,” Helton said about Jackson. “He can stand up or put his hand on the ground, he’s a really unique pass rusher.”

Four-star running back Jordan Wilmore from Lawndale and three-star defensive tackle Dejon Benton from Pittsburg round out the Trojans’ early class, although Wilmore has not signed his letter of intent yet, according to 247 Sports.

ESPN now ranks USC’s 2019 class 23rd in the nation, still a far cry from the top-ten finishes of the last couple of years. Still without a five-star recruit, the Trojans are the favorites to secure a pair of top wide receivers in Mater Dei’s Bru McCoy and Orange Lutheran’s Kyle Ford.