Football lands several top recruits on signing day

Questions surrounded the USC Trojans’ recruiting class coming into National Signing Day Wednesday with seven unfulfilled scholarships, but Clay Helton and his staff closed strong, filling all seven slots with talented recruits, including three whom they “flipped” from other schools.

Prized recruit after prized recruit signed with USC, which finished with the 11th best recruiting class in the nation, according to Perhaps more impressively, the Men of Troy have the highest average prospect rating at 3.9 stars, according to

Helton lauded his recruiting staff for their efforts in nabbing a strong recruiting class.

“I have to commend this staff,” he said. “I can’t tell you how hard they worked down the stretch. It was tireless, it was relentless. They just wouldn’t take, ‘No’ for an answer. You’re not going to win every battle, but we looked up today and we were so proud of how we finished.”

The day began on an unexpected high for the Trojans, as a pair of four-star recruits flipped their commitments from other schools to USC.

Jamel Cook, a 6’5” safety, originally committed to Florida State, but will instead head across the country to Los Angeles. Cook is ranked as the No. 2 athlete in the recruiting class by 247Sports, and his size allows him to be versatile in playing both safety and cornerback.

“[Cook is] of hardest hitting young men that I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Helton said. “His length and his range to be able to cover the field was something that really jumped out on film.”

An hour later, the Trojans stole another recruit, this time from conference foe Oregon. Vavae Malepeai, out of Hawaii, where he is the state’s all-time leading rusher, flipped from the Ducks to the Trojans and will look to make an impact in a backfield led by freshman Ronald Jones II.

“He is dynamic not only as a runner, but what really stood out to us was his ability to route run in the passing game and the terrific ball skills that he is,” Helton said on Malepeai. “He is an elite runner and an elite receiver out of the backfield.”

Then, four-star defensive end Connor Murphy chose USC over Michigan, Arizona State, Alabama and Oregon. The younger brother of Redskins linebacker Trent Murphy, the product of Brophy College Prep in Arizona will bolster a Trojans’ defensive line that is losing five members to graduation.

The defensive front was boosted further by the addition of Joshua Fatu, one of the top defensive tackles in the junior college ranks. Fatu also flipped his commitment to come to the Trojans, spurning Boise State. The three-star recruit is a sophomore at Long Beach City College.

The Men of Troy added another versatile athlete in Keyshawn “Pie” Young out of Miami High in Florida. Like Adoree’ Jackson, Young can play wide receiver, defensive back and return kicks. He chose USC over Alabama, Michigan, LSU and Louisville, and it will be interesting if the Trojans choose to utilize Young in all three phases like Jackson.

Continuing its success in plucking recruits from out-of-state, the Trojans next swooped Georgia product E.J. Price, a four-star offensive tackle, away from Georgia and Auburn.

Price’s signing symbolized the reach that USC has both academically and athletically, even for a top recruit in an SEC hotbed.

“[Price is] of the premier tackles in the country,” Helton said. “It is a sign of how powerful USC is. I was very proud of him to recognize what a USC education means for him in the future.”

To wrap things up, the Trojans landed a prized defensive back in five-star recruit Jack Jones. Ranked the second best cornerback in the nation by Rivals, Jones hails from Long Beach Poly, the same high school that current freshman cornerback Iman Marshall attended. Jones, too, draws comparisons to Jackson as a speedster who can contribute on offense and special teams along with defense.

In all, the Trojans landed one five-star, four four-star and two three-star recruits Wednesday. Nine total recruits are from out-of-state, which Helton admitted was a risk that brought high rewards.

“If you want to be the best, you have to take a shot at the best,” Helton said. “If you look at the elite players, they are far away. Not only was it worth the fight because of talent, but we felt there was a special relationship with those young men, and they understood the power of USC.”

Coming into the day, the Trojans had 13 commitments out of 20 spots, headlined by five-star defensive end Oluwole Betiku out of Junipero Serra High School in Gardena and a native of Nigeria.

Out of the 13 recruits, seven are registered for classes and only one, Betiku, was brought in by Helton; the rest committed when Steve Sarkisian was still the head coach.

USC landed commitments from a number of four-star recruits prior to signing day: offensive linemen Frank Martin and Nathan Smith, wide receivers Josh Imatorbhebhe, Michael Pittman, Trevon Sidney and Tyler Vaughns, defensive back C.J. Pollard and tight end Carey Angeline.

Matt Fink, an Under Armour All-American out of nearby Glendora High, is the lone quarterback in this recruiting class. Fink will join fourth-year junior Max Browne and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold in the battle to take over for Cody Kessler.

Wide receiver Velus Jones, defensive end Liam Jimmons and linebacker Jordan Iosefa are three-star recruits, with placekicker Michael Brown being brought in as a blueshirt.

The Trojans also lost out on a few targets before Wednesday. Four-star defensive tackle Keyshon Camp decommitted from USC last week and instead signed with Pittsburgh. Maxs Tupai, a four-star defensive end and Rashan Gary, a defensive tackle and top recruit in the nation, eliminated the Trojans from their lists earlier this week, while four-star safety Brandon Burton — whom USC jumped in late on — committed to UCLA Tuesday.

On Wednesday, USC wound up with far more hits than misses, but were not picked by a few targets in defensive end Jonathan Kongbo, tight end Devin Asiasi and defensive tackle Boss Tagaloa.