The 18 new faces joining the Trojan football team will be looking to make a difference for a squad that looks drastically different from last year’s. The vacancies created by stars like Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones II, Deontay Burnett and Uchenna Nwosu, as well as major contributors across the rest of the roster, have left plenty of shoes to be filled.
As daunting as the prospect of replacing over eight starters is for a team, the influx of talent in the incoming freshman class should offer plenty of hope for head coach Clay Helton and his staff. The class comes in ranked in the national top-five by both Rivals and 247Sports, as well as holding the highest average star rating for both services. Many of these highly touted prospects will have a chance to contribute immediately, especially in light of the recent departures from the team.
J.T. Daniels | 5-Star QB
Immediately after he arrives on campus, Daniels will compete for the starting quarterback position following Darnold’s departure. The Gatorade National Player of the Year comes to USC after reassigning to this year’s class following a junior season that saw him throw for 4,123 yards and 52 touchdowns for Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana Calif. — all while throwing only four interceptions. Daniels led his team to an undefeated season and a national title — Mater Dei’s first in 28 years.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound freshman brings impressive arm strength and accuracy to the table, as well as an ability to create plays outside of the pocket, as proven by his 561 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns last season. Daniels will compete with redshirt freshman Jack Sears and redshirt sophomore Matt Fink for the starting position on the roster.
Amon-Ra St. Brown | 5-Star WR
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound St. Brown was arguably the best receiver prospect of this class, choosing USC over Notre Dame and Stanford, where his older brothers played. As a member of the same national champion Mater Dei team as Daniels, he put up a gaudy statline of 1,320 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns last season. St. Brown’s exceptional quickness, hands and route running make him a threat from anywhere across the formation, and a favorite to win a starting receiver role for the Trojans.
Although incumbents Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman seem to have the outside receiver spots all but locked down, the departure of Deontay Burnett to the NFL leaves an opening at the slot receiver position. Although he will have to compete with returning receivers redshirt sophomores Velus Jones Jr. and Trevon Sidney, St. Brown could be in good position to take hold of the slot.
Olaijah Griffin | 5-Star CB
The son of West-Coast hip-hop legend Warren G, Olaijah Griffin has the opportunity to make a name for himself in his very first season for the Trojans. A former UCLA commit, he comes to USC as the third-highest rated cornerback prospect in the country. Griffin has all the tools to be a lockdown corner at the D-I level, with a sturdy 6-foot, 180-pound frame, good man-to-man skills and excellent football instincts. The ineligibility of cornerback Jack Jones, last year’s starter at the position, leaves an opening in the first team defense opposite from senior Iman Marshall. Griffin could very well find himself in that spot at some point this season.
Isaac Taylor-Stuart | 5-Star CB
Hailing from former USC running back Reggie Bush’s alma mater, Helix High School in San Diego, Taylor-Stuart will compete alongside Griffin for a spot atop the cornerback rotation. 247 Sports had him ranked as the best prospect to ever come out of San Diego, and for good reason.
Taylor-Stuart’s physical toolbox is stacked. Speed kills at the cornerback position, and Taylor Stuart has it in spades. Although his claim of a personal best 4.25 second 40-yard dash seems hard to believe, 247 has his time listed at a blazing 4.30. In addition to his track-star speed, he carries a 6-foot-2, 187-pound frame — big enough to match up with even the bigger receivers at the collegiate level. His unique combination of speed and size makes him a name to watch this upcoming season.
More Names to Watch
The sheer depth of this freshman class makes it difficult to write anyone off as a first year difference maker. The No. 1 linebacker recruit of the country, early-period signee Palaie Gaoteote of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, could very well have the most impactful season of any of the newcomers. Four-star defensive back Talanoa Hufanga from Corvallis, Ore., has been with the team since spring, and could make a bid to crack the starting secondary, possibly as Marvell Tell’s battering mate at safety. Four-star wide receiver ATH Devon Williams of Antelope Valley High School shouldn’t be counted out either, with the opportunity to make an impact on the receiving rotation.