The Point After: USC recruiting is back, and Clay Helton deserves some serious credit for it

Almost as quickly as it disappeared, it has returned once again. I don’t want to tempt the fates and gods of Southern California football, but I just have to say it: USC recruiting is officially back.

After a yearlong hiatus that saw the program fall out of the national spotlight for at least 55 different reasons, the Trojans have returned solidly to form and have sent an unmistakable message to the college football world: USC is ready to “Take Back the West.”

Cheesy recruiting slogans aside, the Trojans’ infusion of fresh blood, new faces and high energy on and offline has resulted in landslide victories on the recruiting trail. After landing a number of blue-chip commitments from the likes of defensive back Anthony Beavers, running back Brandon Campbell and offensive lineman Maximus Gibbs, the biggest catch still lies in wait for the Trojans. 

On Tuesday, after plenty of speculation, the largest domino fell.

Korey Foreman, a local product from Corona Centennial, is not only the best player in the state in the Class of 2021 but in the entire nation as well. The superstar defensive end has shown his capability time and time again to wreak havoc on opposing backfields and frighten quarterbacks into submission. 

Foreman announced Tuesday his decommitment from Clemson, citing a desire to play closer to home in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Certainly, it is difficult to consider anyone a winner from a catastrophic event such as this, but it’s clear that the Trojans have made the most of their time indoors and off campus.

Foreman had long been expected to join USC and former teammates sophomore defensive end Drake Jackson and 2020 signee receiver Gary Bryant. While Foreman’s initial commitment to Clemson came as a relative surprise to many, the path now seems clear for him to make a triumphant homecoming and join a class that already ranks among the top five in 2021.

To many around the country, USC’s early success in the 2021 class is not only mildly uncharacteristic (at least by recent standards) but shocking considering the team’s recent shortcomings on the field. Embattled head coach Clay Helton did himself few favors in 2019 after struggling through an 8-5 campaign that came to a disastrous conclusion in a Holiday Bowl drubbing at the hands of a well-coached Iowa team.

Helton somehow worsened existing faith and enthusiasm in the program as he led the Trojans to their worst recruiting effort in recent memory after last season. The Class of 2020 cohort finished outside the top 50 nationally and 10th in the Pac-12.

Since hitting rock bottom, even by USC’s sanctions-riddled standards, Helton was able to rebuild quickly. By hiring experienced assistants in defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, safeties coach Craig Naivar and special teams coordinator Sean Snyder, Helton created a capable, cohesive unit of coaching and recruiting veterans to redefine the Trojan brand.

When he made the surprise splash hire of cornerbacks coach and nationally lauded recruiter Donte Williams, Helton turned heads up and down the West Coast and across the nation. Almost immediately, Helton found a way to flip the script on USC football and renew a sense of pride and belonging into the program.

It didn’t take long for recruits to notice and buy in and, at this early stage, there are still many rewards for Helton and company to reap. 

USC, despite wallowing in mediocrity season upon season, has re-established itself almost immediately as a monster on the recruiting trails and boards. In light of all that has gone wrong over the past few seasons, Helton’s Trojans have shown a much-needed glimpse into a brighter future ahead.

Jimmy Goodman is a senior writing about USC sports. His column, “The Point After,” runs every other Thursday.