When people think of USC football, Keyshawn Johnson is one of the first names that comes to mind. A native of South Central Los Angeles and one of the most productive players in school history, Johnson also maintains unsurpassed credit in the California high school football scene.
His son (Key, Jr.) plays at Calabasas High school and is also one of the best 2017 high school receivers in the nation. Yet he is going to Nebraska, presumably because of the relationship that the Johnson family keeps with NU head coach Mike Riley.
Perhaps the most confusing part, Keyshawn Jr. didn’t really consider USC.
He also plays on a high school team loaded with 4 and 5 star talent, and his teammates aren't necessarily jumping to be Trojans.
Far more perplexing is the situation at newly formed Augustus Hawkins High School. Located near the Coliseum, Hawkins possesses arguably the most talented high school squad in the nation, yet none of the star players are locks to attend USC. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise if none of the Hawkins prospects end up as Trojans.
The question is what is going on at USC? In fact, when one looks at the 2017 California recruiting class, and where players are committed and where many are projected to go, the schools making the biggest impact are UCLA, Nebraska, and Alabama among others.
There are many theories as to why USC isn’t as popular with many of the the best players in Southern California anymore. Some point to the fact that USC has a strained relationship with 7 on 7 coach Armond Hawkins.
Others point to the fact that the USC staff and head coach Clay Helton, in particular, isn’t the tireless recruiting entity that the Kiffin and Sarkisian regimes were, going weeks and sometimes months without contacting commits and prospective recruits.
But either way, there is an opening waiting to be exploited by a variety of teams, including less traditional powers.
University of Arizona Football Head Coach Rich Rodriguez is widely viewed as one of the best strategists in all of college football, yet his success on the field at Arizona hasn’t necessarily translated to the recruiting world.
Thus, the decision was made earlier this year to revamp his coaching staff in favor of a younger more energetic recruiting group.
Enter new defensive coordinator Marcel Yates and ace recruiter/defensive coach Donte Williams. Williams, who came over from San Jose State, is one of the most connected recruiters in the California scene and has long maintained good relations with the influential 7 on 7 coaches in the region.
But coaching at San Jose State made it difficult to lure any talent of substance.
Recruiting at a Pac-12 school dramatically changed that equation.
Williams wasted little time striking and in a little more than a month had secured a commitment from one of the highest profile recruits in recent UA memory.
To put it mildly, the commitment of 2017 Augustus Hawkins borderline 5 star athlete recruit Greg Johnson to Arizona sent out minor shockwaves throughout the Pac-12 conference.
Johnson is the epitome of a typical USC recruit. The South LA prospect has the talent and nasty streak that indicates he can be a major impact player at a multitude of positions.
As the first Hawkins’ recruit to commit to a school, Johnson could set off a domino effect for other kids as Arizona is right there with Hawkins’ 5 star receiver Joseph Lewis and Johnson's little brother, 2018 recruit Marcus.
This is not to imply that USC won’t get players. The 2016 class indicates that the California high school pipeline is far from dead and traditional strongholds like Gardena Serra High School and Long Beach Poly will continue to send kids to USC. But for the first time in years, there seems to be a rather wide opening in the region for other schools.
As one Pac-12 assistant put it, “If USC can’t get Key’s kid, then we all have a chance in the area.”