Future Impact: Osa Masina

Five-star outside linebacker Osa Masina commits to USC Friday, and rated as the nation's No. 19 player overall, puts momentum back in the step of the Trojans as they march toward national signing day Feb. 4.

USC took one step closer to another huge recruiting class Friday with the commitment of Salt Lake City (Utah) five-star linebacker Osa Masina.

Next season, USC loses both its leading tackler in Hayes Pullard and sack leader in J.R. Tavai. While the Trojans could potentially return 10 linebackers next season, it’s a defense clearly transitioning in scheme and personnel.

Running a 3-4 front under Justin Wilcox, USC is still playing with smaller inside linebackers and defensive end converted to play outside linebacker.

Masina, rated the nation’s No. 2 outside linebacker at 6-feet-4, 240-pounds, has the size and strength to battle in the trenches, but the speed and agility to make plays in coverage.

“One of the biggest reasons he’s a five star is because he can do it all,” said Scout Mountain Region Recruiting Analyst, Doug Kimmel. “He can play in the middle, outside or put his hand in the dirt.

“From what I saw from USC last year, outside the big guy in the middle who’s going to get paid tons of money to go the the NFL, Su’a Cravens off the edge was probably their best pass rusher. But I don’t think that’s ideal having a safety as their second best pass rusher.

“Osa can pin his ears back and go get the quarterback on 3rd and 9. He should have double digit sacks at some point in college. He can jam the tight end or run with the running back out in the flat. People would say his weakness is pass coverage, but it’s not really a weakness.

“At 6-foot-4, and more than 230-ponds, the guy can turn his hips and go. He’s a smooth athlete. As a junior, he ran for 1,600 yards and 20 odd touchdowns. The kid does it all. ASU, for example, wanted him to play running back and/or tight end. I think that speaks volumes to what he can do.

“He has the speed to come off the edge, the strength and size to set the edge and then the athletic ability to play against teams in the Pac-12 that throw the ball 50 times a game. He’s what you want your outside linebacker to look like in the Pac-12.

“The kid is a football player. Tell him to shut down the running back and he’ll do it. Tell him to shut down the tight end and he’ll do it. Tell him to knock the quarterback on his butt and that’s what he’s going to do.”

Only three other linebackers in the class of 2015 carry the distinction of being rated as a five-star by Scout. It’s a distinction that comes with the dissection of specific game and camp performances.

Kimmel, having seen the Army All-American linebacker play multiple times in pads and on the camp circuit, has a very educated opinion about what makes Masina elite.

“At this point, he already had a five-star grade because Brandon (Huffman) and Greg (Biggins) had already seen him on film and at The Opening,” said Kimmel. “But I saw him play Bingham this season, which is probably a top five program on the West Coast.

“They took Bishop Gorman to overtime and Booker T. Washington from Florida to overtime, so it’s a good program. It’s third down and long, so Osa is dropping back in coverage. The quarterback, whose thrown about two picks in two years, threads the needle and Osa launches himself in the air to bat the ball down.

“Next play, Bingham rolls the dice and goes for it. They run a draw play and Osa Masina is in the offensive back field as the quarterback is handing the ball off to the running back. He runs through both of them and makes the tackle.

“One minute he’s dropping into pass coverage and the next he’s ripping through blockers and making tackles. He’s just so freakin’ instinctive. Five-stars have those things you cannot teach.

“Whether it’s a 10.3 100-meter time, or that 6-foot-7 left tackle frame, Osa Masina has these instincts that are not teachable. You can watch film and know tendencies, but this kid has the it factor where he’s going to be a step or two ahead of the offense. It’s like he’s in the offensive team’s huddle before every play. He’s fun the watch.”

What USC fans may question with Masina are the measurables. Although he has imposing size for a linebacker, his 4.88 40-yard dash SPARQ time leaves some to question whether he can play against the spread offenses in the Pac-12.

“Straight line speed, when you’re talking about playing a team like Oregon, ASU or UCLA, is something he could improve upon,” said Kimmel. “He’s roughly a 4.8 guy, but I think with a good strength and conditioning program, he could shave some time off that.

“He could stand to get stronger too, but he’s a football player. If you were to get an inside look at what Sark’s board looks like, you’re not going to find many guys above Osa Masina.”

One player USC is recruiting along side Masina is Salem (Utah) four-star defensive end Porter Gustin. Gustin, who finished The Opening as one of the nation’s top 10 overall SPARQ performers, has similarities and differences in comparison with Masina.

“They’re both freaks,” said Kimmel. “You see those guys just warming up and immediately think, ‘They could both be playing the game for a very long time.’

“There are similarities. You can get them both north of 260-pounds and have them playing off the edge. They can both knock a quarterback out of the game on any single play. They’re both good pass rushers now with the potential to become elite pass rushers.

“In terms of distinctions, Osa is the more fluid football player. I’d feel more comfortable with him dropping into coverage, whereas I’d prefer to have Porter playing closer to the line of scrimmage. I think Porter develops more into a true defensive end. I think he can pack on another 25-30 pounds easily.

“I know schools are recruiting Porter as a middle backer, but I think that’s schools telling him what he wants to hear. People have compared him to Brian Cushing and Brian Urlacher, but both of those guys were playing safety in high school.

“I played against Cushing in high school. He was a 4.5 guy that was playing wide out and returning kicks. Porter is versatile, but he’s not that guy. He could be a tight end and Osa could be a power running back, so they are versatile, but with different strengths.”

Battling through injuries, Masina ended up with 97 tackles and 10 sacks his senior year. His announcement Friday now puts USC at 21 commitments for 2015.

But maybe more importantly, it gives USC a foothold in extending the tradition of Polynesian football heroes wearing cardinal and gold.

“I’ve spoken with him about the Polynesian connection before, and I know it’s a big deal for the family,” said Kimmel. “I don’t think it was priority No. 1 in picking USC, but I think the legacy was a factor.

“Junior Seau, Troy Polamalu and to a lesser extent Rey Maualuga. And then look at the guys USC has there now in Juju Smith, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao. I think that class they got last year was huge for USC.

“When those guys get together, it’s all family - whether they are related or not. It’s something pretty special and I think USC wants to tap into that. They have it with the players, but the coaching staff as well.

“I spoke to Coach Sarkisian at the All Poly Camp and he looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I’m no dummy. I played with Poly guys in college and I know how good they are. I know their passion for the game and how loyal they are to each other.

“He said, ‘I want as many of these guys as I can possibly get. It just creates culture.’

“Coach Tui, Sark, Johnny Nansen… that sense of community that Polynesians have is strong with USC. Outside Utah and BYU, when you think of Polynesian players, you think about SC. It’s a major draw.

“And once that pipeline is opened up, the flood gates are next. That’s why the 2014 class was huge. The names Damien Mama and Juju Smith resonate with these young 14, 15-year-old kids.

“Outside of maybe Oregon, and that’s mostly with Hawaiian kids, USC is the dream school for Polynesians. Thing is, USC can pick and choose. They can wait on the cream of the crop. Osa has a younger brother who is going to be  a sophomore. He’s already a big boy, so if things pan out for him, he could follow Osa to USC.

“Brighton has a few other four-star level juniors already going out to USC for their Junior Day the 31st, so it’s already happening. It would happen even without Osa, but the fact that he is going there just strengthens the pipeline.”

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