Extra Points: Passing Down

FONTANA, Calif. — The Southern California Passing Down showdown never seems to disappoint.This year 56 teams battled for Best of the West honors, and the championship came down to two of the most prominent seven-on-seven teams on the passing circuit. B2G Five Star beat Ground Zero Panoramic in a long, but great day of competition.

We strip away the superfluous of a feature story in order to get to the point of who performed well and how that impacts USC recruiting.

  • Playing both safety and wide receiver, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei junior Curtis Robinson was the tournament’s most productive, and arguable, best player. Robinson has just recently started playing linebacker for Mater Dei, and while he continues to grow into that position with his 6-foot-3 frame, he has retained his ball skills and awareness. Robinson is as good as any wide receiver on the circuit and he showed that again Sunday with several diving catches in the end zone. Robinson a very good athlete with want-to in clutch situations.

    RECRUITING: USC is trying to stay in it for Robinson, who most believe is leaning toward Stanford and UCLA. The longer he waits to commit, the more chance USC has to grow on him with a good season. It was a surprise when the Trojans offered him a scholarship before either of those schools, but linebacker coach Peter Sirmon was money on his evaluation. Robinson is right there with the region’s top linebackers.

  • La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat wide receiver Trevon Sidney was the best wide out of the Passing Down tournament Sunday. Sidney’s reception count easily cleared two dozen catches in for games played. K.J. Costello to Trevon Sidney on the drag route across the middle was on loop for much of the afternoon. But Sidney didn’t just make the routine catch Sunday, he made several circus catches as well. It’s also important to point out that Sidney plays on the same team as four-star wide outs Dylan Crawford and Tyler Vaughns, so he is far from the only option his team has. When his team needed a defensive stop in the playoffs, Sidney was inserted at cornerback and played well there too.

  • Roosevelt (Calif.) Corona sophomore Thomas Graham versus Los Angeles (Calif.) Hawkins School sophomore wide receiver Joseph Lewis was the tournament’s best match up. It was a battle of 2017 titans and neither would back down. Graham put Lewis into the folding chair section of the sidelines on three different occasions to start Sunday’s championship game. After being manhandled in press coverage early, Lewis came back and scored a clutch touchdown on crossing route in the back of the end zone over Graham. The majority of their one-on-one battles Sunday went to Graham, but Lewis gets credit for keeping his cool and helping B2G win the championship.

    RECRUITING: Graham continues to covet a scholarship offer from USC despite sporting an Arizona State sun visor Sunday. Graham’s family is originally from Arizona, and ASU is after the 5-foot-11, 170-pound cornerback hard. However, Graham’s edge and aggressiveness against to flight talent maybe enough to prompt USC to end his recruitment sooner rather than later with a scholarship offer. Graham was certainly one of the top two or three cornerbacks in a fairly stacked event.

  • Long Beach (Calif.) Poly cornerback Jack Jones continues to look like the best defensive back in Southern California for the 2016 class. Jones was in the conversation for tournament top honors with Robinson and Sidney, but came up just short on a few momentum turning plays to garner the same kind of praise he received after The Opening Regional in Los Angeles. Jones proved to be mortal as a defensive back Sunday, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still very good. While he says he is trying to perfect playing both cornerback and wide receiver, Jones’ instincts and anticipation continue to set him apart on defense. On a 40-yard field, his footwork, balance and quickness are lethal to an offense running dig, curl and out routes.

    RECRUITING: Jones dropped USC from his top five favorites schools last month, only to blow up that list altogether after The Opening Regional. He has spoken with Trojan assistant coaches Johnny Nansen and Tee Martin since that point, saying Sunday that USC remains in constant contact with him. However, there is still a sense that USC has slipped some in his recruitment, but Jones remains without explanation.

  • Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman sophomore quarterback Tate Martell is playing on another level. Martell, acting has his own offensive coordinator and play-caller for the 702 Elite squad, lit it up Sunday. While Martell is small by quarterback standards, he certainly has a big enough arm to threaten every corner of the field. In fact, when Martell had inaccuracy issues, it was because he put too much on his passes deep. Tate wasn’t able to display his Houdini like scrabbling ability in a passing tournament, but did show off his athleticism playing cornerback for a few plays  while pulling in an inception on a tipped pass.

    RECRUITING: Martell visiting USC unofficially earlier this month and toured the campus for the first time. He is definitely high on the Trojans and has a great relationship with Steve Sarkisian, who he committed to at Washington two years ago. If signing day 2017 was tomorrow, USC would be the pick.

  • Bishop Gorman wide out Tyjon Lindsey is hamstrung by seven-on-seven. Lindsey is a dynamic playmaker in the open field, but a tournament like Sunday’s stripped him of what he does best. Lindsey made the routine catches, and showed some toughness coming down with the ball in traffic a few times, but his short area quickness, speed and explosiveness were replaced by possession football. Funnily, both Martell and Lindsey were forced to rely on their perceived weaknesses in such a setting, but still did well.

    RECRUITING: Lindsey said Sunday he hasn’t been to USC on an unofficial visit since the Trojans hosted the Oregon Ducks in the Coliseum two years ago. While Martell and Lindsey are very close — having moved to Las Vegas together from San Diego — USC has to coordinate some one-on-one time on campus with each player. Lindsey likes Steve Sarkisian and trusts the Trojans offense will get him the ball in space, but his vision of USC right now is Husky football with better weather.

  • Newbury Park (Calif.) cornerback Darnay Holmes lived up to his five-star billing. While only a sophomore, Holmes came into the Passing Down tournament rated as one of the nation’s best players in the 2017 class. Playing mostly cornerback, Holmes was rarely tested Sunday. He toyed with receivers and was active in executing his primary assignment in addition to making an impact on any pass near him. Only Ground Zero’s Thomas Graham displayed the same level of confidence in locking down the opposition Sunday.

    RECRUITING: Holmes unofficially visited USC Saturday and raved about the trip. USC is still recruiting Holmes as an athlete, which he finds intriguing in reference to Adoree Jackson. However, Holmes does prefer to play defense if a choice has to be made between playing cornerback and wide receiver. His cousin, Desean Holmes, de-committed from USC and signed with San Diego State in February. That move had  no impact on Darnay’s opinion of USC. For Holmes, a decision on a college will come down to academics, coaching, and winning a national title.

  • Hawkins Schools sophomore Greg Johnson is not a safety? Johnson said Sunday he preferred being viewed as a cornerback, which in seven-on-seven play is fine, but the physicality he plays with on Friday nights isn’t warranted for the t-shirt All-American tour. Johnson was impressive in his performance playing in a quasi linebacker/nickel back position Sunday, but under the lights, that position is basically an in-the-box safety. The real question with Johnson as a safety is whether he has the eyes to play the deep middle in passing situations. His strength, quickness and aggressiveness near the line of scrimmage is fantastic.

  • Corona Centennial gave up a lot of passing yards last season, but they have tremendous talent in the secondary. Cameron Bynum and Chacho Ulloa are known commodities on the recruiting trail, but sophomore cornerback Jaylan Shaw is another Husky to watch out for. Shaw smothered wide receivers for the IE Ducks all day long and may be the best athlete Centennial has at defensive back next season.

  • Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei sophomore quarterback Matthew McDonald is the real deal. While there is a lot of buzz about 2019 quarterback J.T. Daniels enrolling at Mater Dei next fall, McDonald torched defenses Sunday. Despite Frat Boys Revolution not having its full roster of players, McDonald led the team to the semi-finals where the lost a close game to eventual champions B2G Five-Star. McDonald doesn’t have a gun for an arm, but he throws a very catchable football and almost always anticipates an open passing window.

  • Serra four-star safety C.J. Pollard is better playing cornerback in seven-on-seven passing tournaments. While safeties tend to make more of an impact on a real game at the high school level, they tend to see very little action in these non-contact tournaments. After watching Pollard have little impact in two prior tournaments, he did an excellent job going one-on-one against wide out Tyler Vaughns Sunday. Vaughns has sorta been a marked man on the circuit, and the bigger defensive backs with good ball skills have given him some trouble.

    RECRUITING: Pollard has a working top five favorite schools of Oregon, Utah, Michigan, Arizona State and USC. He still plans on making a commitment at The Opening Finals in Beaverton (Ore.) in July, but Pollard could prolong the process if Alabama or LSU swoop in with scholarship offers. Even if Pollard commits this summer, he still wants to take several official visits.

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