With school out for Veterans Day, some local high school recruits were able to check out USC’s morning practice on Wednesday. Gardena (Calif.) Serra elite five-star defensive lineman Oluwole Betiku was one of those in attendance.
“I wanted to meet with Coach Clay (Helton) and talk with the coaching staff again,” Betiku said. “Coach Clay is great. He’s a man that’s just humble and he’s a players coach.
“He talks to his players and has a good relationship with his players. Even talking with him on the phone, I felt like I needed to come down and meet him in person. We talked about football and I told him my plans. He also told me his plans for me if I were to go to USC. I’m still going to take my trips, but USC is definitely in the mix.”
The No. 8 player in the Scout 300 has been paying more and more attention to USC recently and actually got an opportunity to play more in the role USC has envisioned for him on Friday night when Serra High School took on West Hills Chaminade. Betiku moved from side-to-side on the defense, playing with his hand on the ground like a traditional defensive end for the majority of plays, but also beginning in a two-point stance some of the time.
“I spoke to [USC linebackers coach [Peter] Sirmon,” Betiku said. “He told me that when I come most times I'm going to line up on the tight end for run plays and stand up to rush on pass. That they are going to mix it up. I'm going to put my hand in the dirt and also stand up. It all depends.
“They want to use me the way Von Miller is, just like a rush end that gets to the passer on all downs. I kind of like it. That's what you saw me today. I kind of tried to stand up sometimes on some plays.
“It was comfortable. I saw all the plays well, where the plays were going. It was a little disadvantage on the run because I couldn't really strike, but then I could see receivers trying to get the ball on the outside and I could chase them down or jump up to make a play.
“Standing up and putting your hand in the dirt, mixing it up makes me more versatile and going to the next level, they want d-ends that can do everything, so that's why I'm giving them a look.”
Betiku is one of the more intriguing prospects in the country because of his size/speed combination rushing off the edge and his tremendous upside. He is already an impact player even though he is still learning the game in only his second season playing football.
Last season, Betiku had to play with a cast on his arm, which limited the techniques he could use. Instead, he focused on using his speed and raw strength. With five-star Rasheem Green also on the defensive line getting the majority of attention, Betiku had a strong campaign, but now he is the guy that opposing offenses are scheming around.
One area he has seen improvement is on his initial attack at the line of scrimmage.
“Last year, I used to think so much before I came off the line. Now I come off the line first, try to put my hands on guys and don't let them get their hands inside me first. If I put my hands inside them, I can still shed the block and go make the play.”
He is still a raw project in some regards, but he continues to develop each opportunity he gets to take the field.
“I still feel like there is a lot I need to learn. I still need to understand offenses and what they run and I have to chase down plays when they're not coming my way. Read more plays and everything. I'm still a long way away. You know I'm going to get awesome coaching at whatever college I go and listen to what the coach tells me and they're going to put me in the best position for me to be great.”
He committed to UCLA in August, but decided to back away from that commitment a few weeks ago. Betiku originally picked the Bruins because he felt their scheme was a good fit for him. USC, on the other hand, was passed over for that very reason. Betiku didn’t feel he was a fit in USC’s 3-4 alignment playing rush end.
But beginning with a visit to watch the Trojans play against Washington on Oct. 8, things slowly have started to change. Betiku talked the next night after Serra’s thrilling 41-34 victory over Bishop Amat about how his game is still evolving.
“I’m learning the kind of player I am everyday, so I don’t know what I’m going to develop into by the end of the season,” Betiku said. “You know I like rushing the passer. I watch a lot of [USC’s] videos and I went to the game. I’m watching the game and watching a lot of film on what they do and the way they play their rush end."
Betiku's de-commitment from UCLA was an eye-opening experience. Completely new to the ebb and flow of college football recruiting, he is just beginning to get a handle on what he's looking for in a college.
“All the fans get hyped up because you’re going to be the No. 1 commit in the class,” Betiku said. “Everyone is hyped about how you’re going to be like Myles Jack, and then once you de-commit, you get a lot of negativity from everywhere.
“I shut off my phone for like two days because I didn’t want to read the replies from everyone. It was really affecting my emotions. I didn’t do any interviews either because I didn’t want anything about UCLA to be viewed negatively. I have a lot of respect for the UCLA coaches and I didn’t want that.
“The only reason I de-committed is because I really need to take my time with this decision, and things have changed for me. I’m a different player and I play the game differently. When I committed, I didn’t really know a lot about the process. I didn’t look at things from every angle.
“I want to go to a school that’s not all about just football. I want to go to a school that has a good brand. I’m getting to see it all now. I visited Florida State, I’m looking at schools in the SEC like Texas A&M and I’m visiting a Catholic school this weekend in Notre Dame. I want a great education and be a part of a great football tradition.”
Because Betiku is good friends with former Serra and current USC freshman tight end Caleb Wilson, he has a strong relationship with Trojans’ defensive line coach Chris Wilson, who he calls more of an uncle than a recruiter. Betiku uses that relationship to his advantage to learn more about USC’s plans and how he would fit.
“Me and Coach Wilson, we go way back. I love him no doubt,” Betiku told USCFootball.com in an interview in October. “He talks to me. He explains the whole defensive scheme to me and I told him straight up, ‘Coach Wilson, I want to play off the edge.’ And he told me the way they use their rush ends, so I still listen to them.”
Betiku has recently taken official visits to Florida State and Texas A&M as the Nigerian native searches for a school that he can call home and teammates that he can call family. But USC is the only school that can offer the built-in relationships that Betiku has with the Wilsons as well as Green and the other former Gardena Serra players currently on the USC roster.
“I wrote down the pros and cons,” Betiku said of his official visits. “I hung out with the players to try to see if it is a good fit for me, if it's a place I want to be for four years. I mean I can stay anywhere, I'm from Nigeria. I don't really care, but the good thing that I'm most looking for is that family environment.
“Football is football, but playing with guys you love, playing with guys that understand the kind of person that you are and are really going to treat you like belong, it really helps a lot with my development as a player because I'm new to the game. I don't want to go in big headed. I'm humble. I'm coming in to learn and everything.”
There is still one albatross hanging over the Trojans however. Steve Sarkisian was fired and USC hasn’t found a permanent replacement. With Betiku planning to be an early enrollee and USC still without a head coach, could there be a crossroads where there is a point of no return for the Trojans?
“I don't want to cross that bridge right now," Betiku said. "I'm always going to make the best decision for me and when I weigh all my pros and cons and see the best decision for me, I'll go to the best place for me because everything I do, I've got to think about my future, myself, where I want to wake up every morning and go do the practice and workout. People are going to say a lot of stuff, but they aren't going to be there when you are lifting weights and running with the coaches and stuff, so I have to go where I feel the most comfortable."
And after his unofficial visit to USC Wednesday, comfort is one word Betiku uses to describe why he continues to consider the Trojans.
“It’s whatever,” Betiku said of the Trojans' current situation. “Any school can fire the coach the year I get there. Miami just changed their head coach. You can’t really think about that.
“The coach shouldn’t be the main the reason you make a decision about a school. Coaches come and go, but the school stays the same. Coach Helton is a great guy, and if they keep him, fine, but I’m still going through the recruiting process with USC. And they’ve been playing well and winning.
“USC is a great program. Whatever coach that goes to USC is going to a program that looks forward to winning every year. They’re going to do what it takes to have one of the best football programs in the country. They have a good education and a good environment on campus. It’s just family out there."
USC recruiting analyst Gerard Martinez contibuted to this report.