Gerard Martinez

USC Rising Stars Camp Notebook

The USC Rising Stars Camp drew talent from coast-to-coast well before The Opening existed, and Wednesday, the Trojans coaching staff hosted two dozen top name recruits to campus.

The defensive line was probably the strongest position Wednesday. Led by arguably the camp’s best overall performer, Montgomery (Ala.) three-star defensive end Alec Jackson, the Trojans rolled out a very impressive two-deep for 11-on-11 scrimmaging.

Jackson is an incredibly well put together 6-foot-5, 280-pound lineman with broad shoulders and long arms. While physically imposing, Jackson was also complimented throughout position drills for his technique. When the campers transitioned to 11-on-11 scrimmaging, Jackson exploded off the line and was is in the quarterback’s face before his first progression was in sight. 

Jackson’s combination of physical gifts and performance were only matched by Los Angeles (Calif.) Dorsey freshman tight end Kayvon Thibodeaux. In fact, Thibodeaux played tight end and defensive end Wednesday. He split his only two reps at defensive and against Miami (Fla.) offensive tackle Navaughn Donaldson, who was the top overall offensive line performer at Rising Stars. Donaldson played right tackle at the camp, but could also end up being a guard in college. 

Thibodeaux’s brief excursion to defense was more than enough to collapse the pocket multiple times. On one of his reps, Thibodeaux was in the offensive backfield so fast, he looked like he missed a block as a pass protection tight end. Hampton (Va.) four-star defensive tackle Elijah Conliffe controlled the middle of the offense with at least 20 added pounds to his listed 280-pound frame. He listed himself at 297-pounds after the camp. 

Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard three -star defensive end Jonathan Ford lined up next to Conliffe and Jackson as the first wave of defensive linemen on the field Wednesday. Ford is a 260-pound defensive tackle with plenty of room to grow and get stronger. Ford led most of the drills in the first defensive line group and took the time after each rep to talk with Kenchi Udeze about his technique. 

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Dillard teammate Jordan Wright helped lead the second wave of defensive linemen on the field for 11-11. Wright and Tempe (Ariz.) two-star defensive end My-King Johnson played in a more prototypical 4-3 weak side defensive end alignment. Johnson came to USC without a scholarship offer, but received one Friday. Johnson did not participate much in 11-on-11 Wednesday, but certainly has the frame to be an intriguing prospect at 6-foot-3, 225-pounds. Position is biggest question that will revolve around his recruitment. Like Jordan Wright, Johnson did not participate in any coverage drills as a hybrid linebacker. Both players look more like Predator linebackers than true 3-4 defensive ends.

Pasadena (Calif.) three-star Terrance Lang is a true 3-4 defensive end. Lang was a late arrival to the Rising Stars camp Thursday. Lang hung out with defensive line coach Kenechi Uzeze for the morning session and then worked out in the afternoon. While he did not have an opportunity to go against the top group of offensive linemen at the camp, just getting some one-on-one time with Lang was all USC could ask for. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound tight end/defensive end is still one of the most intrigue raw prospects in the 2017 class. 

The defensive back position also presented onlookers with a bevy of talented players. While new USC commit, Powder Springs (Ga.) safety C.J. Miller ran one of the fastest 40-yard dash times (4.48 electronic on turf) in Rising Stars history, it was class of 2019 Gardena (Calif.) Serra cornerback Max Williams who stole the show. 

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Williams was in the pocket of every wide receiver he faced, mauling them at the line of scrimmage or running step for step with them down the field. Williams is not a physically imposing player, but his awareness and footwork in off man coverage was incredible for young player. 

Underclassmen shine

Max Williams was one of five underclassmen offered scholarships by USC after each session of Rising Stars. USC also extend scholarship offers to Los Angeles (Calif.) Hawkins 2018 wide receiver Eric Fuller and Bellflower (Calif.) 2020 St. John Bosco quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who performed in the afternoon session of the camp.

Thursday, USC also offered a scholarship to Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei 2018 wide receiver Nikko Remigio, Cedar Grove (Ga.) 2019 wide receiver Jadon Haselwood and Salt Lake City (Utah) 2018 Brighton linebacker Salua Masina, who is the younger brother of Osa Masina. 

Of the group, Williams and Fuller were the most obvious top performers in the most competitive session of the camp, which was Wednesday morning. Fuller is a quick twitch slot receiver who has a four-star rated despite being an underclassmen wide out at 5-foot-9, 160-pounds. 

Commits on limited reps

USC had several commits perform at the camp Wednesday. This included Las Vegas (Nev.) wide receiver Randal Grimes, Mobile (Ala.) wide receiver Marlon Williams, Powder Springs (Ga.) defensive back C.J. Miller, Harbor City (Calif.) linebacker Raymond Scott and Westlake Village (Calif.) quarterback Matt Corral

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Of this group, Grimes and Miller received the most actual reps in competitive periods. Grimes had his highlight moments, showing great quickness and acceleration with the ball in his hands after the catch for a 6-foot-5 wide out. However, he also dropped some passes that he should have caught. That drew the eire of the current USC players on hand helping coach the camp. 

Miller started off the camp the same way he has started off most of the camps he has participated in this summer. Miller ran a laser timed 4.48 40-yard dash on turf Wednesday at 6-foot-1, 194-pounds. 

No source we spoke with disputed that time, which is one of the fastest in Rising Stars history. Granted, players like Patrick Peterson, Jalen Ramsey and Joe McKnight ran on the USC track with a hand timed 40-yard dash. Still, Miller certainly has impressed the USC coaching staff with his testing numbers. 

On the field, Miller only took a few reps as a cornerback during one-on-one and 11-on-11 periods. His performance was solid, as he didn’t get beat badly on any reps, but Miller did look a bit hesitant in man-to-man coverage as a cornerback. Without much experience at that position, his speed is more of an asset playing as a single high safety at present date. 

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Marlon Williams had a great start to wide receiver position drills catching everything thrown at him. Unfortunately, like several of the top rated players at Rising Stars this year, Williams disappeared before getting into any competitive drills. Sidelined with what looked to be a minor ankle injury, Williams spent most of the camp under the trainers tent or talking with other Southern recruits. 

Overall, it appeared the Trojans coaching staff was pretty confident in their evaluations coming into the camp and did not push any of the committed recruits to participate for more than one session of drills — if that. 

Secondary quandary 

In addition to Max Williams and C.J. Miller, the defensive secondary also featured Jacksonville (Fla.) three-star wide receiver Derrick Smith. While rated as a wide out, Smith workout exclusively at defensive back Wednesday. Smith actually committed to USC on signing day before backing off that pledge about 30 minutes later. 

USC and Miami are his two two current choices, but Smith is raw and had trouble transitioning in the open field again some of the wide receivers he faced. Smith is a bigger defensive back, and USC is trending that way on the recruiting trail, but his fluidity is a question mark in addition to his awareness in space. 

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La Mirada (Calif.) cornerback Elijah Hicks walked away from Rising Stars without a scholarship offer, but he was as impressive of a performer as the USC Camp series has seen this summer. Hicks has long arms and was fairly smooth getting in and out of his transitions. However, his top end speed may be a question, even though he appears to have the height and length USC has coveted at cornerback this recruiting cycle. 

Cameo appearances 

USC had both Antioch (Calif.) five-star running back Najee Harris and Orlando (Fla.) five-star offensive lineman Calvin Ashley both attended the camp but did not participate in drills. Harris spent a lot of time shadowing running backs coach Tommie Robinson, while Ashley spent a lot of the camp just roaming the field on his own. Ashley, comically, is so big most observers mistaken him for a former pro player helping out with the camp. 

Harris wasn't the only running back with a scholarship offer on hand Wednesday. New Orleans (La.) running back Bruce Jordan-Swilling attended the camp with his brother, cornerback Tre Swilling. Tre received a scholarship offer from USC Wednesday afternoon. The brothers were on hand with their father, Pat Swilling, who still looks like he can play football. 

Stay tuned for the Ten of Troy Rising Stars Edition where all five of Scout and experts in attendance at USC this week rank the best performers of the two day camp. 

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