At 1-3 to start the season, Clay Helton may not have won over many Trojan fans, but there were a few recruits who were committed to USC that never wavered about the direction of the program.
Ironically, one of those recruits is a former UCLA commit. Los Angeles (Calif.) Cathedral four-star defensive end Hunter Echols was not only solid in his choice to de-commit from the Bruins for a spot at USC, he was darn right defiant that the Trojans 1-3 start would cause him to waver.
After the Trojans 52-6 loss to Alabama, Echols didn’t mince words about is commitment status with USC.
“Hell no the game doesn’t change things,” said Echols at the time. “I’m still going to SC.”
Fast forward to USC 26-13 win over No. 4 Washington in Seattle (Wash.) Saturday, and Echols is sitting pretty as a Trojan commit.
“I was pumped up for the Washington game even while I was on my official visit to Oklahoma,” laughed Echols. “I couldn’t stand how everyone was talking up UDub.
“They hadn’t played anyone and they caught us at the best time. I feel like this game shows we are coming back. USC is led by the head man, Coach (Clay) Helton.
“Helton is a big reason why I’m going to USC. I want to play for him and I think the decision I made is a wise one. We will kill it in the Pac-12 and USC will be a team people talk about again.”
When many Trojans fans and alumni were questioning whether Helton would keep his job at USC, Echols had faith.
“I put my faith in Coach Helton,” said Echols. “He’s the type of coach that wants to go to war with you.
“He’s a real coach and he tells us the truth. He loves you up all of the time and I’ve never seen him panic. You just know he’s going to make you better.
“I’ve seen him at practices doing laps and push-ups with his team to encourage them. You can’t ask for a better coach.”
Santa Margarita (Calif.) four-star offensive lineman Brett Neilon maybe the most vocal USC commit on social media. He has a very clear reason why he remains a solid commitment.
“I love Coach (Clay) Helton, I love Coach (Neil) Callaway and I love USC,” said Neilon. “I think USC is the most improved team from the start of the season to now, hands down.
“I’m really happy that everything is clicking on both sides of the ball after all of the doubt. I believed in Coach Helton.”
As with Echols, the trust factor in Helton stands out with Neilon.
“He’s a genuine guy that tells the truth,” said Neilon. “I believed in him from day one. He’s getting the program back on the right track.”
The Trojans first commit of the 2017 class was Fontana (Calif.) Summit five-star running back Stephen Carr. While commits like Echols and Neilon have been very vocal about their pledges, Carr has continued to entertain interests from schools like Michigan, Notre Dame, Miami and Washington.
But actions speak louder than words in recruiting, and so far, Carr has worn his USC NIKE Pro Combat gloves each game of the season with pride. So when the Trojans played Washington Saturday, he watched the game with certain expectations.
“I thought it was going to be an interesting game, which it was,” said Carr. “I really wanted to see the John Ross/Adoree Jackson match up.
“I also wanted to see more of Sam Darnold.”
Carr got exactly what he wanted.
“Darnold is a monster,” said Carr. “His ability to make something out of nothing is crazy. But you also have to give credit to his offensive line. They gave him a lot of time.”
Being a five-star prospect and one of the most coveted running backs in the country, Carr heard a lot from college coaches at others schools wanting to recruit him away from USC then the Trojans were 1-3.
He admits the Trojans' winning streak does help solidify his commitment.
“Yes it does,” said Carr. “It’s always good to see your team winning.
“People are always in my ear when things aren’t going good with USC. But that doesn’t affect me. I never lose faith.”
The words faith, family and football have become a motto for Helton. That motto is beginning to bleed into the 2017 recruiting class.
While Carr is still planning trips, Hunter Echols just returned from an official visit to Oklahoma. It will be his last visit to a school other than USC.
“Nothing is impacting my decision,” said Echols. “I’m 200-percent committed to USC and I won’t be taking any more visits.”
That leaves Echols to battle with Neilon over recruiting credit for future USC commits.
"Recruiting is going to turn out very well for USC," predicted Neilon. "Expect us to finish very, very strong in January and February."