The commitment of Layton (Utah) four-star athlete Tayler Katoa was a heat check for USC.
The Trojans have had more de-commitments than commitments on the recruiting trail as of late, but most of those moves have been addition by subtraction.
Coming off of an eight game win streak, the Trojans reach in recruiting has yet to exceed its grasp. Katoa was offered a scholarship by USC in November, and while sustaining a de-commitment from Portland (Ore.) three-star linebacker Daniel Green, the Trojans never flinched in landing the more highly rated player.
Projected to play inside linebacker at USC, Katoa spent most of his high school career playing quarterback and defensive end. His senior season was his first playing middle linebacker, and when his film went out to prospective colleges, USC pounced with a scholarship offer.
However, Katoa has been a player linebacker coach and lead recruiter Johnny Nansen had earmarked as a potential target last spring. Working the All-Poly Camp in June, Nansen watched Katoa closely.
USC currently has 14 commits in the class of 2017. Depending on early draft defections and transfers, the Trojans could end up signing 22-25 players this cycle. The Trojans have three linebacker commits now, including Katoa, Pago Pago (AS) four-star Juliano Falaniko and Los Angeles (Calif.) four-star Hunter Echols.
Although Echols is ranked as the nation’s No. 19 defensive end by Scout, he projects as a predator linebacker in the Trojans’ 3-4 defensive scheme. Falaniko projects on the outside as well, but as a SAM linebacker opposite of Echols.
Inside the the tackles, USC loses Quinton Powell and Michael Hutchings to graduation in 2017. Both played the WILL inside linebacker spot for the Trojans in 2016. While Katoa could line up at WILL, he could also play the MIKE spot at inside linebacker.
Having been a quarterback for all of his high school career, Katoa’s football IQ and mid-year enrollment at USC would afford him a good opportunity to play behind junior-to-be Cameron Smith. At present date, the only other inside linebackers USC has on the roster are redshirt John Houston and freshman Jordan Iosefa. Note, Iosefa started the season playing SAM linebacker for USC.
The MIKE position is the quarterback of the defense. While USC is poised to sign one more inside linebacker in this class, Katoa may turn out to have the best combination of physicality and football smarts to compete at that position. If not, USC is also hot on the trail of Austin (Texas) Westlake four-star linebacker Levi Jones.
Jones has played both outside and inside linebacker for Westlake, so like Katoa, he offers up great versatility with his combination of athleticism and high football IQ.
Expert Opinion with Scout Mountain Region Analyst Blair Angulo
Blair Angulo is one of the few recruiting analyst nationally who has evaluated Tayler Katoa in person. Last summer, Angulo traveled to Utah to cover the All-Poly Camp for Scout.com.
“The first time I ever saw Tayler Katoa play, he had the ball in his hands as a quarterback,” said Angulo. “He still had those aspirations, as most players do, of having the ball in his hands and to score touchdowns.
“He wanted to be the guy, and he needed to be the guy for his high school. He was sort of like Porter Gustin that way. Then he started to realize linebacker would be his future at the college level.
“When I saw him at the All-Poly Camp, he really popped out at me. That camp is full pads, so you get to see how guys hit and how they are able to keep up with receivers in coverage. And that camp was pretty loaded at linebacker.
“You had a few underclassmen that are pretty good in Utah and you had Juliano Falaniko there as well. When you see Katoa, you see a player that is very smart and he deciphers routes well. He stayed with slot receivers, running backs out of the backfield and tight ends in the passing game. He played mostly outside linebacker at that camp, but he was really good.
“Johnny Nansen followed him around a few different drills watching him. Thing is, he had never played linebacker heading into that camp. He had been more of a defensive end and he played quarterback. I was pleasantly surprised at how fluidly he moved as a defender. He’s a little bit raw, obviously, but you could definitely see the upside and potential in his game.”
Playing side-by-side with his future teammate Juliano Falaniko, the All-Poly Camp gave USC linebacker coach Johnny Nansen a preview of Trojan fall camp 2017.
“They could be a scary combination,” said Angulo. “Katoa has proven to be a very good pass rusher playing defensive end. He can really get upfield after the quarterback, whereas Falaniko is a more rangy guy who occupies blockers well.
“With Katoa moving inside, that will suit him even better. He has the frame to add weight and he’s still young for his grade. He has tremendous upside and is a great tackler. Katoa is the stronger, bigger body of the two and he finishes plays. Falaniko is faster and gets out on the perimeter to can chase down ball carriers. I think they’ll feed off each other well down the road.”
South Jordan (Utah) defensive tackle Jay Tufele will be the next big target USC aims for in the Beehive State. While Katoa isn’t the gregarious recruiter some other commits may be, his presence on campus during Tufele’s visit to USC in January can only help the Trojans chances in landing the U.S. Army All-American defensive tackle.
“All of those Utah recruits are a pretty tightly knit group,” said Angulo. “They all make Utah home game together, so they know about each other.
“I don’t know if Tufele and Katoa have any kind of great relationship together, but having Tayler already on board can’t hurt USC. He’ll already be on campus when Tufele visits USC Jan. 13 — the week after the dead period ends.
“It never hurts to have a guy with your same background from your same state that’s going through the same process you’re going through. It may not have a tremendous impact, but it certainly can’t hurt USC’s chances with Tufele.”