When the interim tag was removed and Clay Helton was named USC’s head coach, he said he wanted USC to return to a physical, run-first offense. Helton has recruited as such, prioritizing the offensive line.
On Wednesday, he added yet another top-tier lineman — and possibly the best of the bunch — when five-star Austin Jackson announced his commitment to the Trojans during a ceremony at his school's gymnasium. Jackson joins an offensive line class that features four-star center Brett Neilon, four-star tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker and three-star early entrant Andrew Vorhees, who began classes on Monday.
“The main reason [I chose USC] is just academically the resources that are available for me -- not just in football, but just like in life,” the Phoenix (Ariz.) North Canyon offensive tackle said. “I’ve got a lot of stuff to look forward to and a lot of people that want to help me.
“It’s a top tier school. And just being able to come in and compete with a great group of guys who are as competitive as I am. Just great location, great coaches and I'm just looking forward to competing every day.”
A legacy recruit, Jackson was very familiar with USC thanks to his grandfather, who played for legendary Trojan coach John McKay. Jackson said his grandfather never pressured him to choose USC, but instead told him to find the school that offered the best academic landscape.
“He and I want what's best for me,” Jackson said in October. “I know whatever I do, he's okay with that. I don't have to follow in his footsteps. He's behind me 100 percent.”
But that also didn’t stop his grandfather from filling Jackson in on Trojan history.
“Well I know everything about USC pretty much. That helps a lot. Legacy is a big thing in our family and tradition, so being able to kind of have him in my ear a little bit, not to persuade you, but just to keep me aware. You know that's my grandpa, I love him.”
Jackson cited his relationship with Helton as another factor in his decision. Helton was recruiting Jackson before he ever was named head coach. Helton let Jackson know at USC’s Rising Stars Camp in 2015 that he really liked the high school prospect, but instead of constantly pandering the five star’s ego, Helton worked him hard.
“Coach Helton has been on me pretty tough even before he was a head coach,” Jackson said. “He's always just truly wanted the best for me no matter what I choose. He doesn't even have to say, you can feel it just being around him and just talking to him every single day, so that's the thing that's big.
“He really does care about the players and he's going to push the best for you, not just on the field but in the classroom too. You better get it done in the classroom.”
The way USC’s season unfolding just strengthened Jackson’s appreciation of the Trojans’ leader.
“People were questioning Coach Helton and the team overall and where the program would lead to and it just kept going. They had to block all of that out,” Jackson said. “That showed great perseverance. That's just everything you would want in a program. To start off 1-3 and to get smacked by the No. 1 team in the nation and to still bounce back, that's wonderful. “
The athletic 6-foot-5, 290-pound stud expects to come in and challenge for one of the three opening starting positions. USC loses senior starting tackles Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner and junior left guard Damien Mama, who announced on Jan. 6 that he was entering the NFL Draft.
“I definitely do. Zach and Chad are both great offensive tackles. Great people to learn from and follow. From what coach has told me, they do have a lot of guys that can play tackle, but they're truly interior guys and that's what they do best, so I definitely think I can come in.
“From now until May is going to be big for me and I know it. I know that I'm definitely going to put in a lot of work to get into the best shape possible to come into fall camp and compete for it, but the opportunity is definitely there.”
Jackson also showed during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl that he has the versatility to move inside to play guard, if needed.
There were initially questions about whether Jackson would be able to add the necessary size and strength to be able to play right away. He was previously listed at 255 pounds in the Scout database from an entry dating back to last season. Jackson began his senior season around 275 pounds and weighed in at 282 when he took his official visit to USC at the end of November for the Notre Dame game.
Though he is now doing more cardio since he is currently playing basketball for North Canyon and doing track workouts regularly, Jackson has continued to get bigger, weighing in between 290-291 pounds at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio. Adding weight is important, but it has to be good weight, which is exactly what he has added the last two months.
“I’ve just been running and lifting. I actually thought I was losing weight, so when I came here, I was really surprised,” Jackson said. “I was moving around even better than I was before and I've been doing track workouts — a lot of sprints and stuff to keep my endurance up — and I'm keeping up, so I definitely think I have a lot more room to grow into my frame.”
“I think that physically I can do anything I want to. I've just got to be mentally ready and put myself in a position to.”
Also, check out our quick glance at the 2017 USC Trojans recruiting class to see the latest updates on who has signed.
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