USC continued their 2018 recruiting campaign the way they ended 2017 with the commitment of Concord (Calif.) four-star defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa.
While quarterbacks are still king on the West Coast, USC fans have developed their own unique infatuation with amassing an army of defensive line talent.
Trojans head coach Clay Helton shares a certain enthusiasm in recruiting linemen. Counting back to last January, USC has had a very impressive run on defensive line commits.
USC signed four interior defensive linemen during the 2017 recruiting cycle, with South Jordan (Utah) five-star defensive tackle Jay Tufele and Independence (Ore.) four-star defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu being among the nation’s top five players at their positions.
Letuligasenoa is also ranked top five nationally at defensive tackle. At 6-foot-2, 305-pounds, Letuligasenoa is a strong, powerfully built defensive tackle capable of playing defensive end or putting on the necessary weight to play nose tackle in a 3-4 system.
Letuligasenoa manhandles blockers at the point of attack by overwhelming them with power and quickness. In fact, the best comparison for Letuligasenoa as a player is to describe him as a cross between Tufele and Tuipolutu.
Letuligasenoa shoots out of his stance and often gets his hands on the blocker before his opponent’s initial punch. While his frame and build are more compact than Tufele’s, Letuligasenoa has the athleticism to can make plays away from his gap assignment.
He can bull rush or use a counter rip move to beat his blocker and then flow toward the backside of the play. When double teamed, Letuligasenoa displays the same grappling skills Tuipolutu has — using his strength to impact those blocks enough to reroute the running lane of the tailback.
When he beats his man one-on-one away from a play, Letuligasenoa displays a surprising amount of agility and change of direction speed to pounce on ballcarriers in the open field. This ability to run down scrambling quarterbacks and screen passes is what makes a defensive lineman elite.
Letuligasenoa is rated the No. 73 player in the country by Scout and the No. 1 defensive tackle in the West. The next highest rated defensive tackle in the region is Pocatello (Idaho) defensive tackle Tommy Togiai at No. 188.
While some could argue Letuligasenoa is underrated, he has not performed at any camps and has no plans of doing so going forward. Granted, his junior film against top-ranked teams nationally holds more weight than t-shirt All-American drills in the offseason.
Expert opinion with Scout Director of Recruiting Brandon Huffman
While Letuligasenoa has avoided the camp circuit, Brandon Huffman has seen him play live during the season.
The first question USC fans may have
Huffman is the only recruiting analyst nationally who has actually seen most of USC’s newcomers play in person the past two recruiting cycles.
“Brandon Pili is a good player, but Marlon Tuipolutu and Jay Tufele are on a completely different level,” said Huffman. “Now, that’s just my opinion, but I think Marlon and Jay are ready to play immediately at USC.
“Tuli is on that same level. He doesn’t quite have the strength and that first step that made Tufele a five-star, but he's not far off. He’s probably more comparable to Marlon, but what I like about Tuli is that he has played against a bunch of big time opponents.
“His first game was as a sophomore starting against Euless (Texas) Trinity. Tuli has done it week in and week out against really good teams. I felt like that separated Marlon and Tufele to some extent. Tufele was playing against much better competition, and the same can be said for Tuli. He’s not going against Central Oregon offensive linemen.
“He’s playing against some of the best teams in the country and he’s been impossible to block. When I went to see De La Salle play against Monte Vista last year, Erik Krommenhoek was already committed to USC, Jake Haener was already committed to Washington and then there were two other Pac-12 commits playing in that game.
“Letuligasenoa was the best player on the field. He was fantastic. Quick, strong, aggressive and pretty athletic for his size. He may not have quite the quickness off the ball Tufele has, but there’s not a huge gap between the two of them. I actually like Tuli more than I liked Marlon at the same stage, and Marlon was a top 100 guy.”
With Tuipolutu and Tufele in the bag, USC is not just flexing its muscle recruiting defensive
Clay Helton and his staff may have found a viable alternative to spinning their wheels in Mason-Dixon mud.
“There’s no question,” said Huffman. “Tuli visited USC with a couple of his teammates, and Henry To’oto'o told me in his interview that the thing that impressed him the most about USC was the Polynesian tradition and strong Samoan community there.
“Obviously you have Johnny Nansen on staff, but Kenechi Udeze is really connecting with these kids too. You have a couple of West Coast guys that can go into Utah or the Northwest knowing that USC will be a top draw.
“As long as Utah and other parts of the region produce elite level defensive linemen, USC is going to be able to pick and choose who they want. In that case, there’s a lot less necessity in recruiting the South.
“The interesting thing to me is that none of those kids is from Southern California either. USC is showing the reach they have by going into Utah, Oregon and now Northern California.
“They’re showing that they place a premium on going out and getting top players within the region too. You could say that USC doesn’t really have to recruit outside Southern California, but you know when they do, they’re going after an upper echelon type of player.”
And by getting those players, USC is simultaneously depriving their conference opponents of that talent.
“It’s remarkable because not only is it a lean year for defensive tackles out West, USC just brought in the best player at that position in the 2017 class and are now following that with the best defensive tackle in the 2018 class,” said Huffman. “That shows you Tuli is not afraid of the competition, and that Kenechi Udeze is cornering the market on defensive tackles.
“You’ve got Brandon Pili, who will probably redshirt only to have Letuligasenoa come in and immediately press him for playing time. Last January, it was Pili and Marlon Tuipolutu. Now you look at that roster and Pili is probably sitting fourth in that span. That’s an embarrassment of riches right there.
But it’s April, and no great recruiting class is built nine months before signing day. Now that USC has Letuligasenoa committed, what do they have to do to keep him committed?
“I think given the fact that he visited USC last week, and that USC has always been his childhood favorite, they’re in a good position to keep him committed,” said Huffman. “He never came out and said he had a leader, but he did always acknowledge that USC was the school he grew up watching.
“Talking to other sources at De La Salle, it sounds like USC is where he always wanted to go, but he wanted to meet the coaches, see practice and soak in the atmosphere. He’s not the type of kid that’s going to take a bunch of visits or do camps.
“I can’t see him being easily swayed because this was his dream offer. He went to Oregon, he went to Washington and he went to UCLA. He hit it off with the coaches and had good visits with each school, but he knew where he wanted to go. That visit to USC just sealed the deal for him.”