Clay Helton hopes this incoming recruiting class can help the Trojans bounce back following a disappointing 2018 season
USC is a program in the middle of growing pains right now. Head coach Clay Helton is on the hot seat following the program's first losing season since before Pete Carroll was hired. Worse than the losing season, USC spent much of the offseason chasing after KIiff Kingsbury, a saga that ended with a take-it-or-leave-it type of offer.
Kingsbury took the job but a couple of weeks later he was hired to be the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. To fill the void, USC went and hired a Kingsbury student, Graham Harrell, away from the University of North Texas. During that time, USC gained the signature of the Gatorade Player of the Year, Bru McCoy, only for him to transfer to Texas less than a month later.
McCoy's defection aside, USC counted on Harrell’s hire keeping the core of the 2019 recruiting class together and, for the most part, it looks like that gamble paid off.
Here’s a list of five incoming Trojans that could have an impact on the field in 2019.
Nick Figueroa, SDE
One of the nation’s premier junior college products, Figueroa comes to USC from in-state Riverside Community College at a time when defensive pressure from the line has been iffy at best. Between products not working out on the field, injuries, and transfers, getting in a defensive lineman capable of starting and making an impact was at the top of the list for the Trojans. Figueroa ticks all the boxes, coming in as the 24th-ranked junior college player nationally and the third in California, including being the No. 2 strong-side defensive end in the state. Though he’s only a three-star in the rankings, expect Figueroa to come in right away and compete for time on the line with guys like Jay Tufele and Connor Murphy.
Drake Jackson, SDE
Jackson is a complement to the signing of Nick Figueroa. Jackson figures in as a weak-side linebacker but he could work his way into the lineup as an edge rusher up front as well. He’s a four-star prospect out of Centennial High in Corona, California. He’s the 56th-ranked player nationally, No. 10 prospect in the state, and third at his position (SDE). Recruited by Kenechi Udeze and then Chad Kauha’aha’a, the roster currently has five other players listed at the position. But as was mentioned earlier, there is plenty of room for players to come right in and see time if they’re able to make an instant impact. Jackson has the tools to do so.
Max Williams, CB
Williams is a guy that would have had more teams pursuing him had he not torn his ACL, which is somewhat of a trend on this list. Williams is one of the best technical corners in this class. Height (listed at 5-8) is the only thing that kept Williams from seeing national recruiting. But even though he may be on the shorter side, Williams is expected to come right in and compete. With plenty of cornerbacks on the roster, including incoming junior college transfer Jaylen Watson (Ventura College), Williams will have to show he has recovered from his injury to be considered for a spot in the rotation. Safety Briton Allen (IMG Academy) is another incoming freshman to watch this spring, as secondary is definitely an area USC can improve in. The Trojans gave up 20 touchdown passes in 2018 and collected just four interceptions, tied for the second fewest of any FBS team.
Jude Wolfe, TE
Tight end is a storied position at USC, even if it hasn’t been used to great effect in recent seasons. Helton brought back the tight end love toward the end of the season and USC has some talented bodies at the tight end position. What the Trojans don’t have right now is an impact tight end who can function as an H-back but also contribute as a blocker. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Wolfe has all of the physical tools you want from a tight end. He can block, run solid routes, and has great hands. He’s a four-star product and ranked eighth in the country at his position, but his overall score puts him neck-and-neck with the next two ahead of him.
Kyle Ford, WR
The signing of Ford is tremendous for a university that lost Bru McCoy to Texas. Ford is now the highest ranked player in the Trojans’ class and represents the next crop of wide receivers for the Men of Troy. Ford is a 6-foot-2, 212-pound target from the Los Angeles area that played at Orange Lutheran. A big-bodied wide receiver who can fight for balls in the air, Ford also has the speed and route-running ability to win on the ground. Ford's arrival will make it easier to deal with McCoy's defection. Ford is coming back from a torn ACL he suffered prior to his senior season, but there should be more than enough time for him to make his debut at some point this fall, even if he ends up redshirting.
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.