‘They’re all playmakers’ — Keary Colbert on USC’s incoming pass catchers and what makes the 2019 class special
Antonio Morales (The Athletic) — LOS ANGELES — Keary Colbert’s role on USC’s coaching staff changed in the heat of the 2019 recruiting cycle.
On Dec. 21, the program officially announced Colbert would move from tight ends coach — a position he occupied for one season — and take over as wide receivers coach. He would fill in for former offensive coordinator Tee Martin, who also coached wideouts, was the most prolific recruiter amongst the Trojans’ assistants and was fired in November.
While Colbert’s position room may have changed, his role in USC’s recruiting efforts wasn’t really altered much.
“We pride ourselves on getting to know all the kids as a staff in recruiting, whether that’s area, whether that’s side of the ball or position,” Colbert, a former standout Trojans receiver in his own right, told The Athletic. “There are guys on defense that I had a relationship with, you know, or spent time recruiting different positions. It’s not just about recruiting your position. As coaches, as Coach (Clay) Helton likes to say, we like to team recruit. So my role didn’t really change. Honestly, it was just the position or title next to my name.”
As tight ends coach, Colbert was instrumental is USC landing four-star prospect Jude Wolfe and three-star Ethan Rae. As receivers coach, he helped build relationships with four-star dual-sport athlete Drake London and three-star prospect Munir McClain.
Then two weeks after Colbert was named receivers coach, four-star receiver Kyle Ford — the highest-rated player in the Trojans’ recruiting class — announced his commitment to USC.
Bru McCoy’s transfer to Texas and the loss of Puka Nacua to Washington still sting, but the pass catchers the Trojans brought in are still plenty talented.
This is how Colbert — who was rated the No. 3 overall recruiter in the Pac-12 and the 28th nationally by the 247Sports Composite — built a relationship with each of them and a look at what they could potentially bring to USC’s program as they mature over the coming years.
Four-star receiver, Orange Lutheran (Orange, Calif.)
USC has been recruiting Ford, the 2019 top receiver prospect in California, for several years. So Colbert’s relationship with Ford, who was considering Oregon and Washington among other programs, goes back a while.
As a former receiver himself, Colbert said he appreciates good receiver play, so he always watched Ford’s film. With a relationship with Ford already established, the transition to recruiting him as the receivers coach was pretty seamless, according to Colbert.
Ford committed to USC at the All-American Bowl on Jan. 5. The Trojans lost newly hired offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury just a few days later.
Ford monitored the situation and there were rumors that other programs would make a serious push for him, but he remained steadfast in his commitment and was the first player to sign with USC on National Signing Day last week.
“We felt good about it. He assured us that he was coming, you know, that he wanted to be a Trojan. That was kind of his goal and dream,” Colbert said. “Regardless of all the things that were going on, he was still committed to that, so we just kind of took it from there and kind of built that relationship, of course, and gave him the confidence that coming to USC is greater than a four-year decision. It’s a 40-year decision, so giving him all the information to support that.”
Of course, the major question surrounding Ford will be his availability. He tore his ACL on Sept. 21 and told The Athletic late last year his recovery timetable was six to nine months. At his signing day news conference, Helton said, “Usually you’re fully cleared about nine months — that will be at the end of August.”
If the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Ford is ready to go, he’ll play. If not, USC has no issues waiting as long as it needs to for him to completely recover.
“Once he’s healthy, we look forward to getting him in the mix of the room. Everybody is going to have the opportunity to compete and play,” Colbert said. “We feel he’s a talented player. He has a unique skill set, size, speed and ball skills. You know, we just look forward to seeing what he brings to the room. We obviously think he’s a talented receiver and he’s played at a high level in a very good league and made a lot of great plays and we look forward to getting him back healthy.”
Four-star receiver, Moorpark (Moorpark, Calif.)
Colbert had a solid relationship with London throughout the entire recruiting process, and it was mainly built on where the two are from.
“Obviously, I’m from Ventura County. That’s been my area. His father is from Oxnard, his mother is from Camarillo, which is again my hometown area,” Colbert said. “His high school head coach coached at my high school after I was done but there was a relationship there. I’ve known about Drake for a while, like I said, being a Ventura County boy. So that was our connection, that has always been our connection and like I said, it’s not like I had to pick up the recruiting. I’ve been talking to Drake, I’ve been talking to the family the entire process.”
London, who is 6-5 and 205 pounds, also was a three-star shooting guard signee in USC’s 2019 men’s basketball recruiting class, so he’ll play both sports for the Trojans. Some of those traits from the hardwood eventually could help USC on the gridiron.
“Very athletic. Very rangy receiver. Plays with his size well. He’s a big man, but he plays with some little-man skills as far as his quickness,” Colbert said. “Obviously, he has a unique ability to high-point the ball, which comes from his basketball background. Really excited to have the opportunity to work with him and see where he’s going to be in football 100 percent. Obviously, he’s going to play basketball here as well, but we’re going to get him for a good time. I think basketball has always been No. 1 priority. It will be great to see him where he’s really focusing on football because I think he has a really high ceiling.”
Three-star receiver, JSerra Catholic (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.)
Colbert built a relationship with McClain’s family a year ago when he recruited Abdul-Malik McClain, Munir’s brother who is a current outside linebacker at USC. During that process, Colbert made an in-home visit and developed a bond with Munir, his mother and his siblings.
“It wasn’t like somebody I just met. It’s somebody I had known, had conversations with for the last year and a half or so,” Colbert said. “It was like recruiting family at the end of the day. I already felt very tight with the family and Munir.”
McClain tore his ACL as a junior and recorded 40 receptions for 659 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior. At 6-4 and 210 pounds, McClain provides more size at the receiver position and helps in regard to depth at the position, which has taken a hit with four transfers this offseason.
“He’s another one that is kind of those complete receivers. Has great size. Size, ability, quickness,” Colbert said. “He can make plays on the ball in the air. He’s a strong receiver. It’s kind of hard for defensive backs to get hands on him because he’s so physical. He has such a great physical stature about him. He plays the game the right way. He’s tough.”
Four-star tight end, St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.)
With the graduation of Tyler Petite and the uncertain status of Daniel Imatorbhebhe (hip injury), USC needed to restock its depth at tight end in this recruiting cycle. The Trojans did that with the signings of Wolfe and Ford.
According to Colbert, St. John Bosco utilized Wolfe in many of the same ways USC hopes to use its tight ends. Wolfe, who’s already enrolled in classes, only caught 14 passes as a senior but half of those went for touchdowns.
“He comes in with an ability and a skill set that matches everything we’re looking for,” Colbert said. “To be able to see him in the spring and build a relationship with him, and have him in camp a couple years ago, we’ve always felt confident he was one of the better tight ends in the country and one of the kids we wanted in our program.”
The Trojans’ tight ends caught just 17 passes last season. Josh Falo profiles more as a receiving option, as opposed to Erik Krommenhoek, who is much more of a blocker. The door could be open for Wolfe, who was the No. 8 tight end nationally, to be a pass-catching option at the position.
Three-star tight end, Orange Lutheran (Orange, Calif.)
How the 6-4, 240-pound Rae fits into the equation at tight end remains to be seen. He’s been limited to seven receptions for 58 yards the past two years as knee injuries forced him to miss his junior season and cut short his senior campaign.
“He’s another one that came to camp a couple years ago and we built a relationship the past couple years. He’s very athletic, has a great build and frame to his body,” Colbert said. “He’s a vertical threat. Comes from another great program locally, obviously had an unfortunate knee injury, but we’re confident he’s going to be back to where he was before he was injured.”
Overall, the pass catchers were the strength of USC’s recruiting class, which ranked 20th nationally in the 247Sports Composite, low for the Trojans’ standards.
Given the departures at receiver this offseason, Colbert likely will have to hit the recruiting trail hard for receivers in the next recruiting cycle. USC doesn’t have to go far to find talented options.
Four-star Corona Centennial receiver Gary Bryant Jr. — the No. 12 overall player in California and No. 76 nationally in 2020 — arrived at the Nike Opening Regionals in Long Beach last weekend with a Trojans sweater on and went on to win the MVP award for the receiver group.
Corona Del Mar’s John Humphreys and Narbonne’s Josh Jackson, both four-star prospects, also are targets.
In the meantime, how this 2019 group of players develops will be worth watching.
“They’re all playmakers in their own right and they all do different things,” Colbert said. “As this group matures over time and over the years, I think they’re going to be a special and dynamic group, collectively.”