Antonio Morales (TheAthletic.com) — Aside from the three-day early signing period in December and national signing day Feb. 6, it’s hard to argue any day held more stakes for USC’s 2019 recruiting class than Saturday’s All-American Bowl.</span>
Three of California’s top four high school prospects — the nation’s No. 1 athlete Bru McCoy, the state of California’s No. 1 wideout Kyle Ford and top-ranked corner Chris Steele — all announced their college destinations at the event in San Antonio, Texas.
The Trojans didn’t land all three players, but they added significant talent to their program. So let’s examine what Saturday’s decisions meant for USC’s football program.
The answer was telling enough. Five-star standout Bru McCoy sat down in Mater Dei’s main offices, just a few days after USC’s season ended, and didn’t seem fazed by the Trojans’ 5-7 season or the debate about Clay Helton’s ability to lead the program
“With SC, it’s like, everyone thinks the world’s ending, it’s falling apart. Nah,” McCoy told The Athletic. “Everyone’s like, ‘Helton’s terrible.’ Two ten-win seasons? Went to a Rose Bowl, I mean, come on.”
While the firing of offensive coordinator and receivers coach Tee Martin, who grew close to McCoy’s family during the recruiting process, and the recent noise surrounding new Trojans offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and the NFL weren’t ideal, McCoy ultimately chose USC over Texas.
While McCoy, MaxPreps’ 2018 National Football Player of the Year, was utilized as a receiver and an edge rusher by Mater Dei, he figures (and desires) to play wide receiver in college, giving the Trojans yet another talented option in a deep stable of pass catchers.
“I think he’s just a very complete receiver. He’s physical. He’s competitive. He’s got ball skills. He’s big and he’s fast enough and he makes big plays in big moments,” said Barton Simmons, 247Sports’ director of scouting. “To me, that’s important for a receiver to seize opportunities and impact games when they’re most needed. … He’s so solid, he really doesn’t have any weaknesses across the board, and that’s what really separates him.”
“He was doing quarterback stuff and I was doing receiver stuff on the opposite side of the field,” McCoy said. “Our dads started talking when we were working out and were just like, ‘Why doesn’t he just throw to him?’ That’s how we ended up going to Mater Dei together.”
One of the things McCoy said he’d weigh heavily during the recruiting process was feedback from current players in the programs he was considering, so Daniels and McCoy’s fellow wide receiver and other former Mater Dei teammate, Amon-Ra St. Brown, likely helped USC’s cause.
St. Brown, Michael Pittman and Tyler Vaughns will return for the 2019 season, which means the Trojans will bring back their top three receivers from 2018. But if Kingsbury stays — the university reportedly denied the New York Jets’ and Arizona Cardinals’ request to speak with him about their head coaching vacancies — and USC’s offense is as pass-happy as some expect, McCoy could earn some opportunities. Especially when you consider Texas Tech attempted 365 passes in four-receiver sets last season under Kingsbury, per Sports Info Solutions. (USC attempted 50).
Pittman will be a senior next season and Vaughns will be a redshirt junior, so there won’t be a ton of pressure for McCoy to contribute right away. He does set up USC’s receiving group well for the future, though, when you factor in his connection with Daniels and the Trojans’ five-star 2020 quarterback commit, Bryce Young, who is Mater Dei’s starting quarterback.
With Mater Dei’s pipeline to USC, the proximity between the two schools and McCoy’s connection with some current Trojans, it was logical to assume he’d end up in Los Angeles.
Five-star Orange Lutheran wide receiver Kyle Ford was harder to get a read on. He and McCoy visited USC together in December. When he sat down with The Athletic in November, Ford wore a Washington hat.
Those two programs appeared to be two of Ford’s main contenders down the stretch. The Trojans eventually won out.
“Everyone knows the legacy of wide receivers (at USC). Obviously, the connections you can make at that place,” Ford said after he put on his Trojans hat in the second quarter of the game. “It leads you very far in life. So that’s one of the biggest reasons.”
Ford compares himself to former USC and current Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and, shortly after his decision, spoke about how he models his game after Smith-Schuster. The 6-2, 212-pound Ford possesses the size and frame to play a physical style like Smith-Schuster did with the Trojans.
“Of course, his body size allows him to play that way but his attitude really allows him to play that way,” former USC receiver Curtis Conway, who coached Ford at The Opening Finals, said. “(He’s) very aggressive, not afraid of anything.
“(He’s) physical, not fast, but finds some way to stretch the field. He can run every route. Disciplined, super cool, strong. Like I said, DBs are like, ‘Man, I don’t know if I want to press him because he’s so physical, he may beat me up versus me beating him up.’ ”
Ford, who will sign in February and enroll this summer, had plenty of exposure going into his senior season, but his performance at The Opening Finals only added to it. He was named MVP after he dominated the event, which featured a collection of more than 150 of the best high school football players from across the country.
“It’s always really telling when you get a group of dominating players in one setting and one guy dominates. That’s what happened with Kyle Ford,” Simmons said. “The way in which he dominated was just so impressive in the sense that it’s not that he was the fastest guy there. It’s not that he was the biggest guy there. It was just really sort of a mentality that when the ball was in the air, he was going to get it. His physicality, his competitiveness, his demeanor on the field was ultimately sort of what was unstoppable as much as any physical trait. I thought that was a really compelling trait that speaks to how successful he can be in anything he does, but certainly in football.”
When asked during that November conversation what mattered most in his decision-making process, Ford highlighted playing early and learning from some of the team’s older players.
Like McCoy, there won’t be a ton of pressure on Ford to contribute early, which is probably fine and maybe necessary. Ford suffered a season-ending ACL tear Sept. 21, which closed his high school career five games into his senior season and could lead to the possibility of a redshirt season.
And USC offers a few veteran receivers for him to learn from. But as of now, Ford and McCoy represent the future of the receiver position for the Trojans.
“I think we’re really similar. Honestly, we almost look the same a little bit,” Ford said. “Body types look the same. We play the same. We’re both physical. We both like to block and make plays. I think that’s one of the main dudes I really respect.”
Even though USC reeled in two five-star prospects, it didn’t win every recruiting battle Saturday. Four-star corner Chris Steele, who was committed to the Trojans at one time, announced his decision to attend Florida.
Steele, who attends St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.), decommitted from USC in October and cited development, or lack thereof, of the Trojans’ defensive backs, as a reason why when he spoke with several reporters about it.
USC fired defensive backs coach Ronnie Bradford in November and has hired Greg Burns as his replacement, but that was announced late in the recruiting process, shortly before the beginning of the early signing period.
The Gators seemed to have a firm control of the momentum by then.
While adding two five-star receivers is solid and sets a proper foundation for the future, the reason Steele’s decision might sting is that comes at a position of need. USC has only four scholarship corners on its roster — and two more coming in this recruiting cycle — and Steele is the No. 5 corner prospect in the country playing in the Trojans’ backyard.
So, as noted plenty before, the secondary will be a point of emphasis for the program moving forward.