USC, UCLA differ in recruiting strategy

When USC enters the Coliseum Saturday to take on crosstown rival UCLA, it will do so with some of the area’s top recruits looking intently from the stands, many of which hold scholarship offers from both schools.

Some had to wait longer than others for the option to attend college nearby. More often than not in recent years, UCLA has been quicker than USC in sending out offers to mutual targets. In fact, of the 12 in-state prospects from the 2015 class that the Trojans have already offered, only four-star offensive tackle Zach Robertson (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) added USC to his list of suitors before the Bruins joined the chase.

Yet USC’s recruiting efforts are not necessarily harmed by this seemingly cautious approach. UCLA beat USC in offering the likes of Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial), Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra), but the Trojans added them to their recruiting class nonetheless.

“When my dad told me UCLA offered a day after I competed at their camp, I was really happy,” Lobendahn said. “It was my first offer and I was fortunate to have a local option. When USC offered the next day, though, it felt different. It was special. There was a big difference, in my opinion.”

There are others who faced a similar offering process, including ESPN 300 tight end Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure), ESPN 300 cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra) and ESPN 300 athlete John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly). USC’s scholarship limitations, though, have only added value to the highly coveted offer, with recruits recognizing the Trojans must allot their spots wisely. Even though UCLA is essentially creeping into recruits' thoughts first, it carries minimal weight in a decision-making process that sometimes involves more heart than mind.

“It doesn’t matter because you understand USC can only offer so many kids,” said Kanya Bell, an ESPN Junior 300 receiver from Diamond Bar (Calif.) who has offers from both programs. “The coaches at USC have to take their time and make sure they’re offering the right kids. When that time comes, though, you know it’s special.”

Three-star prospects Jordan Lasley (Gardena, Calif./Serra) and Denzel Fisher (Compton, Calif./Centennial) have committed to the Bruins but are still considering the Trojans. They’ll have a unique perspective heading into the crosstown showdown.

“The USC offer was a bit different because I wasn’t expecting it,” Fisher said. “It doesn’t really matter which came first, but I feel UCLA jumped on me because they believed in my talent. USC needed to evaluate me in a game first, which is great, too. Other than that, there is no difference in the way those two schools recruit. [USC has] come up on me the same but I remain committed to UCLA because the coaches there showed me a lot of love from start.”

The rivals also approach in-season official visits differently. USC has hosted only juco defensive tackle Claudeson Pelon (Orlando, Fla./Mesa Community College) this season, UCLA has brought in 10 recruits and secured four verbal commitments, including USC cornerback target Adarius Pickett (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito).

If the Trojans lose to UCLA for the second straight year, USC’s next head coach might not be able to be as passive. Recruits, according to ESPN Junior 300 cornerback Stanley Norman (Culver City, Calif./Culver City), would likely wonder why they're not worthy of an early offer from the Trojans.

“It mattered to me because UCLA was my first big offer,” Norman said. “That’s always going to mean a lot to me. They have been with me since the beginning. They haven’t slowed down and have been on me tough. That UCLA offered first does mean something to me, but it’s probably not a big deal to other recruits yet.”