NORWALK, Calif. -- There was plenty of hand wringing among USC fans in February when Trojans linebacker coach Joe Barry left for a similar position with the San Diego Chargers and top linebacker recruit Michael Hutchings (Concord, Calif./De La Salle) almost immediately cancelled his visit to USC for junior day. He maintained his interest in the Trojans and said he would still visit USC this summer and fall, but Hutchings seemed to be wavering -- however slightly -- in his long-held stance that USC topped his list without a clear No. 2.
USC fans can breathe a little easier now, after Hutchings combined a Los Angeles Nike Football Training Camp appearance with a visit to Lane Kiffin and staff. Of particular interest to Hutchings was spending time with new linebackers coach Scottie Hazelton.
"That was probably the most important part of the visit - -my relationship with Coach Hazelton," Hutchings said. "Getting time with him and getting to talk football with him -- that was fun. I got to know him and he's great. He's just like coach Barry -- they're teachers and not really screamers. They like to get pumped up, but they are teachers first. He knows what's going on in that defense and that's something I really liked and thought highly of. We understood each other great. I loved him."
Hutchings said he recruited has died down over the past month, as college coaches have turned their attention to spring ball. But he is waiting for one last rush over the April and May evaluation periods before beginning to shut things down.
"I might let the spring evaluation period go, but by the time summer hits, I'm going to cut it down for sure," Hutchings said of his top group of schools. "I want to start focusing on my top five or eight schools going into the season, so I don't have to do much during the season and won't get sidetracked or different things like that."
Hutchings said that while he hasn't finalized his top group at this point, one school is sure to be included.
"I know USC is going to be the number one school," Hutchings said. "I'm fine telling everyone that right now. I've already told their coaches that. My family and I have a good feeling about them."
While a delayed flight and long line at the rental car agency forced Hutchings to arrive late to USC on Saturday and miss the Trojans scrimmage in the Coliseum, he had an opportunity to meet up with the coaches and the handful of recruits in attendance back on campus. He has become good friends with several of the top targets on USC's board, including quarterback Max Browne (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline), linebacker Su'a Cravens (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta), safety Max Redfield (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo), and this weekend afforded him a chance to get to know cornerback Priest Willis (Tempe, Ariz./Marcos De Niza), safety Tahaan Goodman (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga) and USC commitment Chris Hawkins (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Rancho Cucamonga).
It's beginning to feel similar to last year, when Bryce Treggs and Zach Kline led the charge in helping form a phenomenal recruiting class headed to California. It eventually imploded when recruiting coordinator Tosh Lupoi headed north to Washington, but at one point, the group gained commitments from Shaq Thompson, Ellis McCarthy, Jordan Payton and Arik Armstead.
"We could have a little remake of the 2012 Cal thing going on here," Hutchings said. "We were all there yesterday, their No. 1 choices at each of our positions. My two main guys are Su'a and Max [Browne]. Those are the guys that I've been talking to. And Max Redfield as well. Su'a and I are close. I met Max [Browne] yesterday and he's a cool guy. And Max Redfield, that guys a character."
He added that Justin Davis (Stockton, Calif./Lincoln) is part of the plan as well, although he wasn't able to schedule a trip to USC until this week.
Hutchings said that he is taking advantage of his part of the recruiting process, and doing his best to keep the stress level to a minimum.
"This part is the most fun -- getting other guys and seeing where we want to go and creating something great out of it," he said. "This is the fun part -- getting to spend time on campus with the players and just being on a college campus and experiencing the lifestyle and everything, without the homework."
"Everybody knows I love those two guys," Hutchings said. "I got a chance to meet them, so I was pretty excited about that. They're great guys. They're respectful and came right up to me without the coaches even telling them to. They just came up and introduced themselves and were talking to me a little bit. That's how the whole team is. They're respectful guys and the coaches give them a lot of leniency to be free. They're trained well and I see a little bit of our team (De La Salle) in what's going on there."