USC recruiting taking shape on defense

Things were much quieter for USC recruiting this July than they were in the same month last year, when the Trojans landed verbal commitments from eight highly touted prospects to bring their total to a whopping 18 before the start of the high school season. USC ended up signing only six defensive players in the last recruiting cycle, but the Trojans appear to be in better shape this time around. Here’s a breakdown of where the Trojans stand in their defensive recruiting heading into August:

Defensive end

Targets: Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), Connor Humphreys (Portland, Ore./Central Catholic), Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton), Jaylen Johnson (Corona, Calif./Centennial), Dewayne Hendrix (O’Fallon, Ill./O’Fallon Township), Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge), Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), Dante Sawyer (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett)

Outlook: USC has a verbal commitment from three-star prospect Austin Maloata (Corona, Calif./Centennial), but that likely won’t be the end for assistant coach Ed Orgeron as he looks to make up for last year’s shortcomings. Dorton has indicated he’d like to get his decision out of the way early and the Trojans would appear to be in the lead for his signature. Cunningham enjoyed his trip to Los Angeles for the Rising Stars Camp so much that he said he’d try to make it back during the fall for an official visit. Johnson, a high school teammate of Maloata, hopes to garner more attention from area recruiter James Cregg before narrowing his long list.

Defensive tackle

Targets: Joshua Frazier (Springdale, Ark./Har-Ber), Matt Dickerson (San Mateo, Calif./Junipero Serra), Gerald Willis III (New Orleans, La./Edna Karr), Peyton Newell (Hiawatha, Kan./Hiawatha), Andrew Brown (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Frommel Smith), Malik McDowell (Detroit, Mich./Loyola), Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln), Anthony Moten (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas)

Outlook: Defensive tackle isn’t as much a concern because USC holds verbal commitments from four-star Tashon Smallwood (Fresno, Calif./Central) and juco prospect Michael Wyche (Chesapeake, Va./East Los Angeles College), but Orgeron figures to stay persistent with some out-of-state targets. Smallwood is also being pursued by the likes of Alabama, Oklahoma and UCLA, so the Trojans will have to be successful on the field this season to keep him on board. Wyche has also garnered interest from other schools, including Oregon. Dickerson has USC on his short list, and Frazier intends to official visit this fall. Four-star prospect Ainuu Taua (Lompoc, Calif./Lompoc), a standout at The Opening, might eventually pick up a scholarship offer.


Targets: Bobby Okereke (Tustin, Calif./Foothill), Fred Warner (San Marcos, Calif./Mission Hills), Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South), Nyles Morgan (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee), Richard Yeargin III (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School of Nova South), Vincent Jackson (Tampa, Fla./Jesuit), Ismael Murphy-Richardson (Goodyear, Ariz./Desert Edge), Petera Wilson (Memphis, Tenn./White Station), Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County)

Outlook: Calhoun’s commitment at The Opening was a big coup for first-year position coach Mike Ekeler. Adding at least one more linebacker would be ideal. At the moment, the primary targets are from outside the region. Okereke and Warner are two Southern California-based targets, but the Trojans have some work to do against Stanford and BYU, respectively, for them. Garrett and Morgan are two priorities in the Midwest, while Jamardre Cobb (Los Angeles/Salesian), Michael Lazarus (Berkeley, Calif./Berkeley) and Curtis Bolton (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta) could emerge as options down the road.


Targets: Adoree’ Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), Adarius Pickett (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito), Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen), Nick Watkins (Dallas/Bishop Dunne), Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King)

Outlook: The Trojans were dealt a blow earlier this month when four-star prospect Jaleel Wadood (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) committed to Cal and two other potential offer candidates -- Jonathan Lockett (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) and Naijiel Hale (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) -- committed to Washington and Arizona, respectively. Jackson might be the No. 1 priority for several programs, and that's especially true at USC, given the need at cornerback. Pickett indicated at The Opening that his friendship with Calhoun, as well as USC freshman linebacker Michael Hutchings, could be factors in his recruitment.


Targets: John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly), Quincy Wilson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School of Nova South), J.T. Gray (Chandler, Ariz./Basha), Edwin Freeman (Arlington, Texas/Bowie)

Outlook: Smith said he’s been offered as a receiver, but he certainly hasn’t ruled out playing safety at the next level. Wilson would prefer to play cornerback in college, though he shined at both spots in the Rising Stars Camp and plans to be back this fall. Gray has high interest after landing an offer with an impressive camp performance.