If there were any questions about the impact a bolstered recruiting department could have on a program, look no further than USC's pursuit of four-star defensive end DJ Wesolak, out of Boonville, Missouri.
The USC defensive coaches have been relentless in their pursuit of top prospects across the country ever since they landed in Los Angeles more than a year ago. But even they can't get to every potential top target. In the case of Wesolak, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound, four-star defensive end, it was USC's hiring of Megan Mueller as director of recruiting operations that started the connection between the Trojans and the nation's No. 176 overall prospect and No. 10 defensive end.
The two had developed a relationship while she was working at Kansas, and when she made the move to USC back in March, Wesolak let it be known that he would very much be interested in hearing from the Trojans. USC extended an offer quickly after that.
"I said I had interest in USC from growing up watching them play," Wesolak said, adding that USC defensive line coach Vic So'oto was aware of him but didn't know the extent to which Wesolak was open to leaving home for college.
It took almost no time at all for Wesolak and So'oto to develop a strong relationship. The Trojans are also getting a big assist from quality control analyst C.J. Ah You in this recruitment.
"He's my dawg," Wesolak said of So'oto. "Him and C.J. He's real. I sent him film of me just doing drill work and he gave me some advice and helped me get better...He keeps it real with me and it's something I've loved during this process...It's real calls, not really worrying about football. He wants to know how I'm doing and they are real people with real interest in me, not just trying to sell me on recruiting. I'm excited to get out there and see everything, especially with it as one of my first visits ever. It's exciting to see the atmosphere and culture."
Wesolak said his experience watching USC is rooted in Adoree' Jackson and his spectacular play as a two-way player for the Trojans. He's also impressed by the USC traditions, the atmosphere that surrounds the program and the success the Trojans have had in sending players to the NFL.
"I fell in love with the school and the players who have played there," he said. "USC has that culture and tradition that most schools don't have."
At this point, Wesolak is very much set on leaving home for the next level, and his top schools and future visit destinations reflects that. Alabama, Arizona State, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Texas A&M and USC made up his top 15 schools back in April. Wesolak said that a top-eight schools list could be coming soon, but it's not difficult to see which schools he's most seriously considering.
Wesolak has an extremely busy June coming up. He'll be on the Missouri campus to open the month, then will fly to Georgia the following week and drive to Clemson for the Tigers' Elite Retreat. He'll then visit North Carolina before flying back home, then out to Miami for an official visit with the Hurricanes on June 18. He'll close the month with an official visit to USC on June 25. Alabama and Florida are two more schools Wesolak is hoping to visit at some point.
He's set a commitment date of September 14, but admitted that he's anticipating a possibility that he'll be driven to commit during one of these visits.
"I'm looking forward to finding a home and making that commitment," Wesolak said. "But I don't want to rush it."
Wesolak has a notable approach to the upcoming visits. While it seems as though so many prospects taking so many trips to so many different schools could result in some information overload and chaos when it comes to keeping things organized, Wesolak said it'll be the exact opposite for him.
"As players, this whole covid thing has been nothing but Zoom and information," Wesolak said. "We spend hours and days on Zoom hearing the education process, nutritionists, position groups...I've spent so many days on Zoom listening to them and getting information. It'll be more like seeing it and seeing the culture. I want to see it and say, 'Yeah, that's the truth what they're saying.' I feel like it's going to be more seeing is believing."
With so many big-time schools still in the mix, USC is far from a sure thing in terms of getting a commitment from Wesolak. But the Trojans have plenty of things going for them, including that upcoming official visit, a strong recruiting relationship and a defense and defensive personnel that intrigues him.
While his strength is as a pass rusher right now, Wesolak said he's looking forward to improving his ability as a defender in space so that he's able to play that 3/4 defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid role that is very popular in college and the NFL.
"I feel like I'm a high caliber player and my pass rush is the one thing that separates me right now," Wesolak said. "But having the ability to be athletic and give people confidence that I can cover downfield, because I'm very long and athletic. I feel like my ceiling is very high as a player.
"Obviously coming in with that hybrid position, you have to cover the flats and running backs," Wesolak said. "I really don't have to cover in high school. I can be that dominant rusher or just outside contain. But that's something I'm looking forward to working on this summer. I can be a better leader in the passing game without having to be a rusher...I see guys like T.J. Watt who come in as a pass rusher, but he's a playmaker. I want to be labeled as a playmaker...I know I'm a pass rusher, but I have the skill set to do more."
That hybrid position is one where USC utilizes Drake Jackson right now, and that spot could be wide open for Wesolak if this is indeed Jackson's final season with the Trojans. Not only could there be playing time available, but Wesolak could be lining up opposite or alongside Korey Foreman.
Wesolak said the presence of Foreman at USC "absolutely" resonates with him and prospects in the 2022 recruiting class.
"With me and him there, I feel like we would be an unstoppable defense," Wesolak said of he and Foreman, the nation's No. 1 overall 2021 prospect.