This offseason, we’ll take a look back at some of the recruiting classes that make up this 2021 USC football roster in the Recruiting Review series. It starts with the 2017 recruiting class, and takes a look at what kind of production USC has gotten out of its recent recruiting classes, as well as the hits, the misses and some what-ifs.
The 2017 Class
National Rank: 4
Pac-12 Rank: 1
5-star signees: 2 (RB Stephen Carr, WR Joseph Lewis)
USC’s 2017 recruiting class has produced two first-round offensive linemen in Austin Jackson and Alijah Vera-Tucker and two more NFL draft picks in Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu.
This was the recruiting class that was supposed to fortify both lines, with five offensive linemen and five defensive linemen. All five offensive linemen turned into starters, with Brett Neilon, Andrew Vorhees and Jalen McKenzie joining Jackson and Vera-Tucker. The USC offensive line hasn’t been dominant over the past couple of seasons, but it’s tough to fault this class, as finding two first-round talents at the same position in the same class doesn’t happen often.
Long snapper Damon Johnson was the lone two-star prospect in this class and that’s clearly a result of recruiting services not ranking long snappers or kickers on the same scale as position players. Johnson has been outstanding at USC and is one of the top snappers in the country. He doesn’t get talked about much, but he’s definitely a highlight when looking at this class.
Three of the top seven signees had their USC careers cut short due to off-the-field issues. There were strong early signs that the Trojans were going to get valuable production from wide receiver Joseph Lewis, safety Bubba Bolden and linebacker Levi Jones, but none made it through two seasons at USC before being suspended or dismissed from the team.
Several other members of the class transferred as well, but some attrition is expected in every class. Losing three of the top seven players that quickly, after all had shown promising signs, was a huge blow to the class.
USC was also not a dominant recruiting force in the state. The Trojans signed seven of the top 20 California prospects, but just two of the top 11. California had the Nos. 1 and 2 overall prospects in the country that year, but defensive end Jaelan Phillips signed with UCLA and running back Najee Harris went to Alabama.
To be determined
The production from the top of this class is set, as the top seven and eight of the top 11 signees won’t suit up for USC again. But there are some potential key players in 2021 in this class, which would be expected for a group of redshirt seniors.
The duo of Isaiah Pola-Mao and Greg Johnson could have a major say in how good the back end of the USC defense is this season. Tight ends Josh Falo and Erik Krommenhoek could be the leaders of a group trying to do more to get involved in the offense. And there’s a very intriguing pair in Hunter Echols and Jacob Lichtenstein. Echols appears ready to up his production this season, and how much he can get on the field, and the ways the USC coaches use him will be interesting to watch. Lichtenstein opted out of last season but returned to the team late in the year. He flashed more than a few times this spring and there is some optimism around his potential this season.
It will also be interesting to see if USC gets anything out of Juliano Falaniko or Tayler Katoa this season. Katoa returned from his mission last year but did not play. He sat out this spring while recovering from an injury.
Offensive line: Grabbing five eventual starters and two first-round NFL draft picks is a successful recruiting haul, full stop.
Cornerback: California was loaded at cornerback that year and USC wound up with just Greg Johnson and Je’Quari Godfrey. Johnson was a big addition, but Godfrey was a lightly-recruited, late flip from Cal who had suffered a knee injury late in his senior season. Some of the in-state cornerbacks USC did not sign that year included Darnay Holmes (UCLA), Deommodore Lenoir (Oregon), Jaylon Johnson (Utah), Thomas Graham (Oregon), Keith Taylor (Washington) and Javelin Guidry (Utah).
Graham was a major miss as a guy who was committed to USC and set on the Trojans, but then had a terrific college career for the Ducks.
USC did well to load up on offensive and defensive linemen in this class, but the Trojans didn’t land the top defensive linemen in Southern California (Phillips) or the top offensive lineman in the area (Wyatt Davis). Phillips had a rough start at UCLA before finding his footing at Miami and heading into the NFL draft. But landing both of those players would have been huge from a perception standpoint, and Davis obviously could have helped cover some of the issues along the offensive line the past few years.
RB Stephen Carr (Fontana, Calif./Summit) – No. 20 overall prospect
WR Joseph Lewis (Los Angeles/Hawkins) – No. 31
OT Austin Jackson (Phoenix/North Canyon) – No. 35
DT Jay Tufele (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham) – No. 39
S Bubba Bolden (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) – No. 59
DT Marlon Tuipulotu (Independence, Ore./Central) – No. 60
OLB Levi Jones (Austin, Tex./Westlake) – No. 93
CB Greg Johnson (Los Angeles/Hawkins) – No. 102
QB Jack Sears (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente) – No. 105
S Isaiah Pola-Mao (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe) – No. 113
OT Alijah Vera-Tucker (Oakland, Calif./Bishop O’Dowd) – No. 114
DE Hunter Echols (Los Angeles/Cathedral) – No. 134
TE Josh Falo (Sacramento/Inderkum) – No. 143
C Brett Neilon (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita) – No. 208
OT Andrew Vorhees (Kingsburg, Calif./Kingsburg) – No. 366
WR Randal Grimes (Las Vegas/Desert Pines) – No. 392
LB Juliano Falaniko (Pago Pago, American Samoa/Leone) – No. 414
OG Jalen McKenzie (Concord, Calif./Clayton Valley) – No. 427
DT Brandon Pili (Portland, Ore./Westview) – No. 498
LB Tayler Katoa (Layton, Utah/Layton) – No. 503
DE Jacob Lichtenstein (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Cypress Bay) – No. 530
TE Erik Krommenhoek (Danville, Calif./Monte Vista) – No. 567
CB Je’Quari Godfrey (Oakland, Calif./Bishop O’Dowd) – No. 691
LS Damon Johnson (Glendora, Calif./Glendora) – NR