USC’s entire recruiting class of 2018 is now settled in on campus, as Fall enrollees moved in on Friday (with the help of the coaching staff).
"Welcome to the Trojan Family! We've been waiting on you."
A few early enrollees like safety Talanoa Hufanga and center Justin Dedich already made their presence felt in spring practice, but they’re far from the only freshmen standouts likely to make an immediate impact this season.
In 2017, running back Stephen Carr juked and jump-cut his way to an explosive rookie campaign (363 yards, 3 touchdowns), while kicker Chase McGrath nailed two clutch kicks against Texas to solidify a starting position as a walk-on true freshman.
With an overhauled roster depleted by the NFL Draft, USC is in need of breakout players like Carr and McGrath to step up this season. Here are five freshmen most poised to follow in their footsteps in 2018.
Amon-Ra St.Brown, Wide Receiver
For the five-star receiver from Mater Dei High School (Santa Ana, Calif.), it won’t be an easy receiver rotation to crack into right away. Redshirt sophomore Tyler Vaughns and junior Michael Pittman Jr. are both looking to improve upon strong finishes to last season. With those two locking down the outside spots, most of St. Brown’s reps are likely to come from the slot, where Deontay Burnett’s early departure to the NFL leaves a void.
He’ll still have to compete with redshirt sophomores Josh Imatorbhebhe and Velus Jones Jr. for snaps, but if his former high school teammate JT Daniels wins the starting quarterback job all bets are off. The pair has proven chemistry, linking up for nearly 3,000 yards and over 40 touchdowns at Mater Dei. Given their comfort level with each other, St. Brown could help ease Daniels’ transition to college football as early as Week 1 against UNLV.
Expect St. Brown to make an immediate impact on special teams as well. Over his career at Mater Dei, he returned three punts for touchdowns and averaged a ridiculous 17.8 yards per return. Between Jack Jones and Ajene Harris, USC struggled on punt returns all season and St. Brown could help solve those issues right away.
Olaijah Griffin, Cornerback
Another five-star recruit, USC is hoping Griffin is more than just the son of famous rapper Warren G. The 6’0” cornerback has a chance to crack into the defensive back rotation from day one, as sophomore Jack Jones will not be with the team in 2018 due to academic suspension.
Markese Stepp, Running Back
In college football, a team can never have too many running backs. With similar speed and shiftiness, Carr represents the ideal successor for Ronald Jones Jr., but he also missed six games in 2017. If Carr continues to struggle with durability, the Trojans will need other options like sophomore Vavae Malepaei and Stepp, to um, step up in 2018.
At 6’0”, 228 pounds, the former Notre Dame commit is the thunder to Carr’s lightning. USC hasn’t had a barreling power-back like Stepp since LenDale White, who complimented Reggie Bush’s open-field athleticism from 2003-05.
Stepp may not start from Week 1, or start all season given his own history of hamstring injuries. But he will probably play situationally in goal-line or short yardage sets. In the past, USC hasn’t been hesitant to throw freshman running backs into the fire. With Stepp, it should be no different.
Trevor Trout, Defensive Tackle
USC’s defense should be the team’s biggest strength in 2018 with Cameron Smith and Porter Gustin back to bolster the linebacker unit, and Harris and Marshall holding down the secondary with their vast experience.
If the defense has a weakness, however, it’s on the defensive line where the Trojans lose interior linemen Josh Fatu and Rasheem Green (the pair combined for 16 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss in 2017). Enter Trevor Trout, a 6’3, 315 pound tackle from St. Louis, Mo. He’s a defensive line coach’s dream, being an ideal 3-4 scheme nose tackle. Trout is adept at occupying blockers and stuffing the run. Expect him to be used rotationally, along with fellow young nose-tackles Brandon Pili and Marlon Tuipulotu.
JT Daniels, Quarterback
Daniels is the biggest question mark on USC’s roster. Will he start right away? Will the Trojans wait until mid-season when he has more reps under his belt? Can Matt Fink or Jack Sears fend off his limitless potential?
Daniels may or may not suit up against UNLV, but there is no doubt he is thick in the conversation to be USC’s next starting quarterback, despite not participating in spring practice. Now that he’s on campus, the competition begins in earnest.