by Garry Paskwietz
There have been a pair of early departures for the NFL in the last week as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Damien Mama have both announced that they will give up their final year of eligibility to head to the next level. JuJu is projected in several mock drafts as a first-round selection but Mama has not been rated as high. Both played a lot of football in their three years at USC, Smith-Schuster had 39 career starts and Mama had 29, and JuJu leaves as the #4 receiver on the all-time USC receptions list. As for filling their spots next year, Chris Brown figures to be the first in line to step in for Mama at LG, the pair battled in fall camp before Mama eventually captured the starting role. We could also see Roy Hemsley get some reps in spring. At receiver, Michael Pittman (photo above) would appear poised to get first shot at JuJu’s lead outside spot but Josh Imatorbhebhe and Tyler Vaughns will both be looking to take the spot as well. The Trojans are still awaiting word from Adoree’ Jackson on his decision to stay or leave.
The Army All-American Bowl provided the usual showcase for several USC recruits and there was one Trojan verbal as well with Bishop Gorman safety Bubba Bolden making his pledge for the Trojans. It was a re-commit for USC as Bolden was one of the early commitments in this class before de-committing to take a look around, including an official visit to Ohio State and a dalliance with ASU. In the end, it looks like he will be joining a USC safety group as a potential enforcer with his 6-3, 200 frame that is only going to get bigger. Bubba has already added good bulk during the course of the recruiting process and he’s one of those guys who delivers on the hype by making plays and being physical. Among the USC targets who played well was DL Jay Tufele, who shined during the Army practices as well and will visit USC later this month, and DB Deommodore Lenoir, who will also visit USC and is a top target at corner. Unfortunately there wasn’t a ton of work for Trojan RB verbal Stephen Carr, who only got one carry in the game.
JC linebacker trip
With the departures of Michael Hutchings and Quinton Powell, as well as the mid-season loss of Osa Masina from the roster, there is a need at inside linebacker and the Trojans recently scheduled an official visit with Gary Johnson, one of the top JC linebackers in the country. Johnson (6-2, 225) is ranked as a top 10 JC national player and has ASU, Oregon and Texas as other scheduled trips in addition to USC (1/27). Johnson was once a commit to Alabama.
Senior Bowl/Shrine/Combine invites
The NFL draft process is now underway and it will begin with several Trojans (Justin Davis, Taylor McNamara, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu and Leon McQuay) taking part in the East-West Shrine Game on January 21st. Zach Banner will participate in the Senior Bowl on January 28th. There have also been two NFL Combine invites announced for Darreus Rogers and Tu’ikolovatu.
(UPDATE: On January 10th Stevie T accepted an invite to play in the Senior Bowl, and will not be taking part in the Shrine game)
Classes begin today for the spring semester with three early enrollee recruits who have graduated high school and are expected to start school today; QB Jack Sears from San Clemente (who led the Tritons to their first ever CIF and State football titles), LB Tyler Kotoa and offensive lineman Andrew Vorhees. USC will also welcome long snapper Damon Johnson, who was put on scholarship with four years of eligibility out of Citrus College (didn’t play at JC but played in HS with Matt Fink).