Clay Helton and staff close strong to pull in a special class at USC

By Johnny Curren

Riding a wave of momentum created by his team’s dramatic turnaround on the field this past season, USC head coach Clay Helton and his staff closed with a flurry on National Signing Day to help the Trojans pull in a stellar recruiting class.

Adding to a group of five early enrollees who are already on campus, the Trojans signed a total of 18 additional prospects from the Class of 2017, including six heralded prospects who didn’t announce for USC until Wednesday in tight end Josh Falo, offensive lineman Austin Jackson, cornerback Greg Johnson, linebacker Levi Jones, wide receiver Joseph Lewis and defensive tackle Jay Tufele.

“What a great day to be a Trojan,” said Helton as he opened his afternoon press conference.

The Trojans head coach would go on to note that what impressed him most was not just the way that his staff was able to finish, but the fact that they didn’t lose one single prospect whom they entered the day holding a verbal pledge from.

“As a coach you hope to keep all of your commitments,” Helton said. “You know, it’s hard to do. To go into today and not lose one kid that was committed on signing day, and then gain some kids that you knew were so talented that you knew you were going to be in battles with other great universities around the country, and to be able to get those signatures, it was one of those special days.”

21 of the 23 prospects that make up the Trojans’ final signing haul reside in the Western region – something that didn’t happen by accident.

“You looked at how much west coast talent is out there, and you wish you had more than 23 scholarships, I’ll be honest with you,” Helton said. “But we really felt that there was so much west coast talent that we could really focus on staying home this year.”

A collection filled to the brim with big-name stars, the Trojans’ class finished the day ranked No. 4 by 24/7, No. 5 by both ESPN and Scout, and No. 6 by Rivals.

More important than the rankings, however, was the fact that it helped to address a number of holes in the Trojans’ current roster that needed to be filled.

“As a coach you can’t necessarily get caught up in the stars or the rankings,” Helton said. “The fact of the matter is that we had a successful season last year, but at the end of the day USC is about winning championships. We finished third in the country, but our ultimate goal is to finish No. 1, and to be able to do that we had to meet some needs right from the get-go in this class.”

Noting that he believes championships are won in the trenches and on defense, Helton said that one specific position group that was bolstered was Kenechi Udeze’s defensive line unit.

“When you lose Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, you know that you’re going to have to bring some big men in,” Helton said. “To have a Marlon Tuipulotu come in, a Jay Tufele, a Brandon Pili and Jacob Lichtenstein, and then to bring a great edge rusher in with Hunter Echols, we really felt we bolstered that defensive line group in this class.”

Just as significantly, Helton and Co. were also able to shore up the USC offensive line corps on Wednesday.

“Losing two tackles in Zach [Banner] and Chad [Wheeler], along with Damien [Mama] going out early to the NFL, we really felt like we had to bolster that group,” Helton said. “To bring in Andrew Vorhees, who is already here on campus, and to add Austin Jackson, Alijah Vera-Tucker and Brett Neilon, we really feel like that is an especially talented group that can come in and help us.”

While everything seemed to be going the Trojans’ way throughout the day, according to Helton, it wasn’t completely lacking in drama behind the scenes. That was particularly the case early in the day with Jones, who didn’t inform Helton that we would be inking with USC until just before he went on television to make his decision known. When he finally did announce for the Trojans, he did so only after first pulling off Florida and Florida State shirts before revealing a USC shirt underneath.

“I knew that we were in a battle with some really fine universities and some good coaching staffs, and then right prior to him going on T.V. he texted me and said, ‘Coach, I’m a Trojan,’” Helton said. “Thank God he texted me. I would have had a heart attack right there.”


Wednesday’s Signees


S Bubba Bolden (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)

RB Stephen Carr (Fontana, Calif./Summit)

DE Hunter Echols (Los Angeles, Calif./Cathedral)

OLB Juliano Falaniko (Pago Pago, AS/Leone)

TE Josh Falo (Sacramento, Calif./Inderkum)

CB Je’Quari Godfrey (Oakland, Calif./Bishop O’Dowd)

WR Randal Grimes (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)

OL Austin Jackson (Phoenix, Ariz./North Canyon)

CB Greg Johnson (Los Angeles, Calif./Hawkins)

LB Levi Jones (Austin, Texas/Westlake)

TE Erik Krommenhoek (Danville, Calif./Monte Vista)

WR Joseph Lewis (Los Angeles, Calif./Hawkins)

DE/DT Jacob Lichtenstein (Weston, Fla./Cypress Bay)

OL Brett Neilon (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita Catholic)

DT Brandon Pili (Portland, Ore./Westview)

S Isaiah Pola-Mao (Phoenix, Ariz./Mountain Pointe)

OL Alijah Vera-Tucker (Oakland, Calif./Bishop O’Dowd)

DT Jay Tufele (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham)


Early Enrollees


LS Damon Johnson (Glendora, Calif./Citrus College)

LB Tayler Katoa (Layton, Utah/Layton)

QB Jack Sears (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente)

DT Marlon Tuipulotu (Independence, Ore./Central)

OL Andrew Vorhees (Kingsburg, Calif./Kingsburg)


Expected blueshirt


OL Jalen McKenzie (Concord, Calif./Clayton Valley)

Johnny Curren

Started with WeAreSC in early 2000’s as recruiting writer. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

11 Replies to "Clay Helton and staff close strong to pull in a special class at USC"

  • Brian February 2, 2017 (4:09 am)

    why no mention of Lang anywhere? What is going on with him???

    • J4SC75 February 2, 2017 (1:47 pm)

      Until Lang signs, he is a recruit, and coach can’t comment on unsigned recruits. Likely more to the story, but CCH not allowed to comment publicly by rules.

  • yale February 2, 2017 (5:15 am)

    I read Lang to greyshirt,and McKenzie signed as blueshirt

    • Keith February 26, 2017 (9:45 pm)

      What is a blueshirt?

  • E February 2, 2017 (1:41 pm)

    Alright then – the D line was addressed and seemed to get the attention that is needed to be successful going forward – well done boys – the addition of both Jay / Brandon / Marlon on the inside is key – esp. Brandon and Jay look like Mike Patterson clones, maybe and inch or so taller but that quick twitch movement and strength – that will really shore up the interior and Brandon just a big run plug in the middle – would like to see CP go back to a true 4 -3 with these guys coming in –

  • scpick February 2, 2017 (4:06 pm)

    Hats off to Coach Helton and his crew! Wonderful job! For the past year we have heard naysayers say he couldn’t coach, he couldn’t win, he couldn’t recruit. So he coached all the way to season ending #3, then recruited a top 5 class. I would like to see some of those doubters say “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”. For those who don’t speak Latin, say you’re sorry. It ended up a great season, and we are off to another great year. So many of those kids said they signed because of Coach Helton. He and his crew deserve a lot of credit.

  • Tim February 2, 2017 (5:06 pm)

    Amen to that SCPICK!

  • John/3pointer February 2, 2017 (6:21 pm)

    Fight On! Well said. Hey where the heck is the love from ESPN?????????????? No reps to be found on D-Day??? No worries, Trojan family all good! Cant wait to September!!!!!!!!!

  • Johnny San Clemente February 2, 2017 (11:30 pm)

    Helluva Job Coach Helton and Staff

  • Percy Clifford Payne February 2, 2017 (11:41 pm)

    “Prayers ANSWERED… THANK GOD!!! THANK GOD!!! THANK GOD!!! Now lets get ta work fellas!!! Stay FAITHFUL TO THE PROCESS!!! GOD BLESS AND KEEP My USC TROJANS!!!” -Percy Clifford Payne

  • George February 3, 2017 (5:07 am)


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