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Early signings land USC prized linebackers

Early signings land USC prized linebackers
JSerra defensive end Abdul-Malik McClain chases Santa Margarita quarterback Josiah Norwood before pulling Norwood down for a sack on Oct. 27. (Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

College football's first early-signing period netted USC eight players Wednesday, including a quartet of quick, athletic linebackers headed by five-star recruit Palaie Gaoteote IV of Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas.

The Trojans also landed Abdul-Malik McClain, a linebacker who had been committed to UCLA. And coach Clay Helton said the school is far from done, with two days left in the early-signing window and the regular-signing period looming in February.

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"There's still more out there," he said. "Guys are still trying to make decisions. I'm hoping for some more good news as time goes on."

Gaoteote was selected to the PrepStar Dream Team this fall after making 80 tackles, including 20 for losses. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior, rated as the top inside linebacker prospect in the country, is the nephew of Ma'a Tanuvasa, who played for three NFL teams, winning two Super Bowls.

"I've been fascinated by his football instincts," Helton said. "Played way more mature than his age. He looks like a college-ready football player right now. I'm extremely excited about him."

In luring McClain away from UCLA, the Trojans landed a versatile linebacker who also played tight end at JSerra High in San Juan Capistrano. But the Trojans lost a recruit to the Bruins when linebacker Bo Calvert of Westlake Village Oaks Christian, an early USC commit, signed with UCLA.

Another USC commit, receiver Andre Hunt from Lancaster Paraclete High, also changed his mind this week and declined to sign Wednesday. However Helton did get Justin Dedich of Temecula Chaparral High. The nation's No. 3 prospect at center, Dedich is one of four recruits who will enroll at USC in the spring.

With a handful of players, including quarterback Sam Darnold, defensive lineman Rasheem Green and tailback Ronald Jones II, hinting they might declare for the NFL draft, Helton won't know how many scholarships he has left to award until after next week's Cotton Bowl game against Ohio State.

"[Wednesday] was about acquiring both needs and bringing really talented football players in," he said. "But also knowing there are individuals that are still out there, that are still making decisions. And we have to go compete for them."

Among those expected to sign soon is Tuli Letuligasenoa, a highly rated defensive lineman from Concord De La Salle High who committed to USC in April.

USC EARLY SIGNINGS

Football players signing letters of intent with USC on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA's early signing period (* spring enrollment):

Justin Dedich* OL 6-2 290 Temecula (Chaparral)

Liam Douglass OL 6-5 285 Topanga (Harvard-Westlake)

Palaie Gaoteote IV LB 6-2 235 Las Vegas (Bishop Gorman)

Kana'i Mauga* LB 6-2 220 Waianae, Hawaii (Waianae)

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Abdul-Malik McClain LB 6-4 230 San Juan Capistrano (JSerra)

Raymond Scott* LB 6-2 220 Harbor City (Narbonne)

Markese Stepp RB 6-0 230 Indianapolis (Cathedral)

Chase Williams* DB 6-2 190 Corona (Roosevelt)

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11

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