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High School Sports

Upland’s Justin Flowe is the latest top-level recruit to snub USC

Upland linebacker Justin Flowe studies a running back before the snap during a drill at the Opening Los Angeles on Feb. 10.
Upland linebacker Justin Flowe studies a running back before the snap during a drill at the Opening Los Angeles on Feb. 10.
(Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

Justin Flowe is different. He plays differently. He hits differently.

When the Upland linebacker came up and popped a Mission Viejo ballcarrier for a tackle near the line of scrimmage last season, a veteran referee working the game was taken aback. Flowe walloped another Diablo a couple of plays later. The referee turned to a reporter and remarked that when Flowe hit an opponent it sounded different than any other hit he’d ever heard.

Flowe is a generational talent at the linebacker position. He is so physical and so athletic that high school opponents can’t scheme around him. He’s the top linebacker prospect in the nation, per the 247Sports Composite rankings, and is the No.3 overall player in the 2020 class. He is wanted by nearly every top college football program in the country.

But many schools were disappointed Friday morning. Flowe culled his list of prospective colleges down to four in a tweet: Georgia, Clemson, Oregon and Miami.

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The announcement was another blow to USC’s recruiting efforts in the 2020 class. The Trojans are on the outside looking in for a player many believe is the best Southern California linebacker prospect in the last decade.

Flowe is the type of high-end Southland prospect that USC’s recruiting efforts have feasted on over the years. There have been 79 Southern California prospects who rank in the top 50 nationally in the last 15 recruiting classes. USC has nabbed 43 of them — a success rate of 54% — if you account for Bru McCoy and Chris Steele ultimately ending up back at USC for fall camp this year. The Trojans have done even better with top 10 prospects in the area, signing 11 of the 16 over the same time frame.

The Trojans have been recruiting Flowe for multiple years and many even considered Flowe to be a USC lean until this summer. Every prediction that has been cast since July has been for Flowe to attend Clemson. The defending national champions currently have the No.1 recruiting class. USC is No.58 behind East Carolina, South Florida and Louisiana Tech.

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Part of USC’s ranking is due to a smaller number of commits. The Trojans’ 10 commitments are fewer than any team ahead of them in the team rankings. Teams can sign up to 25 players per recruiting cycle but must also stay under 85 total scholarships. USC signed a full recruiting class last year to get near the total scholarship limit.

“This year’s a little bit of a different year. We’re not going to have that this year,” USC coach Clay Helton said.

“It’s a smaller class, so we’ve got to be selective, selective in this class. It’s something that I think as you go through, you’re going to see a team that’s winning and hopefully we get to be really selective with guys, but it’s a little bit different year for us numbers-wise.”

The Trojans have struggled to attract the top prospects they have offered scholarships to, outside of Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback Bryce Young, the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback. Their next highest-rated commitment is Harbor City Narbonne receiver Josh Jackson Jr., who is ranked No. 292 overall. The other eight commits are all rated as three-star prospects.

USC was a finalist for the No. 3 running back in the nation, Bijan Robinson of Tucson Salpointe Catholic in Arizona, but he committed to Texas.

Helton is confident the allure of USC will attract players. The oft-used saying is that “USC recruits itself.”

“It’s USC. The product of USC is special,” Helton said. “The beauty about this place, it’s never hard to recruit. The quality of education, the opportunity to be developed by this coaching staff, to live in the great city of Los Angeles. Those things are never changing and so it opens up all doors, not only on the west coast, but across the country. And that’s what I’ve loved about USC since I’ve been here.”

Things change quickly in recruiting, especially if you win at a place like USC, but after going 5-7, the Trojans aren’t in the mix for many of California’s top players. Of the top 16 players in the state, only one — Corona Centennial receiver Gary Bryant Jr. — remains uncommitted and hasn’t publicly eliminated USC from his list of top schools.


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