Clay Helton secured signatures from several standouts across the Southland on Wednesday and again has USC atop the recruiting rankings.
Helton expressed excitement and relief after the Trojans announced the addition of eight players to an already robust 2018 recruiting class.
“It is a day of celebration,” Helton said. “Very proud of this class.”
USC’s class started the day ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 Conference and No. 12 in the nation by 247Sports.com.
But after receiving letters of intent from Santa Anta Mater Dei High quarterback JT Daniels, receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu, as well as Mission Viejo cornerback Olaijah Griffin, Lancaster Antelope Valley receiver Devon Williams and San Diego Helix cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart, along with two out-of-state prospects, USC catapulted to No. 1 in the conference and No. 4 in the nation.
“We’ve been really good thus far with our staff and the way that we’ve closed,” Helton said. “Not to say we’ve won every battle, but we’ve won a majority of them.”
USC’s finish became all the more impressive because of a limited number of scholarships.
Because of a lack of attrition on the roster and the need to remain under the 85-scholarship total, USC could sign only 18 recruits, the second-fewest among schools ranked in the top 25. No. 6 Clemson signed 17.
“We came into this signing period a little bit handcuffed,” Helton said, adding that he was “extremely proud” that 16 of the 18 signees are from the West Coast.
Helton signed 10 players during the inaugural early signing period in December.
On Wednesday, Helton addressed multiple position needs after several players exhausted their eligibility and others, including quarterback Sam Darnold, tailback Ronald Jones II, receiver Deontay Burnett and defensive lineman Rasheem Green, departed early for the NFL draft.
Helton said each incoming player would compete for a starting job, including Daniels.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback was chosen Gatorade national player of the year and is the No. 2-rated quarterback in the nation by 247Sports.com.
As a junior he passed for 4,123 yards and 52 touchdowns, with four interceptions, leading Mater Dei to a 15-0 record and a CIF State Open Division title.
“He’s probably smarter than the head coach and the quarterback coach,” Helton said, chuckling. “I’m blown away by the way he picks things up.”
Daniels, who committed in July, will forgo his senior year to enroll at USC in the fall.
St. Brown and Williams are among the top-rated receivers in California.
St. Brown, a five-star recruit who made a commitment last month, caught 72 passes for 1,320 yards and 20 touchdowns last season.
Williams, who shocked Oregon when he announced for USC, had 71 receptions for 1,157 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Helton also bolstered the defense Wednesday, adding a lineman, two linebackers and two cornerbacks.
Trevor Trout, a 6-4, 300-pound lineman from Chaminade Prep in St. Louis, committed in November.
Linebacker Eli’Jah Winston from Central Catholic in Portland, Ore., switched his commitment from Oregon to USC on Tuesday night.
Tuliaupupu made 63 tackles, including 46 solo, last season. He announced for USC among offers from UCLA, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.
The cornerbacks, Griffin and Taylor-Stuart, were among the final players to join USC’s class.
Griffin, a five-star recruit, sat alongside his father, rapper Warren G, when he selected the Trojans over Alabama and Tennessee.
Taylor-Stuart also selected USC over several offers from schools in the Southeastern Conference.
“We were confident that we were in the lead,” Helton said about Taylor-Stuart. “But you never know.”
Helton credited relationships and open communication for his ability to close on signing day.
“Don’t come to USC just because it’s USC,” Helton said. “Come because it fits you.”
Player signings announced by USC Wednesday (* originally announced during December signing period):
HIGH SCHOOL (FALL ENROLLMENT)
Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. High School
JT Daniels QB 6-3 205 Mater Dei
Liam Douglass * OL 6-5 285 Harvard Westlake
Palaie Gaoteote IV * LB 6-2 235 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
Olaijah Griffin DB 6-0 180 Mission Viejo
Abdul-Malik McClain * LB 6-4 230 JSerra
Amon-Ra St. Brown WR 6-1 190 Mater Dei
Markese Stepp * RB 6-0 230 Cathedral (Indianapolis)
Isaac Taylor-Stuart DB 6-2 190 Helix (San Diego)
Trevor Trout DL 6-4 300 Chaminade (Ferguson, Mo.)
Solomon Tuliaupupu LB 6-3 230 Mater Dei
Devon Williams WR 6-4 200 Antelope Valley
Eli’jah Winston LB 6-3 230 Central Catholic (Portland, Ore.)
HIGH SCHOOL (SPRING ENROLLMENT)
Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. High School
Justin Dedich * OL 6-2 290 Chaparral
Talanoa Hufanga * DB 6-1 215 Crescent Valley (Corvallis, Ore.)
Kana’i Mauga * LB 6-2 220 Waianae (Waianae, Hawaii)
Raymond Scott * LB 6-2 220 Narbonne
Chase Williams * DB 6-2 190 Roosevelt
JUNIOR COLLEGE (SPRING ENROLLMENT)
Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. Junior College
Caleb Tremblay DL 6-5 275 American River (Napa, Cal.)