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USC receiver Munir McClain is creating a buzz that was absent during recruiting

USC freshman Munir McClain leaps up for a pass on the sideline Monday.
USC freshman Munir McClain leaps up for a pass on the sideline Monday. McClain sat out practice while in concussion protocol.
(Shotgun Spratling / For The Times)

The first commitment in USC’s 2019 recruiting class was perhaps its most low-key.

As the nation’s 567th overall prospect and 68th-best receiver, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, Munir McClain didn’t solicit much buzz as a prospect.

A torn knee ligament and meniscus kept him off the field for his junior season at San Juan Capistrano JSerra High, robbing him of a crucial stretch for his recruitment.

When McClain chose USC in April 2018, no one had seen him play in months. As a result, the recruiting world responded to his commitment with a collective shrug.

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In the months that followed, as USC reeled in other top-flight receiver recruits, McClain’s arrival slipped even further under the radar.

Four-star receivers Kyle Ford and Drake London joined the fray, followed by Bru McCoy, whose high-profile recruitment and eventual transfer saga dominated headlines.

But as USC opened camp without McCoy, who has been absent because of an apparent illness, and Ford, who’s still recovering from a knee ligament tear suffered last season, it took only a few days for McClain to burst onto the scene, establishing himself as not only the most buzzed-about receiver, but general playmaker on USC’s offense.

McClain sat out of practice Monday and remains “day to day” while in the concussion protocol, but USC coaches have made it clear that he’ll make an immediate impact.

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“To be honest,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said, “I thought he’d be a little more raw than he is. But he’s been a pleasant surprise for us, as far as how far along he is, how many plays he’s making. He’s doing some great things.”

McClain, who as a freshman has not been made available to speak to the media, has mixed in with the first-team offense during camp.

At 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds, with breakaway speed and elite jump-ball skills, McClain’s potential appears boundless. Which raises this question: How exactly did he fly so far under the radar?

As far as Shan McClain remembers, her son has excelled at pretty much everything he has tried. He was just that type of kid, she says, one with endless athleticism and an uncommon determination.

For a while, McClain talked about earning a basketball scholarship, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who played at Texas Southern and Nevada Las Vegas.

But football just seemed to come most naturally. At times, it didn’t even seem as if McClain had to try. To his high school coach, the ease with which he operated on a football field was actually one of the things that threatened to hold him back.

“I don’t think Munir actually has any idea how good he can be,” JSerra coach Pat Harlow said. “The biggest thing I’ve always told him is, ‘There aren’t many people like you walking this earth, and when you decide you want to be the best guy on the field, you probably can be.’ ”

His mother refused to wait on that realization. As his recruitment lagged, she took things into her hands, sending out his highlight video to schools. A few took notice, USC included.

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“I just know you have to go for what you want,” she said.

But McClain knew what he wanted. As his brother, linebacker Abdul-Malik, went through the recruiting process a year earlier, Munir decided he wanted to play for USC.

During one at-home visit for his brother, McClain asked Trojans coach Clay Helton what it would take for him to get an offer. Helton told him to take his time and get better. But McClain was firm in his conviction.

“He wasn’t hung up on all of the offers,” his mother said. “He wanted to go to one place, and he had his mind set on that.”

USC finally offered during his junior day. A few months later, he tore the knee ligament and his recruitment grinded to a halt.

It was “the absolute worst timing,” Harlow said.

But as far as McClain was concerned, the lack of attention mattered little. Helton, who’d spent plenty of time with the McClains by that point, had a good feeling about the youngster’s potential.

“It was just the right fit for us,” Helton said. “Sometimes you don’t worry about what people’s opinions are star-wise, and you go with your gut and say, this is a kid that fits us and we feel is going to be really talented when he’s healthy.”

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As McClain caught a pass on the perimeter last week, that certainly seemed to be the case. Following his blocks, McClain burst upfield and through contact, shedding two possible tacklers as he emerged into the open field. As he sprinted toward the end zone, a defensive back tried to keep up, but couldn’t.

So McClain, the lowest-ranked receiver in USC’s recruiting class, took it 70 yards to the end zone, forcing his way to the forefront. Just as he’d always planned.

“As you can tell right now,” his mother said, “Munir doesn’t take a backseat.”


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