Daniel Imatorbhebhe returns to Trojans to add another weapon for Kedon Slovis

USC tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe stiff-arms Arizona linebacker Tony Fields II during a 2017 game at the Coliseum.
USC tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe stiff-arms Arizona linebacker Tony Fields II during a 2017 game at the Coliseum.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

After a season spent away, tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe has rejoined USC’s football team.

Imatorbhebhe, who last played with the Trojans in December 2017, is expected to be with the team for spring practice, adding another athletic pass-catcher to an already stocked passing offense.

Imatorbhebhe likely will require a waiver for a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA in order to play in the 2020 season, injuries having derailed a promising start to his USC career. Until that decision is finalized, he is permitted to practice with the team.

In 2016, as USC made its stellar run to the Rose Bowl, Imatorbhebhe emerged as a favorite target of Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold. The Georgia native and Florida transfer caught four touchdown passes in the final eight games of an impressive redshirt freshman campaign. But nagging injuries to his hip and groin robbed Imatorbhebhe of most of the next two seasons.

The talented tight end last caught two passes in a 2017 Cotton Bowl loss to Ohio State. Even as coaches expressed hope that he’d return in 2018, injuries ultimately kept him away from the practice field.

His status with the team remained in doubt before the 2019 season. USC listed the tight end under “squadman lost” in its media guide. At Pac-12 media day last summer, USC coach Clay Helton explained that Imatorbhebhe would no longer be with the team so he could focus on academics.

Todd Orlando, who served as defensive coordinator at Texas for the past three seasons, is expected to become the next defensive coordinator at USC, according to a person familiar with the decision.


“Daniel is this year going to focus on finalizing his master’s degree, as well as continuing to train,” Helton said in July. “But he’s doing well. He won’t be with us this season, but is doing well.”

Provided his injuries are finally behind him, Imatorbhebhe could join a passing attack that has no shortage of options for rising sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis. The Trojans lose their leading receiver from a season ago, Michael Pittman Jr., but return everyone else, while adding top recruits Bru McCoy, Kyle Ford and Gary Bryant Jr.

Where Imatorbhebhe might fit into that crowded picture, if he fits at all, is unclear.

It also remains to be seen how much of a role tight ends will play in Year 2 of USC’s Air Raid offense. Last season, as the Trojans produced the fifth-best passing offense in the nation, the position was mostly ignored. Tight ends Erik Krommenhoek and Josh Falo accounted for just 15 receptions between them, 4% of the team’s total.

That could change with Imatorbhebhe, who immediately becomes the most proven pass-catcher at the position.

USC promoted offensive quality control assistant John David Baker this offseason to inside receivers and tight ends coach in hopes of better developing the positions. Special teams coach John Baxter, who was fired after the bowl game, previously coached tight ends.