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Korey Foreman, the nation’s No. 1 football recruit, explains why he chose USC

Corona Centennial defensive end Korey Foreman puts on his helmet before a game.
Corona Centennial defensive end Korey Foreman chose USC over Clemson, Louisiana State and Georgia.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Before the pandemic and the unprecedented year it wrought, Korey Foreman never put much stock in staying home. He made that clear to his parents as a high school freshman, soon after receiving the first of many scholarship offers on his way to becoming the most coveted football recruit in the nation. He was going to do whatever was best for him, Foreman told them, wherever that may be.

“Honestly, I was looking at trying to leave home,” Foreman said as he looked back on a whirlwind recruitment that ended Saturday. It wasn’t until the pandemic derailed the recruiting calendar and left the Corona Centennial defensive end largely confined to the Southland, that USC, the school his family grew up watching from its living room, convinced him his best chance at stardom was just a few freeways away.

USC had watched many top local prospects leave in recent years, each time offering a reminder of how far the program had fallen. But as the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit, according to 247Sports, reached for a USC hat on national television Saturday, choosing the Trojans over national powerhouses Clemson, Louisiana State and Georgia, every effort made to rebuild that stature over the last year was seemingly vindicated.

For the first time in over a decade, the top player in the nation was going to be a Trojan. And he wasn’t the only big commitment. USC also secured Loyola Los Angeles cornerback Ceyair Wright, a four-star prospect, about 40 minutes earlier.

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Loyola standout Ceyair Wright, considered one of the top cornerbacks in the 2021 recruiting class, announces he will play for USC.

After a 2020 recruiting class that was ranked 64th nationally, USC’s 2021 class had surged from 14th to eighth in less than an hour. A new foundation to fulfill its promise of again dominating the West Coast was set.

“I’m going to the best I can to take back the West,” Foreman said with a laugh, echoing the mantra of USC’s staff. “Everybody talks about how USC’s stands aren’t always filled, but I promise you they’re going to be filled now. I got a big family.”

Foreman’s signing marks the biggest recruiting victory of the Clay Helton era, at a juncture when the Trojans, fresh off a loss in the Pac-12 title game to Oregon, could use one most.

“It shows belief in where we’re heading, for the No. 1 recruit to say, I believe in the direction of USC, and I believe in this staff,” Helton said.

Not since Matt Barkley in 2009 has USC signed a No. 1 overall recruit. Asked how the Trojans were able to land Foreman, Helton called it “the perfect storm of the right time, the right place, and the right opportunity.”

“There are those special players that you know can make instant, immediate impacts and truly allow you to take another step forward defensively and as a team,” Helton said. “He’s that type of player.”

Corona Centennial defensive lineman Korey Foreman looks on during a game while teammates stand behind him.
Corona Centennial defensive lineman Korey Foreman looks on during a game against Orange Lutheran in November 2018.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The many twists and turns leading to Saturday’s announcement were set into motion nearly a year ago, with USC’s staff in flux and Foreman committed to Clemson. It was in February that the Trojans finalized a staff full of high-energy recruiters, added support personnel, and retooled the program’s long-term vision.

Those efforts, at least in the short term, were largely focused on persuading Foreman, a 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end with blazing speed and uncommon athleticism, to stay home — a breakthrough USC knew would catch the attention of other top prospects.

As that rebuilt staff came together, Foreman took notice. By April, he decommitted from Clemson, where coach Dabo Swinney discouraged committed players from visiting elsewhere.

“That’s been a big deal for me and my family,” Foreman said of USC’s new staff. “We were just trying to see what all would happen at USC. Everybody knows that USC has been going through some things the past couple years. But right now, I feel like they’re set.”

Those feelings were cemented further when the Pac-12 opted to play its season, giving Foreman six opportunities to see how he would fit in USC’s new defensive scheme.

While Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl win spared us from another Alabama vs. Clemson game, the College Football Playoff is still lacking interest and parity.

But scheme was only part of the equation for Foreman, who made it clear throughout the recruiting process that the potential to build his brand would be a deciding factor wherever he landed. In December, USC put together a presentation over Zoom on name, image and likeness to help illustrate the value of its in-house creative lab and the opportunities that would be available to Foreman at USC.

The presentation made an impression on Foreman, who called it “insane.”

“It was like I’m the King of Hollywood,” Foreman said. “It’s everything that people talk about wanting to have. I couldn’t be the only one that was drooling when they talked about the numbers.”

It would take more to convince Foreman of a future at USC, a future he likely wouldn’t have imagined a year ago. But as an unusual year as the most coveted prospect in the nation wore on through the lockdown, Foreman said he learned a lot about himself.

In a conversation with Herm Edwards, the Arizona State coach posed the question of whether Foreman needed to go as far as Clemson or LSU or Georgia to find success. That approach didn’t help the Sun Devils, but it stuck with Foreman through last month’s early signing period, when he clandestinely signed with USC.

“This past year was about getting to know myself, figuring out what was really best for me, what Korey wanted to do, not what everyone wanted Korey to do,” Foreman said.

Standout wide receiver Amon-ra St. Brown becomes the fifth USC player to forgo the 2021 season and declare their eligibility for the NFL draft.

On Saturday, he made those intentions clear. Foreman was staying home, and, if all goes as planned, starting a new pipeline of top prospects to USC.

“I see nothing but success from here on out,” Foreman said.

As for how he would celebrate the end of his whirlwind process, he had more low-key plans in mind. “I’m a homebody,” Foreman said, “just trying to stay home and chill as much as possible.”


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