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USC caps recruiting resurgence by signing Mater Dei’s Raesjon Davis

Mater Dei outside linebacker Raesjon Davis
Mater Dei outside linebacker Raesjon Davis committed to USC on Wednesday morning.
(Shotgun Spratling / For The Times)

On paper, last February, it probably would’ve seemed like a pipe dream: The top high school football prospect in the nation. Nine of the top 20 players in California. An entire operation, modernized and organized, rebuilt and rebranded, all over the course of an entirely virtual recruiting cycle.

When its lofty plans to rewrite recruiting wrongs were drawn at this time last year, USC had bottomed out, missing on all of its top targets, falling to 64th in the national rankings. A disappointing class finished with a whimper on national signing day, when USC inked just one prospect, tight end Jack Yary, who would never play a down for the Trojans.

What a difference a year can make. By Wednesday, when Santa Ana Mater Dei linebacker Raesjon Davis, the No. 3 player in the state, signed with USC, putting an exclamation point on the eighth-ranked class in the nation according to 247Sports, a strong finish to the Trojans’ recruiting turnaround felt less stunning than it did assured.

After landing one of the state’s top 20 prospects a year ago, USC signed nine in its 2021 class, the most it has claimed in-state of that caliber since 2004. The nation’s top prospect, Corona Centennial defensive end Korey Foreman, chose the Trojans, along with four more of the nation’s top-100 prospects, two of whom — Davis and Los Angeles Loyola cornerback Ceyair Wright — signed Wednesday.

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From the transfer portal, USC added even more talent at running back (Texas’ Keontay Ingram), receiver (Colorado’s K.D. Nixon), defensive tackle (Alabama’s Ishmael Sopsher) and defensive back (Texas safety Xavion Alford), filling holes which had opened since December.

“I think this is a great combination of young, elite talent combined with some experienced transfers that we were able to acquire, really meet some needs that we desperately needed going into next season,” coach Clay Helton said. “Especially when you look at losing seven NFL enrollees to the NFL draft, that combination of young talent as well as a couple transfers in needed positions I think is going to propel us to our championship goals.”

A year ago, that young, elite talent was largely looking elsewhere. Davis committed to Louisiana State. Foreman was pledged to Clemson. Neither was on a path to USC, until changes within the program prompted them to take notice.

Perhaps the most noteworthy was the hiring of cornerbacks coach Donte Williams, who has proved within less than a year of his arrival to be one of the nation’s foremost recruiters. After taking the reins with Foreman and reeling in Wright, Williams was also in the lead on Davis’ recruitment, putting the finishing touches on a recruiting cycle that earned him a promotion to associate head coach.

Seth Doege, who worked as an offensive quality control analyst the last two seasons for USC, has been promoted to tight ends coach.

“Donte obviously did a wonderful job,” Helton said. “I’ve always said that some guys can elevate you and elevate an entire staff and Donte was one of those guys that elevates the people that are around him.”

USC signed nine four-star defenders, plus the five-star Foreman, in its 2021 class, six of whom are defensive backs. Foreman is expected to make an immediate impact as a pass rusher; last month, defensive line coach Vic So’oto said he planned to line him up “wherever there’s a weakness.”

Davis, who has excelled as a pass rusher and an off-ball linebacker, noted that an early opportunity to play was a draw at USC.

Fourteen of USC’s 22 signees will enroll early and be eligible to take part in the spring, Helton said. As the Trojans venture to replace several starters, that extra practice time should help accelerate the learning curve.

Helton also noted that any seniors who didn’t enter the NFL draft or the transfer portal are expected back. Some may find freshmen, such as Davis, nipping at their heels.

Seth Doege, who worked as an offensive quality control analyst the last two seasons for USC, has been promoted to tight ends coach.

“I thought Raesjon was a huge pickup for us because of his athleticism,” Helton said. “When you turn on the tape, he’s kind of what college football’s going to — a guy who can cover a receiver through the middle of the field in Cover-2, a guy that’s great out in space to be able to run the ball down, physical enough in between the tackles in the run game, and truly can apply pressure in blitz situations, so he checks off every box.”

USC checked the final box in its recruiting turnaround Wednesday. Now, after such a sudden renaissance, the question is where that talent might take the Trojans on the field.

“I see where the program is going,” Davis said, after committing to USC during 247Sports’ signing day show. “It looks like it’s going in a great direction.”


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