USC freshmen try to trust the process while losing redshirts during lost season
Rashad Davis raised his son to trust in the process. To wait his turn. To earn his keep. But as he has watched Raesjon spend most of his freshman season at USC on the sideline, he has sometimes had a hard time following his own advice.
When Raesjon Davis signed with USC, he was the second-highest-rated recruit in the Trojans’ 2021 class and the No. 3 player in the state, a rangy linebacker from Santa Ana Mater Dei who could rush the passer with abandon or hold his own in coverage. His signing was a significant victory for USC, capping what felt like a major recruiting turnaround.
His freshman season hasn’t exactly reflected that significance. Davis has played only 12 snaps over two games on USC’s defense, 11 of which came in the season opener against San Jose State. But although his defensive role disappeared, Davis still played in nine games this season on USC’s kickoff and punt return teams, making him ineligible to redshirt under NCAA rules, which allow players to appear in a maximum of four games.
That’s where Rashad’s frustration gets the best of him.
“For them to burn his redshirt, I just couldn’t understand it. Couldn’t get any explanation for it,” Davis said. “That’s a big deal. You don’t get that year back.”
As a lost season enters its last two weeks, USC coaches have already had to weigh decisions on how to handle the future eligibility of players they probably won’t be coaching a month from now.
It’s a difficult situation to consider, made even more complicated this season by the influx of players taking advantage of the extra year afforded by the NCAA from the pandemic. Injuries haven’t helped, either, as USC has had to dig into its depth down the stretch of the season.
After ranking 64th nationally in recruiting last year, USC is No. 8 this year, adding Santa Ana Mater Dei’s Raesjon Davis, a four-star prospect, on Wednesday.
But more often than not, the Trojans’ current coaches have been especially conservative with a recruiting class that was hailed as the seventh-best in the nation by 247 Sports.
“It’s something we discuss as an entire staff, we come together and try to figure out what’s best for the roster, what’s best for the kid and what’s best for the team,” USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “Make a decision and roll with it. The other thing is communicating with the kid and making sure they understand what the plan is. We don’t ever want to do what’s not right for the kid.”
In Davis’ case, Donte Williams said he didn’t believe Davis would need five seasons to establish himself at USC.
“I think this is showing him some of the things that he also needs to work on in the offseason that he feels to get himself prepared for not just the rest of this year, but also for next year, so he can go out there right away and battle,” Williams said. “He’s played in games, he’s played against other teams, he’s been in big-time stadiums to where he’s going to feel confident to hopefully step right into a role in spring.”
USC will stick with freshman Jaxson Dart at quarterback against BYU on Saturday at the Coliseum.
Davis isn’t the only top defensive recruit not to factor in much this fall. Four-star cornerbacks Prophet Brown and Ceyair Wright have each played 24 snaps over only two games on USC’s defense. Four-star linebacker Julien Simon hasn’t played a single snap. Along with Davis, they comprise four of USC’s top five defensive prospects in the class.
The only freshmen on USC’s roster to receive over 100 snaps through 10 games this season are quarterback Jaxson Dart, safety Calen Bullock and receiver Joseph Manjack — only one of whom was considered among the Trojans’ top 10 recruits in 2021.
Even the No. 1 recruit in the nation has had a hard time getting on the field this season. Korey Foreman has seen only 93 snaps over nine games as a freshman. He tallied eight tackles and 1.5 sacks in those limited opportunities but never quite found his footing. Some of that had to do with a long list of minor injuries, including a concussion that kept him out against UCLA. He returned to practice on Tuesday.
Williams characterized the top recruit’s first season as “a little bit of ups and downs, learning as a freshman.”
“I definitely think him not playing his senior year [of high school due to injury] for sure hurts anybody,” Williams said. “He’s had a couple injuries this year and things and dealing with his weight dipping down and coming back up. So a little bit of ups and downs, but hopefully a learning experience also to where he’ll be ready to go for spring and everything moving forward.”
USC knew that to sign Corona Centennial’s Korey Foreman, the nation’s No. 1 recruit in football, it needed to make the ultimate sales pitch.
Wright, the four-star corner, has tried to keep a positive attitude through a rough freshman season. After enrolling in the summer, he knew he had a long road to go to earning time as a freshman. But he said he doesn’t feel any pressure to play early.
“I’m paying my dues, working hard and getting ready for the next season,” Wright said. “Everybody goes through their process. I’ll be here for a minute.”
Whenever his dad has asked, Raesjon Davis has offered up similar answers. Rashad marvels at how positive his son has remained through a season that hasn’t gone the way any freshmen expected when they signed.
Raesjon has no intentions of looking elsewhere for playing time. He plans to trust the process. Just as his dad taught him.
“Just focusing on my role,” Davis said earlier this month. “That’s what Coach Donte always expresses in team meetings. Focus on your role, do what you need to do for the team to get better, and your time will come whenever it comes.”
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