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USC coach Lincoln Riley expected to land elite recruiting class despite quiet start

Mater Dei running back Raleek Brown runs for a touchdown against the Duncanville Panthers
Mater Dei running back Raleek Brown runs for a touchdown against the Duncanville Panthers on Aug. 27. Brown was the first commitment of the Lincoln Riley era at USC, with more expected soon.
(Jerome Miron / For The Times)

During the hectic few hours that followed his unexpected hire at USC, Lincoln Riley paused to make an important call. Raleek Brown, a top Sooners commit, like many other Southern California prospects was rightfully stunned by news of Riley’s move from Oklahoma to USC. But the call was meant to ease those concerns, reassuring the No. 2 overall player in the state that he still had an offer to play for Riley — now just a short drive away in L.A.

The next night, a few hours after his introductory press conference, Riley made that drive himself, hammering home the same message during a visit to Brown’s living room in Monrovia. A few days later, the Santa Ana Mater Dei all-purpose back officially flipped from Oklahoma and followed Riley to USC.

Brown’s decision made him the first commit of the Riley era — and an important symbol of USC’s reemergence on the recruiting trail — but as early signing day looms, the speedy five-star still stands largely alone in the coach’s first recruiting class. An exodus of commits in the wake of Riley’s hiring left USC’s 2022 class stripped down to its studs, with only a four-star cornerback in Fabian Ross, a largely unknown edge rusher in Stockton Edison three-star prospect Devan Thompkins and an Australian punter, Atticus Bertrams, remaining.

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As it stands, USC’s class ranks a meager 101st nationally — dead last in the Pac-12. But no one expects that to be the case Wednesday night.

“Everyone in front of them is deathly afraid of what’s to come,” says 247Sports.com recruiting director Brandon Huffman.

That momentum is palpable, as USC’s return to prominence under Riley has been the talk of the recruiting trail since the coach’s arrival. But what that progress may yield in the form of results on Wednesday remains to be seen. Several top USC targets, including five-star Mater Dei cornerback Domani Jackson, don’t plan to share their decisions the first day of the early signing period. Jackson, the state’s No. 1 player, plans to announce Friday. Others are waiting until February, allowing the coaching carousel to cool off for a few weeks.

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The extra time can’t hurt Riley, who has had to first build his coaching staff and rebuild USC’s recruiting class on the fly ahead of the early signing period. With some prospects, like four-star Mater Dei receiver CJ Williams, he’s had to start from scratch in the final stages of their recruitment. Others, like four-star Las Vegas safety Zion Branch, already were considering the Trojans before Riley’s arrival, and their interest has intensified.

For Williams, Riley’s late-arriving approach appears to have made headway. An official visit at USC this past weekend was enough to convince Williams to step away from his commitment to Notre Dame and re-open his recruitment two days before signing day.

Raleek Brown is a five-star running back who committed to play for new USC coach Lincoln Riley. Check out our tracker featuring all of Riley’s pledges.

He’s one of a few top-100 prospects, along with Branch, who could help Riley deliver a statement to start the early signing period. Others like four-star Las Vegas edge rusher Cyrus Moss, four-star Mater Dei linebacker David Bailey and four-star Bellflower St. John Bosco offensive lineman Earnest Greene III could have surprises in store after Riley and his new staff put on the full-court press.

But more than likely, Huffman says, USC will come out of early signing day with a handful of top prospects signed and a few more to come — perhaps, as soon as Friday.

“Get Domani back on the board,” Huffman said, “and the sky is the limit.”

Jackson was once on board, decommitting last month before Riley was hired. On Sunday he was back on USC’s campus, posing for photos with the new coach and his former Mater Dei teammate and Louisiana State cornerback Elias Ricks, who is one of USC’s most coveted targets out of the transfer portal.

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Both talented cornerbacks could soon be Trojans, which would be a major early victory for Riley in his effort to mark his territory out West. But regardless of what happens Wednesday, Riley’s presence alone on the recruiting trail has made waves that USC hasn’t created in years.

The coach already has two five-star pledges in the fold for 2023 and is just getting started.

“If you’re another Pac-12 school, you better figure it out this cycle,” Huffman said. “Because there’s a new sheriff in town that’s going to completely change everything.”


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