‘He brings it all’: How freshman Zachariah Branch is shaking up USC’s receiver corps

USC wide receiver Zachariah Branch warms up before the Trojans' spring game at the Coliseum in April.
USC wide receiver Zachariah Branch warms up before the Trojans’ spring game at the Coliseum in April. Branch is making an immediate impact among teammates and coaches in his quest for targets heading into the 2023 season.
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

Dennis Simmons chuckles at first. There’s not much else the USC outside receivers coach can say about a five-star prospect like Zachariah Branch.

“From a talent standpoint,” Simmons said, pausing to find the words, “he’s different.”

Simmons proceeded to tick off the boxes. Branch has strength. He can run after the catch. He has an “elite catch radius,” even in a 5-foot-10 frame.

“He brings it all,” Simmons said.

The Las Vegas native is bringing a healthy dose of competition into USC’s crowded receiver room, where fellow freshmen Ja’Kobi Lane and Duce Robinson are among those fighting for playing time at one of USC’s deepest positions.


The Trojans have spent one week in football training camp, long enough to make some early impressions on the changes up front and on defense.

Aug. 5, 2023

Tahj Washington is USC’s leading returning receiver after Jordan Addison dominated with team highs in yards (875) and catches (59) despite playing just 11 games. Washington had 785 yards and six touchdowns on 50 catches after transferring from Memphis last season.

It could be another transfer starring for the Trojans receiving game this season. After he rose from walk-on to star, Dorian Singer chose to “fight fire with fire” when he left Arizona and joined the more competitive USC lineup.

The 6-foot junior’s 92.1 yards per game ranked second in the Pac-12 last year, and he earned first-team all-conference honors with a career-best 1,105 receiving yards.

Already a proven player in the Pac-12, Singer has seen the benefits of competing in USC’s stacked receiver room. The receiver proved his ability as a long-ball threat, ranking third in the conference with 16.7 yards per catch last year, but said he has improved his 10-yard game this summer, refining smaller details in his releases.

“Every play you gotta compete,” Singer said. “You gotta go hard every play because there’s the next man that’s hungry, that’s licking his chops to get in there and do the same things if not better.”

USC wide receiver Dorian Singer, who transferred from Arizona in December, likes what he sees from USC's receivers so far.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Head coach Lincoln Riley marveled at the competition at almost every position this season and noted this week that all the receiver spots are still among the tightest position battles leading up to USC’s opener against San Jose State on Aug. 26.

The diversity of skill sets has only contributed to the battle for playing time, Simmons said. Lane, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Mesa, Ariz., and the 6-foot-6 Robinson add size. Branch is an explosive speedster who fellow receiver Mario Williams said would surely lead a hypothetical 4x100-meter relay team composed of football players.

The decision will come down to consistency, Riley said. Veterans such as Washington, Williams and Brenden Rice have the upper hand, but after enrolling early for spring practice, Branch is making big strides in that area, too.

“He’s getting way more consistent and dependable in his job and I think has a much clearer idea of what it takes,” Riley said. “Spring was a good realization for him. He made plays but he also went through the freshman struggles that you do.”

The Pac-12 faces a bleak future as Oregon and Washington jump to the Big Ten, pushing the Pac-12 toward a collapse or merger in diminished form.

Aug. 4, 2023

To Williams, who ranked third on the team with 40 catches and 631 receiving yards last year, Branch doesn’t act like a freshman. It’s the way he carries himself, Williams said, especially after spring practices, where he learned the offense and “how to be a real athlete now.”

Williams recalled when Branch went up and wrestled a ball away from a defensive back in practice as an early signal that the freshman could live up to the hype. When asked whether the incident was in spring camp or during a more recent fall practice, Williams shrugged.



“Like I said,” Williams added, “he’s consistent.”