The USC Trojans have become a national football power on and off the field.
Matching their back-to-back national championships, Pete Carroll has gone across the country to construct consecutive No. 1 rated recruiting classes. While the latter title is mythical, the results of USC's recruiting success has been very real.
For the past eight years the NIKE Camp tour has been the best venue to evaluate talent on a national level. Today we look East to the Sunshine State as StudentSports Recruiting Analyst Greg Biggins breaks down some of the USC recruits he saw in Miami and Tallahassee this spring.
GM: Pound for pound, Florida probably has the best quantity of quality talent in the country. In South Florida especially, it seems like you can't walk 10-feet without bumping into a kid with division-one talent.
What's the main difference between the Florida kids and kids from other states?
GB: I think the biggest thing that jumps out at me is that, athletically, you see guys there that are just freaky looking. If you take a 220-pound kid from Florida and then take a 220-pound kid from California or Texas, the Florida boy is going to look like he's 20-years older. The physical maturity they have is amazing.
But even more than that, the competitiveness they have is awesome. Texas is the worst when it comes to that. A lot of Texas kids are like, "what if I hurt my stock - what if I do this, what if I do that ..." In Florida, their whole entire make up is about football. They're not about trying to hide, they're about going out there and showing they are the best. They probably talk more than any other state, but they definitely walk the walk. I have yet to hear a Florida player say, "I don't want to hurt my stock". I don't think they even know what that means.
GM: Traditionally, Florida doesn't produce many division-one recruits at quarterback. However, this year USC has decided to recruit Jacksonville Nease signal-caller Tim Tebow.
Why doesn't Florida produce more quarterbacks, and how does Tebow stack up against the quarterbacks USC has offered scholarships to in the past?
GB: To answer the first question, I'm not really sure why they don't produce more quarterbacks. I think a lot of it is; at least with the players we've seen, they're just not coached that well. A lot of guys come out and they seem like they're always raw. Some guys aren't like that - (Florida State's) Drew Weatherford is a guy we loved at the Elite 11. But we just don't see very many of those guys in Florida.
Most of the guys we see have great physical tools - your (New Orleans Saints') Adrian McPherson's, your (Florida State's) Xavier Lee's - but those are not your true drop-back quarterbacks. Mind you, I would take either of those guys in a second, but they're not as coached up as the quarterbacks you see in some other states.
Regarding Tim, first and foremost, he's a great athlete. We're not talking about a true drop-back guy. He's not in that Mark Sanchez, Carson Palmer mold. He's a real physical kid who ended up doing 38 reps on bench with a 32-inch vertical jump. He's got a strong arm, but we saw him when he was coming off of playing three straight months of baseball, so he was a little bit rusty. Still, the arm strength was there and he throws a nice deep ball. He just had some trouble with some of the intermediate routes, which you would expect having taken three months off of throwing a football. We'll get to see him again at the Elite 11.
He's a great leader and a phenomenal kid with that gleam in the eye you look for. That's probably one of the things that attracts USC to him. He's a guy not afraid to compete, and if you're USC, you need guys like that. You don't want to recruit a guy who's going to be there for a year and then transfer.
GM: While division-one level quarterbacks aren't that plentiful in Florida, there never seems to be a shortage of defensive linemen. This year the state is absolutely loaded at defensive tackle.
The two top players you saw on tour are also two kids looking at USC. How do Leslie Stirrups and Charles Deas compare with some of the other top defensive tackles you saw nationally?
GB: Both of those guys are up there. Deas is a kid we've seen three years in a row now. He can play on either side of the line, so you like his versatility. He could play d-tackle, offensive guard or maybe even offensive tackle. He's a big, strong kid who works hard and always wants to compete. He's always worked out for us as a defensive lineman. He's a strong, bull-rush type guy, but some people think he projects even better as an offensive lineman.
Leslie is another big, athletic guy running a 5.1 electronic 40-time at 275-pounds, which is like running a 4.9 hand-time. He's not as strong as Deas, but he might be just as quick, if not quicker. He moves laterally very well, which is huge for a d-tackle. I think both of those guys are probably top 10, top 15 nationally.
GM: I spoke to Stirrups in February and he said that USC was probably too far away from home for him. Word is a written offer from USC over the spring may have slightly changed that feeling.
GB: I know he likes the idea of staying closer to home, although he did say he's definitely intrigued by USC and he wants to take a visit. That was at the camp, which was a couple months ago, so as you know, things do change. Talking with him and his dad, I got the impression that they are a pretty tightknit family, so at this point, I would be surprised if he didn't attend one of the big three - Florida, Florida State, Miami.
But like I said, they were pretty adamant about wanting to take a visit out to SC. They mentioned distance would be a factor, but also said that SC was too good of a school to not go and check out in person to see what it's like up close. He's probably still a longshot, but I expect SC to at least get a visit, if not end up in his top three or four as he starts to narrow down his list of favorites.
GM: North Florida Christian's Marcus Sims is a player most people categorize as a longshot for USC. Yet, the Trojans are desperate to sign a running back who can take the place of LenDale White if he declares for the NFL Draft next year.
What side of the ball do you see Sims playing on in college, and what shot - if any - does USC have at getting him out of Tallahassee?
GB: I think it's a longshot. Baring something crazy, I would be shocked if he didn't end up at Florida State with his brother Ernie. I personally think linebacker is his best position, although he did work out with the running backs at the NIKE Camp and looked pretty good. Right now I don't think he's as good of a prospect as Ernie. He has similar size and he's a very strong kid - no doubt a top 100 player with tremendous talent. But I don't see him going anywhere but Florida State with his family ties.
As far as that big, powerful back; I think Stafon Johnson is the guy. He's a kid who has the frame to at least get up to 215, 220-pounds. Now LenDale White is a special talent and he came into USC already 220, 225-pounds. Charles Scott kind of has that similar size and frame, but I think if you're looking for a power back, you look at Stafon first, second and third. He has the speed to be an every down back, but I think he can also be the physical inside-runner that USC is looking for.
GM: The same question that was asked about Sims can be asked about another Tallahassee local, DeAndre McDaniel. USC has offered him a scholarship to play receiver, but he seems to be leaning toward playing defense in college.
Where do you project him playing at the next level?
GB: I think he's definitely a safety. He's one of my favorite players for a lot of reasons. First, he typifies what we like to call that Florida spirit. He had a state track meet the night before the camp and he got home at 2:00 or 3:00am in the morning. He still came out to the camp the next day on just three or four hours of sleep. He said he didn't run well and that he didn't feel like his normal self, but he still wanted to take part in the camp. He worked out with the DB's, and again, I love the kid as a safety. He has the size to bulk up, he's a playmaker, he runs well and he's a physical kid.
GM: Having talked about SC's chances with Marcus Sims, USC also has its eye on Immokalee running back Javarris James. People say he didn't test that well at the Miami NIKE Camp, but you like how he performed with the ball in his hands.
GB: He's another one of my favorite players, just because of how competitive and tough he is. There were a few other backs in Florida who chose not to come out, but Javarris came out with a sore hamstring and still ran a 4.6. I'm not getting where the talk of him not testing well at the camp comes from. The guy ran a 4.6 electronic time with a sore hamstring and had a 32-inch vertical jump. I think he did just fine personally.
He looked great in drills, and was easily the No. 1 running back at the Miami camp. He's a strong, tough kid who's willing to compete and I think SC has a great shot at him. He obviously has a lot of ties to Miami too, but I think it'll be one of those two schools.
GM: James is currently listing USC as his leader, so you think his interest in USC is legit?
GB: Yeah, most definitely. I mean, players from all over have become pretty savvy about saying the right things. Sometimes a player will mention a school just so they don't stop recruiting them ... "Miami is my dream school and that's where Edgerrin went." Other schools will back off when they hear that. But with Javarris, I think he's a legit kid. It will be very intriguing to see what his decision is between those two schools (Miami and USC). Of course, a decision might be made for him if a couple of running backs jump on SC offers beforehand. If not, I think USC has a great chance with him.
GM: Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson linebacker Marcus Ball is a non-Floridian, but he definitely proved to be one of the top players at Tallahassee NIKE Camp. He and Colton (Calif.) linebacker Allen Bradford seem to share a lot of the same attributes.
Who's the better overall player since both could end up playing linebacker, safety or running back in college?
GB: They're very similar in that they're both kind of on the short side at about 5-foot-11, 6-foot. But Allen has a bigger frame and he carries 10-to-15-pounds more than Marcus. Ya know, Marcus is kind of a narrow shouldered guy with a thin waist. He doesn't look like he'll be able to carry a whole lot more weight, and if that's the case, he might project as a safety in college. Allen is a pretty stalky kid with a frame similar to (Tennessee's) Kevin Simon. Kevin was about the same size, 5-foot-11, 6-foot, but he was a thick kid in high school. We recently saw Kevin at the Athens NIKE Camp just hanging around and he's about 240 now.
Both Bradford and Ball are great athletes and they both can run. I think Marcus does have a little better instincts. He might be the most instinctive linebacker we've seen in a few years. He plays the position like a college guy already. In fact, he was at the last camp teaching kids and coaching guys up during drills, which is phenomenal to see. Our lead linebacker coach, Chris Grizzi, said Ball is the best cover guy he's see in the two years he's been working the camps. Marcus is one of those guys that could end up being an All-American at outside linebacker or strong safety in college. You want him as close to the line of scrimmage as possible. The farther you move him away from the line, the less effective he'll probably be. Although in terms of a run-stuffing guy, I'd give Bradford the edge there.
GM: With all the talent in Florida, especially South Florida, there always seem to be a lot of hidden gems. Having won two Orange Bowls in three years, do you think USC could go into Dade County and steal a kid under the radar?
GB: Yeah, I don't think that's possible for them anymore. Once they sneak around a kid and word gets out, that player becomes a pretty well known national prospect. You've got a guy like Jamil Paris who came out of nowhere. We had no idea who he was, even though he had an invite to the camp. He had so much speed off the edge watching him in one-on-one drills. Jamil has long arms, so he draws a lot of comparisons to Jevon Kearse who was pretty skinny in high school as well. This kid is 6-foot-5, 215-pounds, really, really fast and he was just able to dominate every offensive lineman at the Miami camp. Guys like that, you see a ton of them in Florida. In most other states, he's probably a top five guy, but in Florida, he's just another guy walking around.
We appreciate Greg Biggins taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. To read more of his opinions and articles, go to StudentSports.com or the PacWest Football forum located at StudentSportsFootball.com.
USCFootball.com's next stop on the NIKE Camp tour review will be Ft. Worth, Texas. We'll find out what Trojan recruits in Texas impressed Greg, and how a kid from Oklahoma might have stolen the show.