LOS ANGELES -- The 2009 version of the USC Rising Stars Camp was expected to feature an impressive display of some of the top high school football recruits from around the country. Day 1 certainly did not disappoint. The event was led by a talented defensive-line group. The camp also featured several top prospects at defensive back and a nice group of running backs.
Let's take a position-by-position look at some of the top performers:
The Trojan coaches recently made it known to their top QB prospects that they wanted to view them in person at RSC with the hopes of making a decision on which player to offer. Jesse Scroggins(Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood), who has seen his stock rise as much as any player in the state this spring, was known to be a top candidate for the offer. Others prospects under consideration, Pete Thomas (El Cajon, Calif./Valhalla; committed to Arizona State) and Brett Nottingham (Danville, Calif./Monte Vista; committed to UCLA), recently gave verbal commitments to other Pac-10 schools, and were not in attendance. This left Scroggins, who has already been named to the Under Armour All-American Game, as the headlining act the camp at the QB spot, and he came through with a nice, steady performance. Scroggins simply looks in control while playing the position; he is pretty smooth in everything he does. He has a strong enough arm to make the necessary throws, and when he breaks the pocket, there is a sense that good things are going to happen. While watching him on the field, it was easy to compare him to former USC signal-caller Rodney Peete. Scroggins should know fairly soon if he will add an offer from the Trojans to offers from his other two favorites, Florida and Tennessee. A couple other players who impressed at QB were Chase Rettig (Sierra Madre, Calif./San Clemente) and Tyler Bray (Kingsburg, Calif./Kingsburg). Bray has an offer from Fresno State, and he is a tall thrower who can get the ball downfield. One sleeper to watch could be Kent London (Milpitas, Calif./Milpitas).
The Trojans currently have verbal commits from three running backs, and all three made appearances at camp Wednesday. Dillon Baxter (San Diego/Mission Bay) actually spent the majority of the day at the wide receiver spot, although he did get a few reps at tailback as well. Baxter, who will play quarterback this year for his high school team, is talented enough to be used in a variety of ways. Trajuan Briggs (Van Nuys, Calf./Birmingham) is thought to be the Trojans power back of the future. On Wednesday, he also saw action at the fullback spot. D.J. Morgan (Woodland Hills, Calif./Taft) was in attendance, but not take part in drills because he is in training for the World Youth Championships (track & field) as a world-class hurdler. Morgandid get some time in the afternoon session, and he looked quick with the ball in his hands.
The performance of those three was enough to see that the future is bright for the USC running back spot, but the top performer on the day might have been Dontae Williams (Houston/Aldine). With a nice frame, good vision and the ability to turn a corner while maintaining his speed, Williams made plays all day long. He definitely caught the eye of those watching from the sidelines. Williams has eight offers now, he should have more but an ankle injury shortened his junior year and left him a bit under the recruiting radar. It will be interesting to see how he fits into the Trojans' recruiting plans.
USC has active offers out to four receivers across the country right now. At one point a few weeks ago, it looked like three of them would be taking part in RSC. Things didn't exactly go according to that plan. Kenny Stills (Carlsbad, Calif./La Costa Canyon) decided not to attend, and Robert Woods (Gardena, Calif./Serra) showed up for the morning session, but did not do any of the on-field work. That left DeMarco Cobbs (Tulsa, Okla./Central) as the only receiver with a scholarship offer at camp ready to play.
Cobbs certainly impressed as a physical specimen from the moment he walked between the lines, and he looked solid in early drills. As the day went along, I began to notice that he wasn't getting behind any defensive backs. He didn't have the top-end speed to beat them deep. He does have the size, however, to make me wonder if a move to tight end might be in his future.
We also liked Tehvyn Brantley (Durham, N.C./Mount Zion Christian Academy), a smaller receiver with nice body control and hands. Brantley received an offer earlier this week from his home-state North Carolina Tar Heels.
A couple of underclassmen showed why they will be considered at the top of an outstanding group of 2011 wide receivers from Southern California. Devon Blackmon (Fontana, Calif./Summit) and Victor Blackwell (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) have terrific speed and the ability to make plays. Every coach wants a player who knows how to put the ball in the end zone, and these two can do it. Blackmon was recently offered a scholarship by the Trojans, after starring at their skills camp two weeks ago.
The Trojans have commits from a pair of West Coast tight ends, Xavier Grimble (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) and Randall Telfer (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.), but neither was in attendance Wednesday. In their absence, it was a Class of 2011 recruit Troy Niklas (Anaheim, Calif./Servite) who was the top player at the spot. Niklas is a tall target, and he moves well. He is also a terrific defensive end for the Servite Friars. Look for him to be one of the top recruits in Southern California next year. Niklas took a trip to South Bend to visit the Notre Dame campus two weeks ago.
2010 is considered to be a bit of a down year for California offensive linemen. Therefore, one of the more highly-rated players along the O-line Wednesday came from out of state. Nick Rowland (Peoria, Ariz./Centennial) has long been a top priority for the ASU Sun Devils. He wanted to wait until this camp to see what might happen in terms of a USC offer. Rowland will need to be more active on Day 2 of the camp. So far, he has made a few plays against some of the better D-linemen, but it will be a tough standard for him to lay claim to an SC offer.
The one player from Arizona who did attract a lot of attention was Class of 2011 recruit Christian Westerman (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton). Christian's father played for Bob Johnson on the talented Mission Viejo teams of the 1980s, and the family loves the Southern California area. Westerman was the one offensive lineman who was able to get some nice stops against virtually all of the defensive lineman, which was no small feat on this day. He was beat from time to time, but he always came back with some physical play. We also should mention that the top California prospect on the O-line Wednesday was Calvin Tonga (Riverside, Calif./Arlington). He looked to be a powerful blocker.
We knew coming into camp that the D-line group could be the best unit there, and that turned out to be true. There were in-state guys, out of state guys and a few underclassmen that showed strong defensive performances. The first players to jump out at us were Jackson Jeffcoat (Plano, Texas/West) and Ronald Powell (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde). Both are elite national players, and they did nothing to take away from their reputations. Jackson is the son of former NFL player Jim Jeffcoat. His dad was there watching from the sideline, and wearing a USC shirt. Jackson had a tall, lean frame and a natural ability to rush the passer from the d efensive end spot. Powell, an Under Armour All-American, stood out as an all-around athlete. Physically impressive, Powell jumps off the ball with great speed. He can either overpower or go around most any opponent. Powell spent the afternoon working out at middle linebacker, a sign of his natural athleticism. Powell was one of the big stars of a Florida Gator camp last week, and he has followed that up with an equally impressive showing at Day 1 of RSC.
The big postcamp news came when George Uko (Chino, Calif./Don Lugo) received a scholarship offer from the Trojans. Uko was told by the USC coaches that a good showing at RSC could result in a ride to USC, and he certainly took advantage of his opportunity. He is a wide body that took part in drills at both end and nose gaurd. Uko was virtually unblockable throughout the day. He was excited to get the SC offer, but said he doesn't anticipate making a college decision until after his senior season.
Ricky Heimuli (Salt Lake City, Utah/Brighton) has an offer from the Trojans at defensive tackle. He showed Wednesday that he belongs on the field with the other top defensive linemen in the nation. With a tall and solid frame, Heimuli reminds many of Fili Moala, who was on campus Wednesday after organized team activities with the Indianapolis Colts. Josh Shirley (Fontana, Calif./Kaiser) is a tremendous pass-rusher, and he could see action at defensive end or outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Justin Maclin (Memphis, Tenn./Ridgeway) is known more as a linebacker, but this LSU commit went through the morning session at defensive end, and had no trouble making the transition. Shirley and Maclin have similar playing styles and, they were lined up together in the afternoon session as outside linebackers with Powell in the middle.
The one player on the D-line already committed to USC, Dak Smith (Los Angeles/Westchester) has a huge frame, but he struggled at times with conditioning, after a recent injury slowed his workout efforts. You cannot teach size, though, and Smith certainly has that. At times, he showed the potential a 6-7, 345-pound man can have, if he can get in the strength and conditioning program under Chris Carlisle at USC.
There were three Class of 2011 prospects on the line that will be worth watching for in the coming year. Antwuan Woods (Woodland Hills, Calif./Taft) in an interior player with a bright future. Woods starred at the USC line camp two weeks ago. He impressed on Wednesday with a combination of strength and intensity. A couple of fine defensive ends were Jalen Grimble (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) and Greg Townsend (Beverly Hills, Calif./Beverly Hills). Both have football connections -- Grimble is related to Class of 2009 USC TE commit Xavier Grimble, while Townsend's father, Greg Sr., played for the Raiders. Grimble really used his leverage well in drills. Townsend is going to grow into a monster frame, and he showed good speed off the edge while rushing the passer.
We talked in the D-line section about how Powell, Maclin and Shirley were the first unit linebacker group in the afternoon session, and it was noticeable how the pursuit speed increased when they were on the field. All three guys can run well, and it will be interesting to see where they work out Thursday. Victor Burnett (Culver City, Calif./Culver City) is a middle linebacker who is always around the ball.
If there was any position group that even came close to matching the D-line in talent, it was the secondary. Dietrich Riley (La Canada, Calif./St. Francis) could end up being the top player in Southern California this year. It was somewhat of a surprise to see him lined up all day at safety. Riley, who has said he has a serious interest in playing running back, could see time on offense during Day 2 of the camp. On defense, he was quick to the ball, had good range and would be a good sized safety. Another top safety is Tony Jefferson (San Diego/Eastlake). There were some projections early this spring that Jefferson could end up at linebacker, but all the schools recruiting him are considering him for safety. It's easy to see why. Jefferson is very fast and physical. Looking at Riley and Jefferson in the safety lineup, it was easy to picture them as USC's safety pair in years to come. Dion Bailey (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood) only took part in the morning session. He is another national level recruit with good technique. We also liked Devon Carrington (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton) at safety. Like we said, this was a talented group, and there was no dropoff when you moved to the corner spot.
Joshua Shaw (Palmdale, Calif./Palmdale) has seen his stock rise in recent weeks, and he now has offers from USC, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. He brings size and a physical nature to the corner position. Anthony Jefferson (Los Angeles/Cathedral) is tall with long arms. He fits the mold of the type of corner Pete Carroll has been favoring lately. Anthony Brown (Fontana, Calif./Kaiser) was the star of the skills camp two weeks ago, but was only able to attend the afternoon session on Wednesday. Brown is known more for his play at RB, but an offer at corner by the Trojans would give him something to consider. Tevin McDonald (Fresno, Calif./Edison), a recent UCLA commit, made the trip to camp, and saw some time on both offense and defense. McDonald has skills, which comes as no surprise considering his father was an NFL All Pro and his brother is an incoming freshman at USC.
Garry Paskwietz covers recruiting for ESPN affiliate WeareSC.com.