The Trojans are coming off a strong performance in the Rose Bowl, and they’re beginning to believe that USC is back on track. Riley’s team has been impressive so far this season, as they’ve defeated Utah State at home and Boise State on the road. Now it’s up to them to keep winning games while attempting to remain undefeated.
Lincoln Riley is the head coach of the USC Trojans, and he has this team believing in themselves again. This season, they are currently 9-3 with a chance to make it to the college football playoffs.
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Lincoln Riley came up to a practice at Los Alamitos High School in Orange County alone himself little over a month ago. It was Oklahoma’s bye week, and it had been almost two years since he had been allowed to recruit on the road. He was there to witness five-star quarterback Malachi Nelson, who was a Sooners pledge at the time, and his teammate Makai Lemon, a five-star wide out who was also a Sooners commit, compete.
Riley participated in one of Alamitos’ greatest sessions of the season, according to head coach Ray Felton.
Felton stated, “I joked that he should come to every practice.”
Riley had no intention of leaving Oklahoma, much alone going to USC, at that moment. However, as Felton stood on the sidelines on a beautiful Southern California day, Riley turned to him and said, “Man, it’s wonderful out here.”
Riley is now seated in the same conference room where Clay Helton was designated interim coach by former USC athletic director Pat Haden in 2015. Riley is introducing his first recruiting class with the Trojans, which includes four ESPN 300 players, including the best player in California, cornerback Domani Jackson (No. 6), and former Oklahoma commit Raleek Brown (No. 60). Riley reclines in his chair, crosses his hands behind his back, and inhales deeply.
With a smile, he continued, “Not much sleep lately.” “It’s been a little chaotic… you don’t simply flick that switch over,” says the narrator.
Riley is still getting used to his new surroundings. The previous three weeks have been a never-ending swirl of transformation, logistics, travel, strategy, and, as Riley described it, “joy.” The gradual awareness that this is now his new zip code has been part of the enjoyment. It will take some time for someone from Muleshoe, Texas, to forget about the sights and noises of the city.
“The first day we arrived here, we were driving down Figueroa and I simply looked down and there was our campus and the Staples Center,” Riley recalled. “I knew it was near, but it wasn’t right there,” says the narrator.
The buzz that erupted throughout USC on that first day hasn’t died down completely.
The Trojans ended the 2021 season with a 4-8 record, but it already seems like it didn’t happen at all. Riley’s arrival brought with it two highly regarded 2023 prospects in Nelson (No. 3 in the ESPN Junior 300) and Lemon (No. 21), who switched from Oklahoma to USC days after Riley’s hire, as well as a fresh enthusiasm from a fan base yearning to believe in anything other than the past.
One USC employee observed, “There’s a new feeling of comfort and confidence in the building.” “I get the impression that the summit is within reach.”
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“It felt like a video game when you conquer one level and go on to the next, unlocking a whole new set of objects and prizes,” a USC insider said. “This just opens up a whole new tier of recruitment. We’re at the front of their thoughts right now.”
It’s not only recruiters that are affected, but also transfers. With a projected change of around 35 roster positions, Riley indicated Friday that the Trojans would evaluate the transfer portal for any position. His hiring also placed USC in the running for LSU transfer Eli Ricks, who played at Mater Dei, a local powerhouse. Ricks got offers from a number of colleges, including USC, but on Wednesday he chose Alabama.
According to a source close to Ricks, the selection between USC and Alabama came down to the wire, with USC even leading a day before Ricks announced his decision. Beyond the local connection, Ricks was drawn to USC because “everyone there is serious on turning it around,” according to the source. With just one year remaining before being eligible for the NFL, and a desire to maximize winning and his personal potential, the Crimson Tide looked to have the upper hand. Ricks would have played at USC next season if he had been a year or two younger, according to the source.
The gorgeous and overwhelming impact of Los Angeles has long been a part of USC’s recruitment presentation. So it’s no surprise that when recruits came to campus over the last two weeks, the Trojans literally rolled out the red carpet for them, taking them to dinner at the USC-alum-owned Rex Steakhouse on Redondo Beach, hosting another dinner at an oceanside Manhattan Beach house, and taking over SoFi Stadium for a night where players were allowed to go on the field and watch a USC hype video on the giant screens.
The Manhattan Beach meal, in particular, appeared to resonate with Riley as well as the recruits. Riley and his staff, as well as recruits, took in the spectacle as the sun sank over the Pacific Ocean.
“I believe it was a one-of-a-kind experience for him,” one of the attendees remarked. “Not many schools have the opportunity to do anything like that with recruits, so I believe he recognizes how unique this location is.”
However, given the recent performances on the field, the sheen of that L.A. luxury has worn off, and there’s now a feeling that it doesn’t have to be the major selling point. With Riley delivering the substance and pedigree on the field, off-the-field benefits like the “endless” NIL chances Riley mentioned may effectively serve as frosting rather than the whole cake.
Players interested in attending USC have shown “a lot of curiosity,” according to Lincoln Riley. Kirby Lee is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
SCOTT WANDZILAK’S PHONE CONTINUES TO RING. The assistant athletic director in charge of the Trojan Athletic Fund and the school’s student-athlete alumni group at USC has been very busy in recent weeks as interest in both participating in and financially supporting the program has increased dramatically. According to USC’s chief of staff Brandon Sosna, the Trojans have already sold over 1,000 season tickets for next season.
“People want to return to the fold or join for the first time,” Wandzilak said of the money. “You can see they’re more energized and involved when they’re around that, around the team, program, and coach.”
Riley also recognizes the value of reuniting with old teammates.
Any of them, particularly those who were recruited on the backs of Pete Carroll’s golden days, would easily confess that the team’s recent inadequacies have been frustrating.
Former quarterback Max Browne stated, “It doesn’t seem like this is simply naïve optimism.” “It’s seemed like we’ve been trying to relive Pete Carroll’s glory days up until now, but you can’t. It now seems like, with this new administration, we’re letting go of those links and not attempting to do so.”
People in the collegiate football world are excited to see what Riley’s version of USC looks like, as Hernandez pointed out. How can someone with such a distinct perspective fit into a program steeped in tradition, history, and sky-high expectations? The quick explanation is that the common ground, or binding agent, is the goal: to win once again. And there’s no lack of that eagerness among the audience for the show.
“I believe there are a lot of people here that are eager for it, which is great,” Riley added. “You can sense it… you must build on it.”
Riley is self-aware enough to refocus the emphasis back on the players and staff, and on how constructing a championship team will require a village, despite the fact that he has received a lot of attention in recent weeks. However, his presence alone seems to have flipped USC’s external narrative on its head.
“You’re immediately mentioned now when people ask, ‘Are they going to have a chance at the national championship?’” Hernandez remarked. “It’s crazy to consider something like that so early in life. However, when it comes to [Riley], people don’t feel as silly bringing it up.”
Riley and USC are in one of the best situations in college football because of the timing and hype around the hire: with nine months before their next game, there will be no outcome on the field that can offset or lessen the good vibe surrounding the program. If this is the start of the honeymoon phase, who knows what Riley & Co. will look like if they can speak about outcomes rather than potential.
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