October 29, 2008

2010 Spotlight: Running Backs

Effective recruiting is often shaped by anticipation and evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of upcoming classes.

In 2007, USC was criticized for not taking more bodies along the offensive line, a decision that was largely shaped by underclassmen like Matt Kalil, Khaled Holmes, and Tyron Smith. The Trojans coaching staff parlayed that patience into signing the top offensive line class in the nation in 2008, a group of players that has already drawn rave reviews on Howard Jones Field, and will collectively anchor the offense for the foreseeable future.

A similar patience has recently been applied to the running back position. In the past two classes, Curtis McNeal is the only tailback that has been signed, with Moody primarily being recruited as a return specialist. While the Trojans' crowded backfield may have been the primary catalyst of that decision, the foreshadowing was impossible to ignore.

Simply put, this junior class of running backs is the best collection California has had since the 2003 class that featured Reggie Bush, Maurice Drew, Lynell Hamilton, and Chauncey Washington. It's also the strongest position in the state for the 2010 class.

Next year, the Trojans will return most, if not all of their stable of tailbacks in tact. Beyond that, Stafon Johnson is set to graduate, and Joe McKnight, C.J. Gable, and Allen Bradford will all be deciding between declaring for the NFL as juniors or staying for a final year. Basically, there's a distinct possibility that the majority of the stable will have moved on following next season, leaving Marc Tyler, Broderick Green, and Curtis McNeal as the only sure bets for the 2010 season and beyond.

Therefore, USC will look to sign at least three elite running backs for the 2010 class. And prior to the 2008 season, Pete Carroll and USC's coaching staff had already targeted the three tailbacks they wanted to offer.

It was no surprise when USC gave their first 2010 scholarship offer to Mission Bay (Calif.) running back/athlete Dillon Baxter, considered by many as the best junior in the state. Baxter, who already had verbal offers from the likes of Florida and UCLA, had has been the Trojans' primary target ever since he burst on the scene as a freshman. Baxter committed on the spot at the Rising Stars Camp and should be the centerpiece of the Trojans' 2010 class.

A blend of great size and so many athletic tools, Baxter is a magician at tailback and a machine at wideout. He should be a star at the next level if an offense can take advantage of all his diverse skills. Through six games into his junior season, Baxter has played five different positions: quarterback, tailback, wide receiver, defensive back and punter. He has amassed over 1,200 total yards and 13 touchdowns.

In September, USC offered a scholarship to Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft all-purpose back D.J. Morgan, who also committed on the spot to the Trojans. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Morgan is known as the world's fastest 110m and 400m hurdler for his age. He brings a different home-run element to the field than Baxter, while possessing some of the same versatility in the backfield that the Trojans covet. Morgan has carried Taft on his back this season, putting up 947 rushing yards on almost 10 yards per carry, 347 receiving yards, and 17 touchdowns through his first 7 games.

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