Bru McCoy and Chris Steele both played high school football in Southern California. Steele, who made his living shutting down receivers, played at St. John Bosco in LA. McCoy, who was a multipositional monster at receiver, defensive end, and linebacker, helped Mater Dei to the state championship. He played in Orange County. Both players had verbally committed to play at USC, making a seemingly short trip to suit up at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
And yet both players traveled so far to end up at USC.
McCoy had initially committed to USC under the premise of playing primarily as a receiver for Tee Martin, who had been dismissed following a dismal 5-7 2018 season. But USC was riding high on the hiring of Kliff Kingbury, who seemed poised to give the Trojan offense a modern makeover. When Kingsbury left, however, the USC offense faced upheaval and chaos, prompting McCoy to understandably transfer to Texas, his second choice in the recruitment process. Only after a spring semester in Texas and the optimism brought to the USC program by air-raid guru Graham Harrell did McCoy transfer back to Southern California. All things considered, his desire to play on a team with coaching stability is laudable, strange as his journey may be.
Steele’s journey may have been more dramatic than McCoy’s. After verbally committing to USC, Chris Steele chose to play in Gainesville in Florida. But after expressing discomfort rooming with a player with a history of alleged sexual assault, Steele also began to look fro greener pastures. Sidenote: Dan Mullen’s inability to foresee or accommodate an issue with discomfort over sexual assault is an unforgivable coaching gaffe. Steele flirted with Oregon, but USC took advantage of home court advantage and an open scholarship spot to keep Steele in LA.
And so for two players who played high school ball a stone’s throw away from USC, it has taken hours of flights and hundreds of miles of travel for both to arrive on campus.
So now that the two are on campus, what can fans expect?
Well, don’t expect McCoy to be eligible for the upcoming 2019 season. The NCAA does not look kindly upon players transferring on whim. McCoy was granted immediate eligibility to play at Texas because he was transferring from a dysfunctional USC situation. Texas is a healthy program, and the NCAA will likely deny McCoy eligibility for a second transfer in one offseason.
McCoy should take a redshirt, and this isn’t the worst news. McCoy has been a consensus top player in this incoming class, and a look at his high school highlights shows just that.
But as a receiver, McCoy may actually benefit from a redshirt year. USC is loaded at the receiver position, with Amon-Ra St. Brown, Michael Pittman, and Tyler Vaughns as the unquestioned first, second, and third options. Behind them are John Jackson III, Devon Williams, Drake London, Kyle Ford, and Munir McClain. I would venture to claim that USC’s backup receivers are more talented than any group of starters in the Pac-12. Even with Graham Harrell’s offense, which spreads the ball to four or even five receivers on any given down, there are too many mouths to feed. Even if McCoy were declared eligible, his impact would be crowded out by a stacked receiver group.
Rather, McCoy could look to come out like gangbusters for the 2020 season. He could fit perfectly into the Michael Pittman shaped hole in the Trojan offense, filling in as a physical deep threat who can win contested catches as well as run after the catch.
On the other hand, Trojan fans can be more optimistic about the instant impact of Steele. Steele’s reason for transferring, discomfort over sexual assault, is clear as day, and the NCAA would be remiss to deny his waiver for eligibility. Once eligible, the five star cornerback should have a clear path at playing time for the Trojans. Unlike many positions, cornerback does not require a lot of practice to understand schematic duties. In Clancy Pendergast’s simplified defense, corners are largely expected to just stick with their man, a skill that Steele has in spades.
At about 6’ and 180 pounds, Steele is the physical mirror of Olaijah Griffin. Griffin was heralded as a game changer for a Trojan secondary that screamed for depth at corner opposite Iman Marshall. Yet after nagging injuries hampered Griffin, 2018 came and went without much impact from the freshman. Now its 2019, and Iman Marshall is a Baltimore Raven. Despite being limited through spring training, Griffin is still favored to replace Marshall as the Trojans’ best corner.
The problem for the Trojans is that the duo of Griffin and Steele on the outside may simply be too small to deal with opposing receivers. Both are around just 180 pounds. Opposing offenses should be very happy to run or throw screens in their direction. Steele’s high school tape is littered with winning physicality and big hits, but his run and screen defense is yet to be tested on the next level. Luckily, the Trojans have a big corner in Isaac Taylor-Stuart. An elite athlete with plus size at 6’ 2” and 215 pounds, Taylor Stuart should match up well with the biggest receiver on opposing offenses. What this does do, however, is kick on of Griffin or Steele into the slot, facing smaller and shiftier receivers. For either Griffin or Steele, this will pose a challenge as they are accustomed to being able to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage at the high school level. When guarding slot receivers who do not line up at the line of scrimmage, Steele or Griffin will have to adapt their game accordingly.
At this point, its obvious that I think Chris Steele will start and play significant time as a freshman. He can beat receivers with physicality, hand usage, and route anticipation. He has a knack for staying in a receiver’s hip pocket and contests at the catch point. Whether he starts at slot corner or outside corner may well depend on the match between he and Griffin.