USC Football head coach Clay Helton says he is open to the possibility of taking on a graduate transfer player for the 2017 season.
Between defensive lineman Stevie Tu’ikolovatu and tight end Taylor McNamara, USC Football has had a great deal of success bringing in graduate transfer players over the last couple of years.
So it’s no surprise that the Trojans will be keeping a close eye on the graduate transfer market this summer.
“I can’t go into specifics but you always look for the best players that are out there, the best possible opportunities for your football team,” head coach Clay Helton said on Monday. “We are going to be under 85 [scholarships] as of this point right now, so there are those opportunities that would be out there.”
When USC has opted to bring in a graduate transfer, the results recently have been overwhelmingly positive. And with several key holes to fill heading into the 2017 season, there’s a case to be made for dipping into that pool of players again.
McNamara was a critical addition in 2015 when USC’s tight end depth was in dire condition. He arrived from Oklahoma and immediately plugged a hole as a veteran blocking option and red zone target, catching four touchdowns in his first season.
Tu’ikolovatu was an even more resounding success, transforming the Trojan defensive line with his powerful play at nose tackle after an injury to Kenny Bigelow during spring camp further decimated USC’s depth at the position in 2016.
The Trojans overall depth across the roster is much stronger than it’s been in several years, but there are still positions of great need where a graduate transfer could help
Inside linebacker stands out as an area of particular concern. Though starter Cameron Smith has returned at middle linebacker, Michael Hutchings’ replacement has not been settled with any certainty, partially because options are so limited.
John Houston filled the weakside role during spring camp, but a season-ending injury to midyear enrollee Tayler Katoa left USC with depth largely consisting of walk-ons. If anything were to happen to Smith or Houston, the Trojans would be short on replacements.
There’s also a case to be made for bringing in a veteran offensive lineman to help sort out the picture up front after losing three starters to the NFL Draft.
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Still, there are obstacles to going the graduate transfer route.
“We’re just not going to take a guy to take one,” said Helton. “But if it’s the right fit like a Stevie was for us, both as a need, as a person and as a talent, it will be definitely something we consider.”
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Moreover, whether or not USC will have room for a grad transfer is still up in the air.
Though the Trojans currently stand at 84 scholarship players with one spot open for the taking, the recent commitment of junior college prospect Dillon Faamatau could take that scholarship off the table.
As it stands, Faamataus pledge is for the Trojans 2018 recruiting class, but the former ASU redshirt could complete the necessary credits this summer to transfer to USC right away.
If he does so, the defensive tackle would have three years of eligibility on his record and would be immediately eligible to contribute on USC’s defensive line, which could use another experienced presence at nose tackle without Tu’ikolovatu.
One way or another, it appears that USC is actively looking to fill the roster up to 85. This summer should offer more developments on that front.