USC football progress report: Brandon Pili still looking for his rhythm

Brandon Pili is a "dancing polar bear" still trying to find his rhythm. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
Brandon Pili is a "dancing polar bear" still trying to find his rhythm. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /

Brandon Pili’s USC football progress report shows still-untapped potential.

USC football’s hope of a defensive turnaround will have to begin on the defensive line, where the Trojans have a load of talent ready to be better utilized.

One of those talents is Brandon Pili, who should be capable of reaching new heights in his final season.

He’s up next in Reign of Troy’s look at each USC Trojans player ahead of the 2020 season…

USC football progress report on Brandon Pili

What USC got as a recruit

Pili was one of the lower-ranked players in USC’s 2017 recruiting class. Even though he was a  three-star ranking 498th in the 247Sports composite, knowledge of his size and athleticism created serious excitement for his commitment to the Trojans.

He was 6-foot-4, 310 pounds coming out of Westview High School in Portland. Having moved to Oregon from Alaska in high school, Pili was as under-the-radar as a player could be initially.

What he’s accomplished

Marlon Tuipulotu and Jay Tufele were more highly-touted prospects in 2017, but Pili was the one who saw the most action as a true freshman while the former was hit with injury and the latter redshirted.

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He played in USC’s final nine games and even was named an All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

After starting the first two games of 2018, it felt like Pili stagnated for the rest of the season. He had 12 total tackles on the year and was flagged for an egregious unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against UCLA.

Pili approached the next campaign with renewed energy and focus, even though he was the odd-man out of the starting lineup. In a key backup role, he posted 18 tackles and a career-high five tackles for loss. He also deflected three passes and forced a fumble.

What to expect in 2020

With Tuipulotu and Tufele both returning, it’s still difficult to see where Pili could breakthrough as a starter in 2020.

That’s not to say he couldn’t claim a critical role on the defensive line for the Trojans. As USC looks to turn things around upfront, Pili will have his chance to impress new defensive line coach Vic So’oto and put his 325 pounds to work by eating up blocks and attacking the backfield

Pili, Tuipulotu and Tufele will battle it out for two starting jobs, but the potential for a dynamic trio is certainly there.

Where he goes from here

Pili will graduate after the 2020 season unless unforeseen circumstances present the opportunity to redshirt.

A 6-foot-4, 325-pounder who can dunk like a forward, catch passes like a tight end and was once described as a “dancing polar bear” will undoubtedly catch the eye of NFL scouts when the time comes.

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He might not be the most polished prospect they see, but Pili could warrant selection in the NFL draft if he puts enough good film on the table in 2020.

Really what he needs is a shot to go to the NFL Combine. There his physical stature and athleticism will help him stand out plenty.

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