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College, High School Football Stars Talk USC, UCLA to the Big Ten

From Heisman contenders to prep stars, California natives share excitement following USC and UCLA's move to the Big Ten

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, like many reacting to Thursday's major college sports news, immediately jumped into the hypothetical as USC and UCLA project as the newest members of the Big Ten. 

"Man, I wish it was this year," Thompson-Robinson said. 

All parties confirmed initial reports by day's end as it appears college football has once again driven realignment. From the notion of super conferences to simply an adjustment in expectation, not to mention the shock of it all, reactions appeared mixed in Los Angeles as jokes of the iconic locale now serving as a part of "Big Ten Country."

For Thompson-Robinson, entering his fifth and final year of college football this fall, the spark of the news cycle has him excited for the next wave of Bruins looking to make their mark. The son of a Michigan graduate who was considering UM out of high school before inking with UCLA, he didn't take long to see the appeal. 

"We all know the tough competition that thrives off in the Big Ten," Thompson-Robinson told SI. "Just being able to get around a different environment, different area, because those environments down there are pretty crazy."

Fellow Elite 11 college counselor C.J. Stroud, a Southern California native starring as Ohio State's quarterback, would also like to accelerate the timeline so he could play against his hometown programs.

"It makes me want to play against them," Stroud said. "I think it's a good thing, the more mingling, the more teams are coming together I think it makes more competition. Better entertainment, better for the fans and an opportunity for the players to express ourselves coast to coast."

Stroud admits, as his recruitment hit an apex around his Elite 11-winning run in 2019, it was his visits beyond the Pac-12 footprint that opened his mind on the passion and possibilities of the sport in other areas of the country. Stroud took official visits to Ohio State, Michigan and Georgia before picking the Buckeyes on National Signing Day.

"I grew up watching USC and UCLA but when I went on visits to other schools, the atmospheres are totally different," he said. "The people really come to the games and support ... I feel like in California, USC and UCLA are not really talked about and people don't really go to the games like that. 

"But I feel it's on the come-up now."

As for football prospects set to now play in the Big Ten instead of perhaps a childhood desire to play in the traditional Pac-12 footprints, the news was taken in stride Thursday. 

Malachi Nelson, who finished the Elite 11 ranked fourth out of 20 competitors by SI's evaluators, views the move as a step up in profile—even for a brand name like USC. The Los Alamitos (Calif.) High School star has been committed to the Trojans since November after a pledge to Lincoln Riley when he was at Oklahoma.

"It's something you dream of, playing against the best competition," Nelson said. "It's going to be exciting and I'm looking forward to it."

Malachi Nelson

USC QB commitment Nelson following the 2022 Elite 11 Finals.

Nelson smirked when someone brought up the potential weather differences between the Los Angeles area and some of the more extreme climates in the Big Ten footprint. 

"I think you have to do that (play in cold weather) in the NFL and that's the goal." Nelson said. "Being able to do it earlier is only going to get you more acclimated and used to it."

The headliner for Riley's recruiting class of 2023 says the move should boost recruiting in the Midwest and East Coast, though the Trojans have been considered a brand that always recruits from a national base. 

The top-ranked Elite 11 arm from the week, Dante Moore, is a product of said region. The Detroit (Mich.) King High School star has been considering programs like Oregon in the Pac-12, but of course has the most ties to the regional programs he grew up around. On Thursday he said Ohio State, Michigan and others remain in contention for his commitment. 

Moore, like Nelson, views the move as increased competition for the Big Ten's newest football members. 

"I'm pretty surprised," Moore said. "There's a lot of great schools in the Big Ten ... a lot of great talent, so I believe them joining is going to make it even better. Them having west coast schools coming to the cold is gonna be pretty tough, but it's going to be great competition.

"It's pretty dope."

Roderick Robinson has a unique perspective on different parts of the country. Not only does the San Diego (Calif.) Lincoln running back prospect understand local recruiting perspective having committed to UCLA for next year, but he grew up in the traditional South and took visits all over the country before the decision to be a Bruin was locked in over Oregon, Auburn, Tennessee and others in May. 

Consider the 230-pound back not worried about the climate variance once his future program's move to the Big Ten is complete, too.

"A lot of the west coast kids will be fine," Robinson said. "It's football, at the end of the day. Adrenaline will be pumping and you're going to get used to it quick.

"Definitely some great opponents in the Big Ten, of course. I think it will be great competition." 

Most agree the competition level is increasing, something future recruiting could eventually get lumped into for all parties involved. It profiles as an opportunity for talent east of the Mississippi River to potentially spend time in one of the nation's premier metro areas on occasion while offering Californians a chance to quite literally play across America without leaving the new Big Ten footprint. 

"All the guys we recruit aren't scared of competition," Nelson said of USC's prospects. "I think it helps when we're going to play against better competition, so I think it will help."

At the end of the 2022 recruiting cycle, SI ranked three Big Ten teams—Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan—in the top 10. Neither USC or UCLA made the final rankings in February. 

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