Key USC Recruits Talk Trojans Following Clay Helton Firing

The stars of USC's football recruiting class of 2022 on Clay Helton, their commitment status and more
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Monday night in the college football world came to a stop, then a brisk start, after USC made a long-anticipated move to move on from Clay Helton as head coach. 

Athletic Director Mike Bohn penned a statement and went public with it just before dinner time on the east coast and plenty of reaction has already come in from former Trojan players (even O.J. Simpson) calling for a move, the media and of course Trojan recruits. Everything from who may be next up in Los Angeles to how good of a job USC is has been covered and re-covered. 

But the future of the program is its talent on the field, many of which connected with SI All-American Monday evening for more on the transition. When it came to Helton, SI99 defensive line recruit Mykel Williams spoke for the class. 

"He was a great coach and person sad to see him go!" he said via message. 

The class leader, from the peer level, is quarterback Devin Brown. An Elite 11 finalist who is playing his senior football season at Draper (Utah) Corner Canyon, took it a step further on Helton's impact beyond the football field -- something many in and around the USC program have echoed overnight. 

"Coach Helton has meant a lot to my family and me," Brown said. "I feel privileged to have gotten to know him through this process. He’s a great man and I wish the very best for him and his family. I hope fans show him the respect he deserves as he moves on to his next coaching opportunity."

One of its top recruits on the east coast, New Jersey SI99 talent Jaeden Gould, was surprised and reflected on the conversations he would have with the now free agent coach. 

"Coach Helton was a great coach and great man I enjoyed the many talks we had as well as getting to spend time with him while visiting," Gould said. "I wish him the best in his future endeavors."

Even Domani Jackson, the most high profile recruit of the 10 currently committed to the program and second highest-rated, told 247Sports Helton was a key piece of the Trojan pitch. 

“Man, Clay was my guy,” Jackson said. “He was my favorite coach, I really liked him a lot so this is kind of disappointing."

Texas wide receiver talent Caleb Douglas echoed similar on Twitter. 

What's Next?

Many know collage football coaching changes often result in de-commitments or at least additional coaching staffs reaching out to poach prized recruits. Gould says Oregon and Penn State have already been in contact. 

USC's group will deal with it, but the program's move to elevate Donte Williams to interim head coach is a favorable one to this point. 

Jackson cited Williams, before Helton, when he committed to USC back in January. 

"He's really changed the DBs from last year to this year...and we have a good class coming in so I see us changing the program around," he said.

Known as one of the best recruiters in the Pac-12 footprint, as well as in the Los Angeles area specifically, the move to Williams eased the weight of the news for several Trojan commitments. 

"I’m still locked in 100 percent," Gould said. "I believe in what they have going on with coach Donte and I see a bright future for the program.

"I have a strong bond with him, we talk daily. I feel like he’s going to bring the team in the right direction just because of the energy he brings every day, as well as his knowledge of the game, so I’m really excited to watch."

As the praise for Williams somewhat balances out well wishes for Helton, many of the recruits also mentioned the strength of the USC brand as a major reason for selecting the program. 

It will hold true beyond the Helton era. 

"It’s also about the other things USC can do for me, off the field academically and NIL related," Gould said. "So I’m really confident in the future we have."

The future face of the program has no plans to budge at this time, admitting he has yet to think of the possibility of attending another school. 

"Coaching changes are an unfortunate reality in college football," Brown said. "I’ll obviously pay attention to who they hire. If it’s someone that wants something different than what I can do as a quarterback then they may not still be interested in me. Who knows? 

"My plan is to be a Trojan. Fight on!"

Jackson had already been considering programs other than the one he calls "home." Michigan hosted him for an official visit over the weekend and Alabama is expected to get him back on campus later in the fall. 

Williams, who is from Columbus (Ga.) Hardaway High School, is taking a more open approach as closer-to-home SEC powers Alabama and Georgia, among others, continue to court the national top 20-ranked prospect

Each sent assistant coaches to his school just last week.

"I have to talk with family but only time will tell," he said of his recruitment going forward.