Lincoln Riley had been one of the major roadblocks for USC recruiting when he was the coach st Oklahoma pillaging top talent out of Southern California.
But now that he’s at USC — with the Trojans pulling off the coup of the coaching carousel on Sunday — everything has changed.
Four-star 2023 Rivals100 WR Makai Lemon, out of Los Alamitos High School, becomes the latest former Oklahoma commit to flip to USC, as Lemon announced his Trojans decision on Friday afternoon.
That follows commitments from five-star 2023 Los Alamitos quarterback Malachi Nelson on Tuesday and five-star 2022 Mater Dei HS RB Raleek Brown on Thursday — after both had also de-committed from Oklahoma earlier this week.
“Lincoln and [new USC WRs coach Dennis] Simmons are a really big part of it, and the way they run their program — or had run their program at OU — I really liked that, so knowing that they’re going to come over here and do that to USC is big,” Lemon told TrojanSports.com.
Lemon, listed at 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, is ranked the No. 6 WR and No. 55 overall prospect in the 2023 class and the No. 4 prospect in the state.
He had 65 catches for 1,062 yards and 15 touchdowns in 11 games as a junior this season, according to MaxPreps.
Like everybody else around college football, he wasn’t expecting the news Sunday that Riley was leaving Norman, Okla., for Los Angeles.
“It’s crazy. It’s almost like unreal. I didn’t believe it at first until we really got the call to confirm it, but it’s for the better and it’s amazing,” Lemon said. “It’s super big because before I was choosing between staying home and going to Norman, so just having the reasons I went to Norman come to ‘SC, it’s amazing.”
Lemon said he was just coming out of church Sunday when the buzz about Riley to USC started taking off.
“Super shocked. We were leaving church and we didn’t think, there were so many rumors about LSU head coach, so just hearing that we didn’t believe it until we really got the call. We were definitely in shock,” he said.
He added that he talked to Riley pretty soon after it was a done deal and while he didn’t make his own USC decision in that moment he had a good feeling it was going to turn out this way.
In addition to playing for Riley and Simmons, Lemon also gets to stick with the plan of playing with his QB Nelson –the No. 2-ranked pro-style QB in the 2023 class — at the next level.
“That’s a super big thing. We always talked about it and it just laid out perfectly for us to go to the same school,” Lemon said.
Nelson is the No. 1 2023 recruit in the state (No. 4 overall national prospect), meaning in less than a week on the job, Riley has landed commitments from two of the top four players in the state in the next recruiting cycle.
Nelson and Riley are also working on another Los Alamitos teammate, 2023 four-star receiver Deandre Moore, who is still committed to Oklahoma.
“Every day we’re talking about it. Every day. So I’m just going to let him make his choice wisely — not put too much pressure on him but he knows we want him,” Lemon said.
USC still has only five commits for the 2022 class after four moved out of the Trojans’ class this week, but every indication is that Riley will have a strong finish to the Dec. 15 early signing period.
As for the appeal of Riley’s offense to Lemon and what sold him initially on joining him in Oklahoma …
“Just the way they throw the ball downfield — they like to throw the ball a lot — and just the way Coach Simmons and Riley can move me around the field and not limit me on one side,” he said.
Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney gives his scouting report on Lemon:
“Lemon is a dynamic receiver who can line up in the slot or as an outside receiver, burn most defensive backs and take the top off. That was why Oklahoma so coveted him and why Lemon wanted to play for Lincoln Riley in the end because Riley can draw up the plays and Lemon can perform on the field. Sometimes, he fades away a little too much in the offense and doesn’t dominate like he should but right when you think he’s having a quiet night, Lemon will come up and bite you for a big touchdown — or two.”