USC’s freshman linemen making impact, drawing praise – Orange County Register

LOS ANGELES — It looked ominous.

When Kenechi Udeze, USC’s defensive line coach, left the Portland airport in his rental car on a snowy January day, he noticed other cars were turned over aside the interstate.

Udeze had arrived amid the city’s biggest snowstorm in two decades, and he still needed to drive almost 70 miles south to Independence, Ore., to visit a five-star defensive lineman named Marlon Tuipulotu.

“I honestly didn’t think that I was going to get to him and get back to my hotel room,” Udeze said, “because I thought they were getting ready to close the roads.”

Outside Portland, the snow cleared. He made it safely to see Tuipulotu and his family that evening.

“I was not going to miss out when I had to be there,” Udeze said. “I had to be there.”

The visit helped.

Later that month, Tuipulotu, who had been committed to Washington, flipped to USC.

Tuipulotu, who enrolled early to participate in spring workouts, was one of the Trojans’ prized recruits in a class heavy with linemen.

“I’ve always felt that championships are won by big men,” Coach Clay Helton told reporters when he announced the class in February.

Of the 24 freshmen who arrived on campus this spring and summer, nine were offensive and defensive linemen.

“It’s the biggest freshman class I’ve seen here, physically,” quarterback Sam Darnold said.

Some of them have competed for starting positions.

With Stevie Tu’ikolovatu’s departure, USC has rotated both Josh Fatu and Tuipulotu at defensive tackle with the first-team defense. Fatu, though, has taken most of the reps there for the past week, appearing to solidify his hold on the spot.

Brandon Pili, a freshman, has worked with the second team at defensive tackle and should also rotate there this season with Tuipulotu.

Helton described Pili, an Alaska native, “a 340-pound dancing polar bear.”

Pili can also dunk a basketball.

“He’s athletic,” Helton added.

Like Tuipulotu, Pili was also a late…

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