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    USC has a massive future Big Ten piece in O-line commit Elijah Vaikona
    • July 9, 2024

    LOS ANGELES — It was raining on the day Arizona State’s Marcus Arroyo came down to Santa Margarita High in January, pelting down upon the Eagles’ home turf.

    Their regularly scheduled programming was washed away, and so Santa Margarita head coach Anthony Rouzier got creative, moving his team’s workout indoors to the basketball gym. Arroyo followed. It was there, in a snap, he saw offensive tackle Elijah Vaikona pick up a basketball and elevate for a dunk, all 6-foot-8 of him.

    Ahem.

    All 6-8 and 370 pounds of him.

    Arroyo offered Vaikona a scholarship on the spot.

    “And then,” Rouzier recalled, “it just started to snowball.”

    That was Vaikona’s first Power Five offer, a complete unknown who had just transferred in that winter from Xavier College Prep in Palm Desert. A college coach once asked his mother Heather if she’d raised him under a rock, and perhaps it wasn’t a rock but a tumbleweed, legitimate Division I linemen not exactly sprouting on trees up in the Southern California desert. But after he arrived at Santa Margarita, programs have come through the Eagles’ campus this spring and have been physically unable to miss Vaikona, a rising senior recruit who is massive in size but light on his feet.

    His commitment to USC last week, choosing the Trojans over Washington and UCLA, was a much-needed win for the program’s future in the trenches, after Georgia defensive linemen Justus Terry and Isaiah Gibson decommitted in June. Head coach Lincoln Riley has repeatedly emphasized USC’s desire to both stack talent on the offensive front and develop size at the line of scrimmage, particularly back in December at a national signing day press conference.

    “When the starting point is that much higher,” Riley said then, speaking of the sheer size of USC’s 2024 linemen, “it increases the ceiling.”

    Vaikona’s starting point, quite literally, is higher than any other offensive lineman – interior or tackle – in his class.

    The only lineman who touches his combination of height and weight, from every 2025 prospect who is ranked by 247Sports, is Texas’ Byron Washington, at 6-foot-7½ and 380 pounds. If he sticks with his commitment to USC, Vaikona will stand alongside Maximus Gibbs (6-7, 390 pounds) and Zach Banner (6-9, 360) as the Trojans’ largest bodies of the last decade. And his sheer size created a brief arms race between programs headed to the Big Ten, where games have long been won at the line of scrimmage.

    “That was a priority for my top-three schools – like, all of ’em, going to the Big Ten, they need bigger guys,” Vaikona said. “So one thing is, they wanted to get big guys like me.”

    He’s especially intriguing for his quickness. Rouzier noted how light Vaikona is on his feet, a longtime basketball player at his size. His grandmother owns a ranch just outside of Palm Springs; Vaikona grew up riding horses as a competitive cattle sorter, a growing niche in equestrian sports in which riders compete against a clock to herd cows.

    By ninth grade, Vaikona had become too tall for his steed. But the dexterity remains.

    “Being a big guy, I feel like I move better than most guys my size in the country,” Vaikona said.

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    He had attended USC’s summer camps in the past, where offensive line coach Josh Henson had seen him but held off on offering, telling Rouzier he was too raw at that point. But as Vaikona’s foot speed developed through the winter and spring, he caught Dennis Simmons’ eye when the USC wide receivers coach stopped by a Santa Margarita practice. After returning to USC’s summer camp in mid-June, Henson “challenged him,” Rouzier said, and Vaikona was offered and committed within the span of a couple of weeks.

    “I have a lot of respect for (USC), and Washington, and UCLA and these other programs that really trusted their eval on him, because he’s not a high-star kid,” Rouzier said. “He’s a three-star guy.”

    “But at the end of the day, man, it’s about F=MA,” Rouzier continued, referring to Newton’s second law of motion (net force is equal to mass times acceleration). “And that’s a lot of M, right there.”

    ​ Orange County Register 

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