USC bolsters tight finishing spot with five-star Duce Robinson, but will he play football?

USC coach Lincoln Riley, right, with defenseman Devan Thompkins (37) during spring football practice at the Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields on USC’s campus Tuesday. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this week, before his prospects for the position would improve significantly, Lincoln Riley was asked how he felt about USC’s depth at the tight end. The trainer’s eyebrows rose.

“Right now? Today? Not good!” said Riley with a laugh.

U.S.C only had one other scholarship left at camp, and he had just been converted from the linebacker. Another tight end was injured. A fourth would not come until the fall. The depth map was bleak. But Riley dismissed any concern.

“It’s going to be fine,” he said, “it’s not very good right now.”

It stayed like that for the whole two days. On Thursday, Five Star Tight End Duce Robinsonthe nation’s best prospect for the position, signed with USC, choice the trojans via a squad of blue blood programs like Georgia, Alabama And Oregon. Robinson, the top remaining recruit in the 2023 class, gives the Trojans another dynamic weapon that could be making waves on Riley’s offense as early as this fall.

That is, if he’s not playing pro baseball by then.

Robinson is a two-way star in both sports at Pinnacle High in Arizona, whose height in the batter’s box at 6ft 6, 225 pounds has solicited comparisons to New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge. Robinson is expected to be selected somewhere in the upcoming MLB draft in July. How high could dramatically change his future career path — and his plans at USC.

“Duce’s ultimate goal is to play both professionally,” Pinnacle coach Dana Zupke told the Los Angeles Times. “He really wants to try to challenge that. It’s such an achievement to be able to do that. It’s such a rarity, someone who’s been successful in both sports. That’s really what he wants to achieve.”

According to Zupke, the plans for this are “muddy than before”.

Robinson has previously suggested that he would rather sign a professional baseball contract and work out an agreement with that organization so he could play college football. If picked high enough, he could very well spurn USC altogether. If he’s lower than he’d like, Robinson could presumably try to play both college football and college baseball next season, delaying his pro declaration by a few years.

Actually implementing the plans to practice two sports is not always that easy. But others have certainly tried, including two other pass catchers at USC.

Expand Mario Williams has suggested he will play with the USC baseball team in 2023 but has yet to come forward. Walk-through USC receiver Austin Overn has already become a sensation on the Trojans baseball team this season, leading the team in batting average through March, but probably won’t make much of a splash on the football field.

Robinson’s pedigree suggests he could make a similarly significant impact at USC, even if he doesn’t arrive until this summer. Trojan tight ends have barely made a name for themselves in more than a decade, including last season when they caught just 17 passes in 14 games. However, six of those receptions were for points.

Riley said he was impressed with the performance this spring Lake McReethe only sound USC tight end with actual playing experience currently training.

“Lake is playing at a high level,” Riley said. “He’s really improved.”

But Robinson is a top-level athlete on a different level, capable of extending the field and using his physicality in the red zone. As a senior at Pinnacle, he averaged more than 19 yards per reception and had 14 touchdowns.

Robinson, the 17th football recruit in the 2023 class, marks at least one major win for Riley on the recruiting path, according to 247Sports, as the Trojans finish their 2023 class with three candidates in the nation’s top 20.

Nobody could be more influential than Robinson. However, it’s also possible that the top tight end will never let up at USC.

Those plans won’t be decided until the summer. For now, Riley could bask in the afterglow of a major recruiting win, knowing he had cemented the future of the tight end position, at least for now.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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