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Fact or Fiction: USC has time to make up ground with Malachi Nelson

Rivals National Recruiting Director Adam Gorney and analysts Josh Helmholdt and Adam Friedman along with Ryan Young of tackle three topics in recruiting and determine whether they believe the statements or not.


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1. A team can unseat Ohio State as the leader for four-star safety Xavier Nwankpa.

Xavier Nwankpa
Xavier Nwankpa (

Gorney’s take: FICTION. Ohio State is way out in front and I’m not sure the Buckeyes can be caught in Xavier Nwankpa’s recruitment. He has a great relationship with the coaching staff, he’s going to have an excellent visit to Columbus in June and even if he still takes his round of official visits, Ohio State is looming so large in his recruitment. Anything can happen but I think the Buckeyes have a great shot at landing him and he could commit after his early June visit.

Helmholdt’s take: FACT. After covering football for 18 years, one thing I know is anything can happen on an official visit, and Nwankpa has three official visits already scheduled for the month of June. The first of those official visits will go to Ohio State, but if he emerges from that weekend still uncommitted, the ball game is on. Especially in this era of COVID restrictions and no in-person contact with coaches for 15 months, I expect June visits to make a lot of waves across the recruiting world.



2. After a weekend visit, Virginia has a real shot at landing five-star OL Zach Rice.

Zach Rice
Zach Rice

Gorney’s take: FICTION. I’m not sold on this one. I get that Zach Rice is an in-state prospect and that the Virginia coaching staff has done a great job trying to stay involved in his recruitment but North Carolina is definitely high up there and then I can’t think of another player who has turned down Alabama, Notre Dame or Ohio State to play for the Cavaliers. It could definitely happen that Rice picks Virginia in the end but I think others have a much better chance.

Friedman’s take: FACT. Virginia has a very shot at Rice. The in-state program has some strong ties to his family and the coaching staff made Rice a priority from day one of his recruitment. Bronco Mendehall and his staff have some stiff competition in teams like Alabama and North Carolina. Notre Dame and Ohio State are very much in the mix as well.



3. USC can still mend its relationship and land 2023 five-star QB Malachi Nelson.

Malachi Nelson
Malachi Nelson (

Gorney’s take: FACT. As time passes and this situation is hashed out on Malachi Nelson’s side, I think USC should be fine in his recruitment and will be a contender until the end. But I still don’t think he ends up with the Trojans and that Oklahoma is the front-runner. A visit to Norman this summer is going to be very important and watch out for Clemson if things go really well on that trip, too. There was a reason USC offered Nico Iamaleava and part of it must have been the Trojans’ uncertainty on where they stand with Nelson plus doing due diligence on developing other relationships. Nelson will still seriously consider USC but I don’t have him pegged to commit there.

Young’s take: FACT. Ultimately, this shouldn’t be the big deal that it’s being made to be. Nothing actually changed. Malachi Nelson is still the top priority for USC in 2023. They aren’t taking two quarterbacks, they aren’t saying whichever guy commits first gets the spot. They’ve reiterated to Nelson that they will not accept another QB commit until he’s made his decision and that everything is still geared around him. They merely want to have a contingency plan in case he picks a different school, and they felt they had to start building a relationship now with Nico Iamaleava if they were going to have a chance with him — if needed. That’s really all that transpired. Yes, it seems it could have been communicated or handled better, but if that is the reason Nelson chooses another school then it’s likely he was never coming to USC in the first place. If he sincerely preferred USC, as he suggested, prior to all this — because of his friends who have committed to the Trojans and knowing that he could get more top SoCal talent to follow him — they have plenty of time to get back on the same page.