USC’s latest Class of 2023 commitment may not be much of a surprise, but it is most certainly another jolt to the roster rebuild underway with new coach Lincoln Riley.
Four-star Rivals100 wide receiver Zachariah Branch announced his decision on Friday afternoon, committing to USC over Alabama, Oklahoma and Ohio State.
Of course, his announcement comes just nine days after his older brother, 2022 four-star Rivals100 safety Zion Branch signed with the Trojans.
Zachariah Branch is the No. 4-ranked WR and No. 30 overall national prospect in the 2023 class. The speedy 5-foot-9, 164-pound playmaker was named the MaxPreps Player of the Year in the state of Nevada after totaling 47 receptions for 1,076 yards and 14 touchdowns for Bishop Gorman HS in Las Vegas, including 6 receptions for 132 yards and a score in the state title game as the Gaels finished victorious. He’s also run an elite 10.33 100-meter dash.
Branch and his older brother had long hoped to play together in college, and Branch was wearing a USC shirt and flashing the Fight On sign during Zion’s signing ceremony last week.
No, this comes as no surprise, but the younger Branch will be as significant an addition to the program as his brother.
“The bond that me and my brother have built over time, I feel like it’s too strong and couldn’t be broken,” Zachariah Branch said last week.
He accompanied his family on Zion’s official visit to USC two weekends ago and spent time with outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons, who had also been recruiting him at Oklahoma.
“The visit was great. When I was there, I felt real comfortable around everybody — the players, the staff, the coaches. I mean, I feel like I was at home, just being there, talking with the coaches, building relationships, I felt like I’d known the coaches for my whole life. The conversations I had with was just real comfortable,” Branch said.
“The stuff that Lincoln Riley can do and the stuff that Coach Simmons can do, I feel like they can definitely develop me into a monster and turn me into something special.”
The Trojans now have commitments from two of the top 6 wide receivers in the 2023 class, along with Los Alamitos HS standout Makai Lemon.
Including Los Alamitos HS QB Malachi Nelson, the No. 3 overall prospect, the Trojans have three of the top-54 prospects in the 2023 class committed. It’s expected that Riley and USC will assemble one of the top recruiting classes nationally in this next cycle.
The Trojans also hold a commitment from 2023 four-star RB Johnny Thompson Jr., of Oaks Christian HS.
As for the Branch brothers, USC’s hiring of Riley made their Trojans decision much easier.
“It’s made me real excited just knowing that because I know it seemed like the program was going downhill and everybody thinks that he can revive the program so it’s very exciting,” Zachariah Branch said.
“They were always high up there just because of their academics and what they can do for you life after football, but I think it did give a little extra boost given that they did bring in a great staff that can change the program around.”
Scouting report from Bishop Gorman HS coach Brent Browner
What makes Zachariah Branch such an elite offensive weapon?
Browner: “It’s a dynamic level of speed you haven’t seen. Even when you watch it at practice you kind of move back, like, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re going to do to stop that.’ Except just double-cover him, maybe triple-cover him. And he’s got a tenacity about him. He’s not just going to run out of bounds — he’s going to try to run you over. Some of his biggest plays he just ran through a tackle — not just shook a kid, but ran through a tackle and kept going. Those things, and then he’s a kid, with celebrations and stuff like that you’ve got to kind of calm him down, but he’ll say it, ‘I just turn into a different person when I’m out there.’ And he is. He’s a different person, he’s electric and that’s probably one of his biggest strengths. He just wants the ball every single time, he wants to make the play and he’s able to do it too.
How is he best utilized on offense?
Browner: “Just having him on the field. No matter what you do with him. You could put him at running back — we have — he got stuck at running back on accident one time and we were like, ‘Ooh, that looked nice.’ As a receiver, slot receiver or outside or backside. And then his returns, he’s very, very dangerous on return. I was surprised people kept kicking him the ball, but when people kick him we all look like, ‘Oh, they kicked him the ball. OK.’ And then we saw what happened.”
2021 Nevada 5A state championship game: