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USC Trojans among four finalists for 2025 elite defensive prospect

USC Trojans, Riley Pettijohn
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The USC Trojans have already assembled one of the nation’s top 2025 recruiting classes, rivaling the Ohio State Buckeyes and Texas A&M Aggies. Now, these three schools are among the finalists for one of the nation’s top defensive prospects.

With the help of an overhauled Trojans coaching staff, Lincoln Riley is off to a much better start on the recruiting front than he was a year ago. USC has taken a particular interest in the defensive side of the ball, with five of their top six commitments protected to play defense at the next level.

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However, a majority of Trojans will play along the defensive line or secondary in 2025. With athletic off-ball linebackers still critical to sustained success at the college level, Riley and Trojans defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn have positioned themselves to potentially land one of the best off-ball linebackers in the country .

As first reported by Hayes Fawcett of On3.com, McKinney High School (TX) linebacker Riley Pettijohn has narrowed down his four finalists to USC, Texas A&M, Ohio State and the Texas Longhorns.

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Riley, the son of former All-American defensive lineman Duke Pettijohn, began his football career in high school playing safety (On3.com). However, he converted to linebacker before the 2022 season, which immediately caught the attention of college scouts and earned him more than 30 scholarship offers.

“Pettijohn is an athletic defender who can play on all three downs and has been the heart of McKinney’s defense since switching to inside linebacker his junior year. At approximately 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Pettijohn’s frame should have the capacity to play closer to 230 pounds at the college level. Pettijohn is a very instinctive linebacker who reacts quickly while running and shoots gaps well. He is an exceptional tackler in the open field. He takes good chase angles and fits into the run well. Having previously played safety, Pettijohn is also capable of providing coverage… His testing numbers indicate a high ceiling for development and he has a strong pedigree as the son of a former two-time All-Big East defensive lineman.

Mike Roach of 247 Sports on off-ball linebacker Riley Pettijohn

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Pettijohn is widely regarded as one of the best players at his position in the country and is a consensus top-60 prospect in the 2025 recruiting class. He has a 94 overall rating from On3 Sports and is rated 42nd by the recruiting service best player in the country and second-best linebacker.

  • Riley Pettijohn Stats (MaxPreps): 86 solo tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 5 pass deflections, 1 interception in 2023-’24 season

Rivals.com is highest on Pettijohn, rating the 6-foot-10 linebacker as the No. 1 recruit at his position and the 33rd-best player in the class of 2025. 247 Sports rates him as the 58th-best player in his class.

Also read: History of Heisman Trophy Winners

While USC is in the final four, 247 Sports’ crystal ball predictions and On3’s recruiting precision engine both project Pettijohn to commit to Texas.

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