USC Trojans Among 4 Finalists For Elite 2025 Defensive Prospect

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The USC Trojans have already assembled one of the best 2025 recruiting classes in the country, rivaling the Ohio State Buckeyes and Texas A&M Aggies. Now, those three schools are among the finalists for one of the best defensive prospects in the country.

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 six top commitments protected to play defense at the next level.

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However, a majority of the Trojans commits in 2025 either play along the defensive line or the secondary. With athletic off-ball linebackers still critical for 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, 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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The son of former All-American defensive lineman Duke Pettijohn, Riley began his high school football career playing safety ( 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.

“An athletic defender who can play on all three downs, Pettijohn has been the heart of McKinney’s defense since moving to inside linebacker in his junior year. At roughly 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Pettijohn’s frame should have the capacity to play closer to 230 pounds at the college level. A highly-instinctive linebacker who triggers quickly on the run and shoots gaps well, Pettijohn is an exceptional open-field tackler. He takes good angles of pursuit and fits the run well. Having previously played safety, Pettijohn is capable in coverage as well…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.”

247 Sports’ Mike Roach 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 nation and is a consensus top-60 prospect in the 2025 recruiting class. He holds a 94 overall rating from On3 Sports and is rated by the recruiting service as the 42nd-best player in the nation and the second-best linebacker.

  • Riley Pettijohn stats (MaxPreps): 86 solo tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 5 pass deflections, and 1 interception in the 2023-’24 season is the highest on Pettijohn, rating the 6-foot-3 linebacker as the No. 1 recruit at his position and the 33rd-best player in the 2025 class. 247 Sports rates him as the 58th-best player in his class.

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