Potential Breakout Players: LB Eli'Jah Winston

July 9, 2019
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You’ll be hard pressed to find another player in USC’s locker room more engaging and more passionate than (RS) freshman outside linebacker/DE Eli’Jah Winston.  Sometimes Eli’Jah is also the forgotten guy from the 2018 recruiting class of linebackers that included big time national names Palaie Gaoteote, Solomon Tuliaupupu, and Raymond Scott.  The class also included Abdul-Malik McClain from JSerra and Kanai Mauga from Hawaii to help form arguably one of the best linebacker classes to arrive at USC in over a decade.

Winston may have been a late-edition to the Trojans 2018 class, but make no mistake about it, Winston is a valued commodity.  It was quite the coup for USC to flip the highly coveted outside linebacker away from the hometown Oregon Ducks at the 11 o’clock hour, considering that his older brother Lamar Winston plays linebacker for the Ducks.  Up until a few weeks prior to signing day, Winstin was locked in to sign with Oregon, so let’s give a feather in the recruiting cap to linebacker coach Johnny Nansen for that win.

In November of last year, USC Scoop’s Scott Schrader spoke with Winstin following a practice session, and the young freshman made a very mature and astute observation about what it takes to be successful and buying in.  He recognized the season wasn’t playing out like planned, but he also recognized the team’s potential defensively.

“I think we all understand just how much it takes in order for us to be fully capable of playing, without having to think on the field.”
Elijah Winston 

That epiphany came to Winston when he started to notice other true freshmen like Talanoa Hufanga and EA (Palaie) putting in the extra film work on their own their own time like he was.  In 2019 Winston will look to take his film room studies and apply that knowledge to the practical application with his 6-3, 235-pound potential.  Eli’jah also told us back in November that everything started to become much more clear right around the Texas and Wazzu games where he really started to feel comfortable.

Winston only played in three games (Arizona State, California, UCLA) in 2018 at outside linebacker and on special teams, which allowing him to redshirt as a true freshman.  He had 1 tackle on special teams vs Oregon St.

This season Winston will have the opportunity to vie for the starting strong side outside linebacker role in Clancy’s new simplified 3-4 line up.   Whether the simplified part of that statement holds is yet to be seen, but Winston will be given the opportunity to display his athleticism and attacking style this fall because as one coach told USC Scoop off the record, “we’re expecting big things from Eli’jah this year.”  

Like Porter Gustin before him, Winston plays the game with his hair on fire and with reckless abandon.  At the line of scrimmage he’ strong enough to stand up and set the edge but also quick enough to shed blockers and seek out the ball carrier.   He reminds me of that bull on the loose in a china shop and I’m thinking that’s probably a good thing.  Winston has been described as a relentless high motor guy whose tenacity makes up for his average 4.9, 40-time.   On film he looks fast enough to be a disruptive force and that’s what it’s going to take to fill Gustin’s shoes. 

Mentally and physically Winston checks the boxes and will be a key contributor.  He has to.  The linebacker corp is replacing Porter Gustin and Cam Smith who are off to the NFL so the position group is begging for a breakout player.

 
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