After his oral commitment in mid-December, Tatum spent more time recruiting other seniors than almost the entire Trojan staff combined. “Oh yeah,” Tatum said. “I talked to Stafon (Johnson), (Gerald) McCoy, Andre (Smith), Shareece Wright and lots of other guys. Allen (Bradford), Stafon and I are probably the closest.”
Tatum relishes the opportunity to talk to fellow recruits about his USC Trojans. “I’m definitely the number one cat in terms of calling everyone. From Alabama to Virginia, I’m trying to make this a great class so that we can hold down the title for the next four years. We’re coming in to get it back.”
Say what you want about his bravado, but Tatum has a strong grasp of what he was looking for in a school and a team. “I really liked USC because I’m so fond of the tradition, dating all the way back to when OJ was there. I started getting real serious about USC during my sophomore year. I was looking at them real hard and they were close to home, they were winning and everything was going well.”
“I picked USC because it has all the ingredients for a successful college career. They’ve got the best coaching staff in college football, a defensive guru in Pete Carroll, and a linebacker coach in Ken Norton Jr., who I’ve always loved. And to be able to learn under coach Norton and coach Seto is a win-win situation.”
As a linebacker, Tatum is an absolute terror for opposing offenses. He stands 6’2”, weighs 220 pounds and runs like a defensive back. He is a punishing tackler and is cerebral enough to diagnose plays before they have a chance to develop. His skills diminish somewhat when asked to cover receivers in space, but as an incoming true freshman, he is absolutely everything you’d want in a linebacker.
If an outstanding linebacker coming to USC feels a little bit like déjà vu for you, it’s probably just the amazing talent at that position the Trojans were able to haul in last year. But, for Tatum, that was even more of a selling point. “Coming off an injury, I expect to be 100% by April. And then I want to come in during the summer and get in as the number one or two man at linebacker.”
Some would consider that a lofty goal, considering the injury and the all-star depth chart, but Tatum has a different take. “It’s how Coach Carroll recruits. He tells us that it’s all up to us. When I come in, it’s possible that I could be the strongest ‘backer. It’s possible that I could be the fastest ‘backer. It’s all up to me. Now, I’m not coming in trying to snatch anyone’s starting spot, but I’m coming in to compete.”
Tatum did mention the depth chart as well. “I’m not concerned with the linebacker class from last year. I mean, anybody who says they wouldn’t factor the depth chart into their decision is lying, but I play weakside linebacker, and the only one who came in there was Kaluka (Maiava). The other guys are Sam or Mike ‘backers, so I’m just focusing on what they project me as: the Will linebacker. Like I said, I’m not stripping those in front of me, but I know it’s all about what I have to do to get myself prepared.”
Tatum continued to show that he has already completely adopted Pete Carroll’s recruiting and coaching methods. “As a team, we’re going to be strong. It’s the more the merrier. If we’re all eating, that’s great. You can’t be selfish in this game, and especially at SC. All this talent we have here is great.”
After making it clear that he knows what the Trojan coaches want to see, Tatum gave a little acknowledgement to the fans. With a certain air of calmness and playfulness, without a hit of cockiness, Tatum said, “I bring a level of intensity, passion and charisma to the game. USC fans can expect to see a lot of hard hitting from me. There will be exciting plays and my presence will be felt. I have a lot of respect for the game, the Trojans and the fans. I’m looking forward to meeting the SC fans.”
But it was more than just football that drew Tatum to the Trojans. “I want to major in business,” he said, “and the Marshall School of Business at USC is a strong program. It’s one of the top programs in the country.”
In what might turn out to be one of the most celebrated recruiting classes ever assembled, when searching for the glue that held it all together, you need to look no further than Joshua Tatum.
Q&A With Joshua Tatum
What is your favorite thing to do on the field?
Dance after a big hit. I love to hit. It’s exciting. That’s what it’s all about. So don’t be surprised if you see me dance a little after a hit. Not to the extent that there will be a penalty, but when things get heated, you’ll see me right there.
What is your favorite thing to do off the field?
I have a large collection of movies, so I enjoy watching those. I also love to work out, and just meet people.
If you could play a different position for a day, which would it be?
Running back. You get to run over people. I played running back my first season in high school and people were projected me to play there. It’s a glory position. Matter of fact, I’d like to play quarterback too. Put the weight on my shoulders and let me lead my team to victory.
If you don’t play football for a living, what would you like to do?
I want to run my own business. I’d like to a start program, a sports agency, and have SC guys come back and represent other SC athletes. So that way, instead of graduating from USC and being represented by someone who went to Cal or Miami or some other school, you’d be represented by someone from SC. You gotta keep it in the family.
What is your favorite movie?
Low Down Dirty Shame. It’s got Keenan Ivory Wayans, and a bunch of other funny dudes. Friday Night Lights is good. I like a lot of sports movies.
What song is at the top of your playlist?
Jamie Foxx’s album is nice. “Ms. New Booty,” by the Ying Yang Twins and Bubba Sparxxx. Notorious BIG, TIs new album. It’s not even released yet, but it’s ridiculous. “The Greatest,” by TI. That’s a good one.
What three words describe your personality?
Fun, loveable, and charismatic
What three phrases describe your game?
Hard-hitting, smash-mouth, clock-cleaner
Who or what do you credit the most for getting you to where you are today?
My mother. She’s been the inspiration to me. My father as well, but growing up single parent home, she supported me through thick and thin. She paid for medical bills and just provided everything for me.
What is your individual goal for the year?
At one of most prestigious institutions in the country, I’d like to maintain at least a B average for the whole year. On the field, I’d like to at least be the two ‘backer, if I’m not the one ‘backer. I want to help my team anyway I can, whether it’s punt teams, kickoff teams, wherever. I’d also like to create a relationship with each and every player on team. It’s all about those special bonds you develop.
Who do you pattern your game after?
I’m a mix. I’m a little old school Dick Butkus and new school Ray Lewis. I’m that hard hitting, talkative, around the ball at all times, dirty linebacker that Butkus was, and the smart, intense, charismatic, more talkative linebacker who always gets the job done that Rey Lewis is.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I can dance real well. I can dance and sing, matter of fact, which is another thing SC fans can look forward to. It shocked me on my official visit, with how juiced the locker room gets, with everyone dancing and yelling. I liked that. Expect me to be the first one in line to bust a move and hit a note.
If you could have dinner with any three people, who would they be?
Martin Luther King Jr., Aaliyah, and 2pac
What is your favorite book?
The Autobiography of Malcom X.
Do you know all the words to “Fight On!?”
No sir, but I do look forward to learning them. Gotta know the words o I can bust a high note, you dig?