Lincoln Riley explains how freshman USC lineman earned starting spot
Lincoln Riley has been thoroughly impressed by Sacramento (Calif.) Grant Union product Alani Noa.
The true freshman offensive lineman has earned a co-starter designation at left guard alongside Wyoming transfer Emmanuel Pregnon on USC’s first official depth chart of the new season.
Considering the position, it’s incredibly impressive for a first-year player to come in and earn immediate playing time. It’s even more impressive when you consider Noa was going up against experienced transfers brought in to fill roles on a remade offensive line for a team with title aspirations.
But Riley says Noa has earned it.
“He’s been one of our best o-linemen,” Riley said Thursday. “I mean, he’s incredibly gifted for a young guy. Plays hard. Plays really physical. And he’s done a good job picking our stuff up. He’s a smart kid. He gets the game.
“He’s still learning, certainly, but he’s playing with some guys in there that have played a lot of ball and that’s certainly helpful. He’s been very good mentally.”
Noa was a 3-star recruit in the 2023 class. The industry-generated 247 Composite had him ranked as the No. 45 interior offensive lineman in the cycle and the No. 545 player overall.
The 6-foot-4, 325-pound Noa enrolled in the summer and immediately got to work.
“Just impressed with his consistency, his physicality, effort, and kind of mentality that he plays with,” Riley said. “For every offensive lineman, that’s where it starts. You have to have that. He does that consistently like a veteran. So, you love seeing that. With that, he’s improved rapidly and there’s no question he’s gonna… We’ll see what the rotation ends up being or who ends up starting and all that — we’ve still got competitions ongoing, like we’ve told you guys — but he’s certainly gonna play.”
Early in the season, the Trojans will be looking to build some depth on the offensive line. Riley says he has seldom made it through a year with the same five offensive linemen taking all the snaps, so they’re hoping to create some insurance policies early for when injuries strike later.
That means a number of offensive line configurations and a number of guys rotating in and out on the first few Saturdays.
USC opens against San Jose State at 5 p.m. PT on the Pac-12 Network on Saturday.