The second-ranked prospect in the country coming out of Centennial (Calif.) last cycle, Korey Foreman had sky-high expectations for his first year at USC. An 11-tackle campaign that only saw the 6-foot-4 defensive lineman record 3.5 tackles for loss was not what folks expected.

With USC moving into a new defense under first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, the hope is Foreman can play a major impact. Grinch has had top-level havoc-creators in the past, and USC could sure use a guy off the edge who can get to the quarterback and cause some chaos in the backfield.

But development is never linear, and for players like Foreman who go from being the best player on any given field to just being one in a crowd at the college level, the transition is stark. Players have told me before the jump from high school to Power Five college ball is tougher than the jump from college to the NFL.

Part of that process: understanding that what you did at the high school level means nothing to anyone at the college level.

“Everybody wants to make this big deal of which guy was the No. Whatever player in the country coming out. I’ve been lucky to have a few of those guys and having been through this a little bit, the thing that players like that and people on the outside need to realize is that means nothing when you get to college,” USC head coach Lincoln Riley told reporters this weekend. “That means absolutely nothing. 

Riley has been around this kind of situation before. During his time at Oklahoma, both as the team’s offensive coordinator and then its head coach, and now through one class at USC, Riley has seen seven 5-star players join his program.

For a player that highly-touted that early, Riley says there’s a perception that a player just has to not “mess it up” and they’ll have a standout college career and a long NFL career in front of them.

“If you get some nice accolades as a high school player, that means you did a good job as a high school player,” Riley said, though. “Congrats. That’s over.”

“You get to college, you’ve got nothing. It’s like this notion that I’m defending something I already have. No, you don’t have anything. You’ve got a shot, just like everybody else has here. All it is is about taking those steps and going and attacking it, not being defensive, not thinking you’ve got it made or anything like that.”

Riley never directly said Foreman had that issue last season. He wasn’t even here last year to have known if it was an issue to begin with. But the question was about Foreman’s 2021 campaign and what he can do in 2022.

The promising defensive lineman isn’t the first highly-touted player to have an underwhelming first year and he certainly won’t be the last. The key is to just keep working, keep growing.

“I think Korey’s done a good job of that since we’ve been here,” Riley said. “He’s worked hard. You can’t get caught up in all that. You’re here to play college football and be the best you can and, like any other player on our roster, if you do a good job with that, that can open up all kinds of things with the rest of your life both on the field and off the field, especially at a place like SC. Probably more so here than anywhere in the country. 

“The focus has got to be on being your best here. Korey’s done a nice job of that. He’s gotten better. Had an unfortunate minor setback right before spring ball but he’s doing a lot in practice right now and I expect he’ll be full-go next week. Excited, obviously, to be able to see him get out there and turn it loose. He’s a gifted kid that’s gonna have to continue to work hard and make the most of the opportunities in front of him.“

Everyone is guilty of the 5-star assumption, Riley says. Parents, families, players, coaches, media, we can all fall victim to “(making) too much of that.” Riley likes the mindset he’s seen from Foreman in the months since arriving, though.

“We’ve got to separate these things,” Riley said. “High school is high school. This is college. It’s a different level and these guys have got to reset and just go and attack it. I’m excited about how Korey’s done that in the months we’ve been here. 

In the absence of outsized expectations, we’ll see what Foreman can do this upcoming season. USC seems to be optimistic.