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May 30, 2007Servite High School has become USC central in 2008.
With D.J. Shoemate and Matt Kalil already committed to the Trojans, most college coaches traveling around Southern California for May evaluations skipped Friar spring football. But while Shoemate uses spring to rehab a broken foot, Kalil has been on the front lines of the camp circuit.
Last week, the 6-foot-7, 280-pound all-state offensive tackle was honored for his offseason performance with five-stars from Rivals.com.
"I think it's exciting," said Kalil. "To look on the Internet and see that you're one of the top 25 players in the country is awesome.
"It means you're one of the big dogs, which makes you want to work even harder. I just try to get better and better every day - knowing that everyone expects a lot out of me."
Recognized as No. 16 on the Rivals100, Kalil was joined by Shoemate as a five-star selection. While Kalil was a consensus pick for initial five-star status, Shoemate was not.
According to Kalil, the debate over Shoemate's ranking will end once the season begins.
"Without a doubt," replied Kalil. "D.J. is a player, and I think everyone knows that. He was injured last year, but anybody whose watched him practice would see him getting better every day. I think he'll do well this year.
"He's a stronger player, but I think that it's an outstanding achievement to only play your sophomore year and still be recognized as one of the nation's top 25 players. You have to be pretty good to do that."
Kalil, who's brother Ryan who was recently selected in the second round of the NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers, has become a proven commodity over the past two seasons of play.
However, at the Palo Alto NIKE Camp last May, Kalil went unrecognized by those outside of USC circles. A year later at the Los Angeles NIKE Camp, Kalil returned as a marked man.
"I didn't really know what to expect at my first NIKE Camp," said Kalil. "That was my first big camp, so I was just there to see what it was all about. I got a few one-on-one reps, but no one called me out.
"Going from that into this year's camps, I felt like I was ahead. I came in feeling like I was the best player there and that no one was going to beat me. I also got a lot more reps. I must have had 15 or so reps in one-on-ones.
"Guys wanted to line up against me, but after I proved myself this past season, my dad told me to go into the camps knowing that I was going to be the best tackle there. He wanted me to play like no one could beat me, and that's the mind set I tried to play with. I think it helped me a lot.
"The only guys I remember calling me out were the UCLA d-linemen, but I killed those guys."
While Tyron Smith of Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde won Los Angeles NIKE Camp MVP honors, Rivals.com Southeastern Recruiting Analyst J.C. Shurburtt felt Kalil was the best player in attendance.
"What stands out the most about him are his extremely soft feet and advanced athletic ability," said Shurburtt after the camp. "He's also extremely flexible and has long arms, which will allow him to be able to achieve excellence in pass blocking as well as run blocking.
"Kalil just saw his brother Ryan taken No. 59 overall in the NFL draft and there's an excellent chance that Matt will go even higher if he develops as expected when the time comes."
Watching Ryan go through the draft process this spring, Kalil remains eager to trace his brother's footsteps at USC.
"I watched him closely because he's a smart guy and knows how to handle himself," said Kalil. "I think he set the level for me. That's one of my goals - to be as good as him or even better. Watching him compete over the past four years was one of the main reasons I committed to SC."
But before suiting up in Cardinal & Gold or standing at the podium for the NFL draft, Kalil's distant dreams are overshadowed by his immediate focus. Having put the recruiting process behind him, Kalil's senior season will meet head-on with the fear of complacency.
"I try to push myself to the limit every day and work as hard as I can possibly work," said Kalil. "My coaches also push me and let me know about any mistakes I make with technique.
"The focus for me right now is getting bigger and maintaining my quickness. I need to get stronger this year, so most of my goals revolve around that."
USC's coaching staff will also help Kalil fight complacency. Although he committed to the Trojans October of last year, the All-American tackle maintains regular contact with USC offensive line coach, Pat Ruel.
"I check in with him with text messages and stuff," said Kalil. "They've kind of let me do my own thing this offseason, but they do stay updated. I spoke to coach Ruel the other day and he said he was excited about coaching me at the lineman camp at SC in June."
At the Trojans' annual lineman camp, Kalil will partner up with fellow class of 2008 commitment Matt Meyer. Over the past few months, Kalil and Meyers have become friends away from football.
"Matt is a cool guy and I talk to him a lot," said Kalil. "You can tell he works hard and that he really wants to get to USC and play. He's really smart too. I think he has a 4.2 GPA or something like that, which is crazy. Every time I've visited USC he's been there and we've hung out together.
"I want to be a part of a top o-line class. I want this class to continue to raise the competition level at USC. It's already high, but we have to work hard to make it even higher."
USCFootball.com will continue to keep you updated on Matt Kalil's senior season at Servite.