Watch out, Kirby Smart. USC is hot on the Georgia recruiting trail

Demonta Prather is used to seeing red on the football recruiting trail in Georgia, but it’s not usually USC’s cardinal that comes through the Manchester (Ga.) High coach’s office.

Led by new defensive line coach Eric Henderson, the Trojans stormed the Georgia recruiting trail last weekend by securing verbal commitments from two top defensive line prospects.

The Trojans already had a pledge from five-star quarterback Julian Lewis from Carrollton, Ga., then in a day added Prather’s five-star defensive lineman Justus Terry and the nation’s top edge rusher, Isaiah Gibson of Warner Robins, Ga., for the 2025 recruiting class.

Terry, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound lineman from Manchester, Ga., flipped a commitment from his home state school Georgia as USC pulled off a task that Terry’s head coach knows is “extremely tough.”

“It’s going to be a fight,” Prather said of USC’s attempt to pull Georgia’s top recruits away from the SEC powerhouses. “But they look like they’re ready for it.”

Terry, the nation’s second-ranked defensive lineman prospect for 2025 according to 247 Sports, had been committed to the Bulldogs for more than a year. Henderson wasn’t scared.

Nine days after being hired at USC, the defensive line coach was already at Manchester High about 75 miles south of Atlanta to speak to Terry and his family. It was the first time Prather remembered seeing USC recruiting in Georgia. He hasn’t stopped seeing USC’s influence since.

“It’s just different seeing a college come from one side of the country to the other side and to make a good impact,” Prather said. “When coach Henderson first walked into the door, he’s an energetic guy, he’s just a great person the way he comes off to the kids.”

The coach they call “Henny” didn’t waste any time getting back in the recruiting groove after seven years in the NFL. His success at the professional level is an easy pitch to high-level recruits who might dream of becoming the next Aaron Donald, but Henderson insisted he’s not trying to sell the program. On the recruiting trail, he’s in the business of relationship building.

“When you really care about people, people can feel that,” Henderson said in his direct staccato tone after practice Thursday. “You really want what’s best for the young man and his family, I think that always wins in my mind. Then not to mention the developmental process is going to be the best … any defensive lineman that comes here can get, in terms of your preparation for the next level. That’s really what you want and if you really have someone that truly cares about you, then there’s not a better school than ‘SC.”

Henderson’s high energy already has won over USC’s current players, who are connecting with his no-nonsense demeanor as well as his technical savvy.

“His approach has been awesome,” defensive end Jamil Muhammad said. “He takes no slack at all, he’s just been coaching us very, very hard.”

Henderson’s straightforward approach also applies when speaking to recruits. He stays in constant communication with high school players but doesn’t make empty promises hoping to earn any prospect’s pledge.

“He’s telling them what they want to hear,” Prather said, “and what they need to hear.”

Last year, Terry led Manchester to its first state championship appearance in 26 years. He’s not only dominant on the field, but he’s also the team’s hardest worker, Prather said . He patiently helps younger teammates through new drills. He motivates them if he sees anyone struggling during conditioning drills.

The responsibility of being a leader, however, isn’t always easy, Prather said. Terry shouldered an unimaginable burden when teammate and fellow defensive lineman Brandon Smith was found shot and killed the night before Manchester’s state title game in December. He was 17. Terry and fellow team captain Javon Favors carried Smith’s No. 52 jersey to midfield for the pregame coin toss.

“He took that experience … and just kept himself together,” Prather said. “And helped keep the team together also.”

After the one-point loss in the championship game, Prather commended his players for their resilience. He told them they “did something that I don’t think some adults could do.”

In the three months since, Prather has seen his players take motivation to become not only better players, but also better people.

In Terry, Prather knows USC is getting someone who has elite skills in both categories.

“They’re getting,” Prather said, “probably one of the best kids I know.”

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