The best of USC’s Drake London is still to come

Drake London is one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles, and it’s a USC institution. It has been a favorite for students since its opening in 1949, but this year is going to be different.

Drake London is the best of USC’s Drake London. The Drake London is still to come, but it has been a great experience for all that have gone through it.

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Drake London was kept busy by the Little Tikes hoop. London was overflowing with enthusiasm from the time he could walk, just after turning one. Dwan and Cindi purchased the hoop for their backyard to amuse their kid, and to their amazement, he understood precisely how to use it. He would go up to the “hoot,” as his mother Cindi recalls her little kid referring to it, and shoot the ball, his feet precisely together and aimed at the hoop, his left hand following through.

“When I got home from daycare or preschool, I’d immediately run to the Tikes and start shooting,” London said. “I know I’d be weeping if I couldn’t play hoops that day.”

Cindi can attest to the tears.

It would be an understatement to say London was a natural athlete. His parents saw his natural ability to succeed at any sport without much of a learning curve as a strength. Physical brilliance, according to Dwan, who coached him in football through middle school. Cindi refers to it as “magic.” Both avoided putting pressure on their kid — Dwan said he didn’t want to come off as a LaVar Ball-like figure — and maintained an open attitude. They let London play any sport he chose, and he generally excelled at it.

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“The more he moved, the calmer he became,” Cindi observed.

London was soon able to extend his skills outside the home garden, participating in bumblebee soccer, T-ball, flag football, tackle football, and even track and field.

“‘Even if you want to play chess, we’ll be there,’ we always stated. But basketball and football were always around “Cindi said.

London’s first passion was basketball, and it is still his favorite sport. It’s why, despite growing into a great wide receiver and a possible first-round NFL draft selection, he remained dedicated to both sports at USC, eventually giving up basketball before his junior season. The choice was difficult to make, yet it resulted in a new and thrilling reality.

London was allowed to concentrate only on football for the first time in his life.

What were the outcomes? According to Pro Football Focus, he is second in the US in receiving yards per game (138.7) and leads the Pac-12 in yards after the catch, first downs, receptions of 20 yards or more, contested catches, forced missed tackles, and yards per route after six games. London entered USC expecting to be a “role player,” but after two and a half seasons, he is already ranked No. 10 on Mel Kiper Jr.’s draft board.

If there is a ceiling for London, it is currently invisible.

“He’s one in a billion” in terms of character, passion, commitment, and skill, according to London high school basketball coach Ryan Moore.

Drake London has 138.7 receiving yards per game through six games this season, which is second in the country. Getty Images/David Bradford/David Bradford/David Bradford/David Bradford/D

God, according to Graham Harrell, is just.

If a wide receiver is gifted with size and ball skills, he will struggle with route running and agility. If a wide receiver has excellent quickness and route running, but lacks stature, his ball skills are suspect. It’s how the football world keeps its equilibrium. In the instance of London, though, USC’s offensive coordinator casts doubt on that belief.

“Drake seems to have it all,” Harrell remarked. “He’s a colossus with unbelievable ball abilities. If you’re that large and have those types of ball abilities, you’re a bit stiff if you can’t get in and out of breaks. [God] may not be able to provide people with all they want, but he does possess the whole package.”

Harrell has worked with good receivers before, but when he thinks of London, he thinks of his former colleague Michael Crabtree, a 215-pound wideout with excellent ball skills who “went in and out of cuts like a tiny person.” London is four inches taller than Crabtree, and he’s registered at 210 pounds, but his parents claim he’s closer to 217 pounds since he doesn’t play basketball or run as much as he used to.

So, even though London’s head misses the sound of shoes on hardwood, his body has adapted well to focusing on a single activity. He has had more time to relax and recuperate, as well as completely immerse himself in spring football, which has paid off this season. And today, more people are seeing his abilities.

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis described him as “a quarterback’s closest buddy.” “You just sort of chuck it up and give him a shot when you have that one-on-one opportunity.”

Throw the ball up to London and watch the highlight unfold has been USC’s most thrilling and effective play this season. The Trojans’ 2021 season has been a roller coaster ride, with a 3-3 record, the dismissal coach Clay Helton, and a series of injuries, including both quarterbacks. London’s season, if he were to play for Alabama or Ohio State, would likely end with a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

“He’s just 20, so he hasn’t even reached his prime,” Cindi said. “He can now devote all of his attention to football rather than basketball. It’s already beginning to pay off.”

Those who watched him perform before he became famous aren’t shocked. Because of their height and length, as well as the fact that Evans had previously played basketball, Ryan Huisenga, London’s football coach at Moorpark High, advised him during his sophomore and junior years in high school that he could model his game after Mike Evans. His marketing agent, Uche Anyenwa, who also represents former Trojan wideout Michael Pittman Jr., compares him to Evans and DeVonta Smith, confirming Harrell’s judgment that he can catch like a big guy and move like a small person.

When questioned about NFL parallels, London remarked of former Detroit Lions great Calvin Johnson, “I enjoy watching Megatron.” “I wouldn’t say I try to model my game after Megatron because he’s a one-of-a-kind creature, but Mike Evans is certainly an inspiration. Because we have similar physique types, I strive to imitate him.”

However, there are unmistakable parallels between London and Johnson. Johnson was a two-sport high school standout who was recruited to Georgia Tech to play baseball and football. Basketball has only benefited London’s football career. Moore sees himself getting a rebound over bigger opponents as he goes up for a ball against a corner in a one-on-one scenario. Former USC assistant basketball coach Jason Hart imagines a one-handed dunk off a lob as he leaps to receive a pass with one hand. Dwan compares it to a crossover on the court when he defeats a defender on a route and breaks away. London attributes his footwork to basketball when he follows a ball in the air and gets to the location before anybody else.

“I wasn’t only competing during football season,” London remarked of the multisport strategy. “Basketball season was also in full swing. As a result, I was constantly on edge, trying to win.”

Drake London’s coach at USC, Keary Colbert, said of him, “He’s simply in a groove right now and everything is going his way.” Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire photo

Competitiveness has always been ingrained in London’s DNA, thanks in part to Dwan’s efforts. He wanted to strike a good balance between being a father and a coach, so after games, he’d ask his kid whether he wanted to hear from Dad or Coach. The former praised him for his efforts, while the latter offered suggestions for development. Above all, he wanted to inculcate in his son the value of hard work in order to achieve success. It’s why A’s and B’s in class got money from London, but C’s didn’t.

Dwan asked for touchdowns if London wanted the showy stuff his colleagues would be wearing. London needed new receiving gloves at one point. Dwan predicted three touchdowns, only to have his kid achieve the feat in only one game. Dwan increased it to ten touchdowns, and he received new gloves after a few games. When London tried to persuade Dwan and Cindi to let him play tackle football in fifth grade, Dwan made him put on pads and run at him, increasing the power each time until their fifth-grade son was knocked down. Dwan was sure he could make the move when London reappeared.

Dwan utilized reverse psychology as he helped his kid run routes with trash cans and tennis balls to enhance his ball skills and agility.

“I’d constantly try to pull him a little bit out of his comfort zone and push him,” Dwan said. “‘You know, I believe you have the capacity to perform the exercise, but it may be a little too difficult for you,’ or ‘You know, we might need to work on something else,’ I’d remark. And he was always willing to try new things.”

London’s coaches and parents recall him having to struggle with knee and leg discomfort as a result of his growth spurt by the time he reached high school. He grew five inches from eighth grade to freshman year, then another three inches between freshman and sophomore years. He progressed from running back to running quarterback to wide receiver while also becoming the greatest basketball player on the court. And although London was doing well, who was he up against? The school encouraged students to participate in many sports rather of focusing on one, but it wasn’t a Southern California powerhouse like St. John Bosco, Mater Dei, or Oaks Christian, who routinely produce top Division I prospects.

“That year, we had a Yale coach come to our third spring practice, and I began telling him Drake’s grades were excellent,” Huisenga recalled. “‘There’s no way we’d ever get Drake,’ he says. That man is going to be huge.’ And although we already knew it, it was wonderful to have it confirmed by someone else.”

Even London understood that if he wanted to make it at USC, he’d have to be challenged against superior competition at some point. The Londons, on the other hand, turned down all transfer offers. They didn’t want to interfere with London’s personal life, including his grades and friends. They prioritized such concerns and hoped the on-field issue would resolve itself.

“Going through everything with him was a lot of fun,” Dwan added. “And now I just sort of sit back and marvel at the entire scenario because, to be honest with you, it’s like a fairy tale.”

Drake London attributes a lot of his football abilities to his basketball background. Icon Sportswire/John Cordes photo

After a recent USC practice in which a few of NFL scouts were present, London removes his helmet, puts his hands behind his back, and talks softly. The higher pitch serves as a reminder that he’s still a “big child,” as USC tight end Malcolm Epps puts it. When he’s back in town, he still hangs out with his old pals at the local Target and go-kart track in Moorpark, as people close to him describe him as a “low-key” athlete. But there are signs of something more confident forming under those pads.

Just ask Moore, who once challenged London to not go soft at the rim during a basketball competition, only to have London slam the ball on successive plays and give him a look each time. Ask Cindi, who has watched her son grow in confidence with each interview, as well as in openness with each tweet or Instagram post he makes.

London is not a telephone operator. Or you might be a social media guru. But, as his profile grows, he understands that he must lean into those things. On the other hand, he’s still rewiring his brain after shocking himself by becoming the team’s top player and one of the greatest receivers in the nation.

“I don’t like to post a lot,” London said. “It’s not all about you. I simply try to stay to myself a lot, but particularly in this age, I’ve been working on it. You must be skilled in this area, particularly for NIL.”

Anyenwa and his parents encourage London to post when the time is perfect, but he will only take NIL offers that are beneficial to him. (For example, he loves automobiles and would want to be sponsored by a tire manufacturer at some time in the future.) On the field, there’s no doubt that he already has the necessary tools to propel him forward.

“It’s all just rolling his way right now,” said USC wide receivers coach Keary Colbert, a Moorpark native. “They get into a rhythm, much like a basketball player, and everything start to fall into place. I believe he is just in a groove at the moment, and everything is going his way.”

Despite this, London has yet to realize his full potential. The runway is now clear, and the large child with the Little Tikes hoop is ready to take off with a single sport in mind.

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