On Wednesday, USC coach Lane Kiffin announced the newest football recruiting class to join the Trojan ranks at a press conference in Heritage Hall as the period for high school seniors to sign letters of intent opened.
The group, ranked eighth nationally by Rivals.com, includes 11 high school players and one junior college transfer. The scholarship reductions imposed by the NCAA went into effect with the 2012 recruiting class, and the Trojans were only allowed to sign a maximum of 15 players.
“It’s tough because that’s 10 players you are giving away to your competitors,” Kiffin said.
Despite the sanctions, Kiffin appeared pleased with the class.
“We can’t control how many we sign, but we can control who we sign — And these are the highest quality players.”
Notably, Lane Kiffin and his staff stockpiled talent at the offensive line position by signing five-star prospects Zach Banner of Lakewood, Wash. and Jordan Simmons of Encino, Calif. Though the incoming freshmen bring size and athleticism, Kiffin did not expect them to emerge as the replacements for Matt Kalil, who is the lone starter not returning to an offensive line that surrendered only eight sacks last year.
“It’s so hard at [offensive line] to go from high school to college. Luckily ,we do return four of our five,” Kiffin said.
At wide receiver, the Trojans added four-star Darreus Rogers of Carson, Calif. and highly touted wide receiver Nelson Agholor of Tampa Bay, Fla.
Though USC filled several areas of need, the lack of depth at running back continues to be an issue. Jahleel Pinner is listed at running back at five-foot-eleven, 250 pounds, but he projects to be a fullback.
“It was just one of those years where we just didn’t find any guys we liked [at running back],” Kiffin said. “If we were able to sign more guys, we would have been able to take a chance.”
The Trojans managed to sign defensive recruits Wednesday as well.
Safety Gerald Bowman, the lone junior college transfer who was the top prospect at his position, officially signed with USC. The Trojans hoped to sign him as an early enrollee for spring practice, but he was unable to get through the process in time.
At linebacker, four-star Jabari Ruffin of Downey, Calif., signed his letter of intent to join spring enrollee Scott Starr at the position. USC started three freshmen at linebacker a year ago, Ruffin and Starr could see the field right away.
“[Ruffin and Starr] are as good as anybody we saw in camp.” Kiffin said. They reminded us of the old days.”
Defensive backs Kevon Seymour of Pasadena, Calif., and Devian Shelton of Inglewood, Calif., join a secondary that returns the top-two lines of the depth chart from a year ago.
The biggest signing of the day came by way of Daytona Beach, Fla. The Trojans needed to address a need along the defensive line, and they found their man in Leonard Williams. The four-star prospect projects as a defensive end and Kiffin believes he is the most likely recruit in the class to have an immediate impact.
With the majority of last year’s roster returning, Kiffin does not believe there is as much pressure on the 2012 class to perform right away.
“A year ago we probably had more holes to fill immediately.” Kiffin said. “We don’t need them to be great right away.”