The phrase “junior day” isn’t likely to ring a bell in most people’s minds, regardless of their allegiance to the game of college football.
That’s because, to the uninformed eye, the event seems to be little beyond a bunch of eager high schoolers checking out a university campus.
But it’s much more than that.
On Feb. 11, more than 100 of the best high school football players in the nation flocked to Southern California to visit USC’s campus and to catch a glimpse of what life’s like as a Trojan. And behind the tours, the speeches and the posturing given by USC coaches and staff, there lies an integral step in the recruiting process -— one that could pay major dividends a couple years down the road.
The first impression.
Each year, USC is charged with the task of showcasing itself to these undecided high school juniors (hence, “junior day”) in an effort to sway their young minds. It’s not an easy process of course — with so many options and so many outside influences, not every tantalizing tour or statistic is going to stick.
Combine that fact with the situation the team currently sits in because of NCAA sanctions and it’s clear that junior day 2012 was shaping up to be a markedly more difficult sell than most years.
You would think then that Trojan coaches would stick to their guns when showing off their places of work — the mountain of trophies, the mile-long list of USC grads in the NFL, the history that few schools come close to rivaling. But this year, that wasn’t the case.
Athletic Director Pat Haden and coach Lane Kiffin decided to go a different direction in wooing their guests, instead focusing on USC’s recent hike in the academic rankings as a means of getting attention. The pair — and others — made it clear that in addition to entertaining potential dominance in the football sphere, those who commit to USC are putting a strong foot forward in the world of academia.
The team of recruiters also made one-on-one time a priority, meeting with as many guests face-to-face as time allowed. The message was clear and simple: By enrolling at USC, your experience will be a complete and personal one, extending far beyond the football field.
A bold move in front of a 17-year-old crowd, to say the least, but it appears that the refreshing take struck a chord with many potential recruits. The mood around junior day was one of pleasant surprise, as several highly touted invitees admitted to having their eyes opened throughout the course of the day.
This reaction, of course, couldn’t come at a better time. With three years of limitations threatening to weigh down the football team, laying a solid foundation down in the reputation department is the only way USC will be able to distinguish itself from the myriad other colleges boasting 10-win seasons and a platter full of tradition.
And though the Trojans haven’t received any solid verbal commitments yet from the recruits given offers on junior day, expectations for the class of 2013 are soaring higher than ever.
Quarterback Max Browne, considered the best at his position in the 2013 class, flew down from Sammamish, Wash., for the day and mentioned that he will return in the spring to consider USC further. Su’a Cravens, a five-star safety from Murrieta, Calif., is now expected to have the Trojans at the top of his list while he mulls over his big decision.
There is almost another full year before USC will truly find out which leads produced and which were for naught. But regardless of what is to come, the junior day reaction is beyond promising. At a time when a simple visit can influence an entire decision, it looks like the Trojans put their best foot forward.
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