National signing day has come and gone and, despite a few key defections, the Trojans have still racked up the No. 13 class in the entire country, according to Rivals.com. Though seven of the biggest hauls, including quarterback Max Browne and safety Su’a Cravens, are already enrolled at USC, the team was able to add six new players.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin was excited to welcome them aboard.
“[It’s a] very exciting day for USC football as we welcome 13 new guys to our program,” Kiffin said. “The best way to describe these guys is sometimes, when you go big-game fishing, you’re not going to get a lot of them, but you’ll get some really, really big prizes. These guys, they’re the cream of the crop from around the country.”
Unfortunately, much of the news on Wednesday was about players choosing against USC. The Trojans had a number of players pick other schools after including USC in their final list of schools they were considering.
After weeks of speculation surrounding his surprising decommitment, USC lost out on defensive end Kylie Fitts, who decided to attend UCLA. Fitts had been pledged to USC for months and was seen as one of the 2013 class’ most solid commitments, but changed his mind after losing his early enrollment spot in January.
“I didn’t like [Fitts’ situation] at all, what happened,” Kiffin said. “We were 100 percent upfront with Kylie from the second of us knowing the situation. He had already signed his financial aid agreement to come here but, unfortunately, there wasn’t a spot for him. He’s a great kid with a great family, and now he’s across town, so really another good example of the situation that we’re put in.”
Perhaps the biggest shock of the day, though, was the decommitment of star cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey, a long-time commit to USC, changed his mind Tuesday and will enroll at Florida State. In addition, defensive end Jason Hatcher of Louisville, Ky. reneged on his commitment and chose Kentucky.
With scholarship sanctions in effect until 2015, the Trojans are limited to just 15 spots for freshmen. Of those 15, the Trojans filled 13.
One of the negative effects the sanctions had on this year’s class was the lack of flexibility Kiffin and his staff had early on. Months ago, the number of verbal commitments USC had secured had already reached this year’s limit, so players who wanted to commit to the Trojans were unable to because of Kiffin’s fear of “over-booking” his class beyond its limits.
“It put us in a difficult situation, having the limited scholarships and the early commitments,” Kiffin said. “We were having kids calling us and wanting to commit and we couldn’t take them because we didn’t want to take more kids than we had spots for. That hurt us because, when you go back to those kids late, a lot of times they’re not there anymore.”
Despite losing out on a number of top prospects, Wednesday brought the official signings of several star players, including outside linebacker Quinton Powell and offensive lineman Nico Falah. A Florida native, Powell chose USC over Clemson and Florida, among others. Falah is from Bellflower, Calif., and chose USC over Arizona, Cal and Florida.
Joining them are running back Ty Isaac, wide receiver Steven Mitchell, offensive lineman Khaliel Rodgers and outside linebacker Michael Hutchings. Isaac, at five stars, is the highest ranked of the four, according to Rivals.com. A tailback from Chicago, Ill., Isaac ran for 1,220 yards in just eight games, averaging 10 yards per carry.
Mitchell attended Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills, Calif., while Rodgers hails from Maryland. Hutchings, who starred at powerhouse De La Salle in Northern California, had 56 tackles during the regular season, leading the Spartans to another state championship in the process.
Though the Trojans return 17 starters from the 2012 team, several players are expected to contribute early. Kiffin expects some of these new faces to start right away.
“We think that these players can come right away and help us, all of them,” Kiffin said. “Probably a couple of them will start. It’s not a ton of guys, but also I don’t feel like we reached either. Our 13 are better than anybody else’s top 13.”