In his first full year of recruiting, USC coach Lane Kiffin continued the tradition of reeling in top-notch talent in spite of rather steep challenges, as USC announced Wednesday the signing of twenty-two players for its 2011 recruiting class.
“It’s not me,” Kiffin said at a press conference introducing his newest class. “I don’t care how good of a recruiter you are if you aren’t at a place like USC. USC is the only place with all that going on and all the ammo that everyone else had against [us] where you can get it done. It just speaks volumes about USC.”
The class, ranked No. 4 overall by Yahoo! Sports’ Rivals.com, consists of five defensive lineman, four offensive lineman, four linebackers, three wide receivers, two running backs, two defensive backs, one tight end and one punter in addition to the eight spring enrollees — a total of 30 prospects.
“This class is very deep,” Kiffin said. “It address a lot of needs. We wanted to add a number of quality players and I know we didn’t reach. We could have added some other guys, but we wanted to make sure we got the right guys.”
Even while sanctioned, the Trojans had some flexibility in the number of players it could sign as a result of its pending appeal, which was heard Jan. 22 by the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee.
Since USC signed a full class, however, the scholarship restrictions placed on the program last June, which included a loss of 30 scholarships over the course of three seasons, will not take effect until 2012, lasting through 2014.
But if the university’s appeal is successful, the scholarships reductions beginning next February will result in a loss of just five scholarships per recruiting class.
Yet, because several areas of the depth chart have become increasingly thin as a result of smaller recruiting classes toward the end of Pete Carroll’s tenure, Kiffin and his staff made the effort to fill the roster out.
Another focus for USC was to build a wall around Southern California, keeping control over the wealth of talent in the region.
“As of right now, I think we did a pretty good job,” Kiffin said. “Unfortunately we can’t get everybody every time. I think our staff did pretty well. Obviously that was a big concern of ours to make sure that happened.”
Athlete Marqise Lee (Gardena, Calif.), a four-star prospect, turned down Miami (Fl.) and followed in the footsteps of five-star wide receiver and high school teammate George Farmer (Gardena, Calif.).
Of all of the recruits, Kiffin suggested that Farmer was most likely to make an immediate impact, much like Robert Woods a season ago. As a freshman, Woods caught 65 passes for 792 yards and six touchdowns, while starting alongside Ronald Johnson.
But with Johnson set to graduate, the Trojans will need a replacement opposite Woods.
Increasingly important for Kiffin and his staff, however, was bringing in more bodies along the offensive and defensive lines, and essentially, the staff seemed pleased they were able to do as much.
Four-star defensive tackle Christian Heyward (San Diego.) turned down Oregon and San Diego State in favor of USC. Heyward cited the NFL-caliber coaching staff at USC as the deciding factor, and many pundits suggest the ninth-ranked prospect is better than the rankings suggest.
Much like in 2010, Kiffin did an admirable job of recruiting nationally, nabbing the services of several highly-touted recruits who were undecided heading into National Signing Day.
Top-rated offensive guard Aundrey Walker (Cleveland, Ohio) spurned hometown favorite Ohio State to sign with USC.
“Here’s a player at Cleveland Glenville High School,” Kiffin said. “When you study it, and they’re out from the state of Ohio, they usually go to Ohio State. Aundrey’s 375 pounds, 6-foot-5, so he gives us some size there and we’ll see. We’ll plug [Walker] in and see what he can do.”
Four-star linebacker Lamar Dawson (Danville, Kentucky) took a similar route, as well.
“Local kids, California kids, you like to think you are going to get them,” Kiffin said. “To go into SEC country and get Lamar was a pleasant surprised.”
While the Trojans won their fair share of recruiting battles Wednesday, they also found themselves on the losing end of some others.
Offensive lineman Troy Niklas (Anaheim, Calif.) signed with rival Notre Dame, while cornerback Marcus Roberson (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) signed with Florida after decomitting from Auburn on Monday.
Most notably, long-time commit De’Anthony Thomas (Los Angeles) of Crenshaw High reneged on his verbal pledge to USC, signing with Oregon.
Thomas is the No. 1 ranked athlete in the country and the fifth-best prospect in the country, according to Rivals.com.
But in spite of losing out on a few potential recruits, Kiffin remained optimistic about the future of the program.
“At the UCLA game afterwards, I said this was going to be a very critical off season for us, and one that we were going to spend every day working on this class so hopefully we didn’t have a season like we did before,” Kiffin said. “I think today we’ve made a step toward that.”