After USC beat No. 4 ranked Washington Saturday in Seattle (Wash.) 26-13, many Trojans immediately began wondering out loud what impact USC’s turnaround would have on recruiting.
To that question came an immediate answer when San Clemente (Calif.) four-star quarterback Jack Sears de-committed from Duke Sunday and committed to USC.
Sears becomes commitment No. 16 for USC in the class of 2017. With the Trojans losing junior quarterback Max Browne to transfer at the end of the season, USC will return redshirt freshman starter Sam Darnold and true freshman Matt Fink, who is redshirting this season.
Thus, with only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster going into spring ball next year, signing a quarterback in the 2017 class became crucial.
Even with Browne’s announcement to transfer, USC never strayed far from the recruiting trail the coaching staff traveled last spring. Sears and Honolulu (Hawaii) four-star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa were the only two quarterbacks the Trojans seriously pursued.
Sear was committed to Duke while Tagovailoa remains committed to Alabama. A week ago, Sears popped up at USC for an unofficial visit for the Trojans win against the Oregon Ducks. While the visit was framed as a trip to the Coliseum to support former Triton teammate Sam Darnold, sources said that Sears got to campus early and spent time with the USC coaching staff.
While Sears admits he was wavering from his commitment to Duke well before that visit, the Trojans impressive turnaround this season helped make his decision a lot easier. With Darnold at the helm, the Trojans offense gave Sears a clearer preview of what could be. Sears, like Darnold, has the passing prowess of a pro-style quarterback, but also the athleticism to make plays in the running game.
In fact, while Darnold pumped new life into the USC offense with his escapability, Sears is the better athlete of the two on paper. After running a 4.72 electronic 40-yard dash at the Bay Area Opening, Sears followed that up with a 4.73 40-yard dash time and a 36-inch vertical leap at The Opening Finals. He threw the power ball 42-feet, which was the highest mark among quarterbacks at The Opening Finals.
At The Opening Finals, Darnold ran a 4.96 40-yard dash and had a 26-inch vertical leap. In pads, Sears holds his own as well. In 11 games this season, Sears has 700-yards rushing and seven touchdowns to go along with 1660-yards passing and 24 scores through the air. He has averaged 6.8-yards a carry so far this season.
As a junior, Sears ran for 860-yards and nine touchdowns to go with 2,700-yards and 37 scores through the air. For a comparison, Darnold ran for 785-yards and 13 scores as a senior for San Clemente. He averaged 6.3-yards a carry.
USC still wants a quarterback who is a passer more than an athlete, but Darnold’s ability to create plays outside of the pocket has added a whole new decisions to the Trojans offense this season. The recruitment of Matt Fink last year, and Sears this year, marks a new era in Trojan quarterbacks.
Expert Opinion with Scout National Recruiting Analysts Greg Biggins
Greg Biggins has spent the past few years watching Sam Darnold, Matt Fink and Jack Sears perform both in games and at events settings like The Opening and Elite 11. All three quarterbacks have plenty of unique qualities, but with two of the three sharing a similar path to USC, Darnold is used as a good reference point for Trojan fans wanting to know more about Sears.
“Sears is a better prospect than Fink at this point,” said Biggins. “He’s a better passer and he’s bigger, stronger, faster. Fink is actually a pretty good athlete, but Jack is at an extremely high level.
“He can run and jump, but he’s also tough to tackle. He can make a lot of plays, so you see a lot more similarities with him and Sam. He’s not as big as Sam, and he doesn’t have as strong of an arm, but he might be ahead on the mental side of playing quarterback.
“I actually spoke to Jack’s trainer, who also trains with Sam. He thinks Jack is further along understanding the game. You watch Sam and he still makes some weird decisions. Jack is a little shaper at this stage. I think he has a great chance of working his way up to being the No. 2 guy at USC as a true freshman.”
While Sears may in fact be more athletic than Darnold, USC’s starting quarterback as a certain je ne sais quoi to his game that has help fuel the Trojans six game winning streak.
“Jack is the same way,” said Biggins. “He can make that first guy miss and he can get out of the pocket.
“The thing with Jack, you could design even more runs with him as a quarterback. Sam was a league MVP in basketball and played linebacker when he first got to San Clemente. Jack could be a D-I receiver. He’s a legit 6-foot-3, 200-pounds and jumps 40-inches.
“Sears has that ability to make all of those plays outside the pocket. And really, Sam has developed that more just being at USC. He’s better now than he was in high school when it comes to having that innate feel for the game.
“In high school he could do it, but now, it’s like he has this Jake The Snake Plummer thing going on. He would seem to have no idea where the rush is coming from, and then subtly, he makes an Elway. Quarterback coaches call them Elways. It’s a quarterback drill where he step here and step there to avoid pressure. Sam can really do that extremely well.”
Quarterback commits are often the cornerstone to a recruiting class. Many quarterbacks are vocal leaders within class helping a school accumulate more talent. Sears, however, has been a lot less vocal on the recruiting trail.
“He’s a national name at quarterback and he’s very good,” said Biggins. “He’s not going to be a guys like Hunter Echols where he gets on the phone and calls 10 guys to get them to commit. He’s not going to push anyone to SC.
“But he’s not an introvert either. He’ll take his official visit in a couple of weeks and talk to guys. I’ve seen him at passing tournaments with his San Clemente teammates, and he’s very outgoing with those guys. There may be a Jack Sears we just haven’t seen, but I don’t think he’s going to be that super Tim Tebow recruiter for USC.”
Sears’ commitment Sunday gives USC a tremendous outlook on offense for the immediate future. But Clay Helton isn’t stopping there. Westlake Village (Calif.) junior quarterback Oaks Christian Matt Corral is another top rated prospect already committed to be a Trojan in the 2018 class.
After Sears commitment broke Sunday, Corral tweeted “It’s a great day to be a Trojan.”
“It’s not like Davis Mills or Shea Patterson committed,” said Biggins. “Not saying Jack can’t be as good as those guys, but he doesn’t have the name or ranking to give Corral second thoughts about USC.
“I’m not sure Matt would care either way, really. He’s pretty solid with USC. But you’re getting a quality kid and a quality quarterback in Jack without a lot of hype. It’s really a perfect fit for USC from that standpoint.”