This was a potential sore topic a few weeks ago as there are several draft eligible Trojans who were thought to be considering leaving early for the NFL draft. In the past week, however, we have heard a lot of good news as basically every candidate to leave (except for Dwayne Jarrett) has announced that he will be coming back for another year.
The good news got started with the announcement by Lawrence Jackson that he would be staying. It was no secret coming into the season that LJ was a player considering an early entry to the draft. As the year went along, however, and the sack total struggled to get off the ground it began to make more and more sense for him to return. He put together a few splashes of dominant play toward the end of the season and there was some worry that it could be enough to convince him to leave but in the end he decided to come back.
That announcement by Jackson helped convince Sedrick Ellis, his fellow defensive lineman, to return as well. Ellis had been rumored as a strong candidate to leave amid speculation about academics but Sed took care of his business in the classroom and announced shortly after final exams were over that he would be returning. Sed basically said the decision by Jackson to return is what sealed the deal for him. They should be quite a pair of experienced seniors manning the d-line for the Trojans next year.
There will be another talented veteran behind them as Keith Rivers also indicated he would return for a third year of starting at linebacker. Rivers has asked for an NFL evaluation of his draft status so that he can "check the waters" but all indications are that he will be staying. Keith played as well as any defensive player in the conference during the first half of the 2006 season and the potential is there for him to compete for the Butkus Award next year.
On the other side of the ball, left tackle Sam Baker had long indicated his desire to stay for a senior season but as the year went along and it looked more and more like Sam had a chance to be rated among the top 2 or 3 tackles in the draft there was concern about the possibility of him leaving. Sam put an end to the speculation last week by saying he wanted to come back and that is certainly good news for a Trojan offensive line that is already going to be without Ryan Kalil.
The backfield behind Baker will look familiar as both John David Booty and Chauncey Washington have said they will sticking around for a senior year as well. Booty has been deflecting questions about his draft status since late October but his return means that the Trojans will have another quarterback on the pre-season Heisman Watch lists. Chauncey is perhaps the most interesting situation with his return. We all know about his struggles to come back after two years of academic ineligibility to even get to this point. The best thing for Chauncey probably would have been to put up good numbers this year and put himself in a position to get drafted in the early to middle rounds. That didn't happen though as injuries hampered him and it just wasn't clear that he would get the opportunity he was hoping for in the draft this year so he will come back and attempt to have a strong senior year as a steppingstone to the next level. After all he has been through, you can't help but root for Chauncey to make it happen.
The one guy we are still waiting on is Jarrett but I think most Cardinal and Gold fans have resigned themselves to the reality that he is probably gone. When the All-American teams were recently announced it was the first time that a USC wide receiver had ever earned that status twice. Not a bad accomplishment for the one-time homesick freshman. Dwayne, as with all the others, has earned the right to make whatever decision he wants to make and we will wish him luck either way.
While there is immediate good news for the Trojans with the return of so many experienced seniors, the reality is that it also means we will have fewer scholarships to hand out in this class. This was not going to be a huge class to begin with, most estimates put our total number of available rides around 18, and most scholarship counters (including our own George Young) figured that the only way we would have that many is if we lost multiple players to the draft. There are still some other variables though which could affect that number. Hershel Dennis has yet to hear a ruling on a sixth year of eligibility, there are still rumors floating around that Brandon Hancock hasn't made a final decision on applying for a sixth year either. We know that Rashaad Goodrum will be taking a medical redshirt which means that he is no longer on the roster and his scholarship is freed up. There could be other medical redshirts or there could be transfers, these are all factors which will go into determining the final number of available rides.
This could be a very important week for the Class of 2007 as two of the top choices on the Trojan wish list are expected to announce their final choices this week and the USC coaches will also be welcoming a strong group of recruits on campus this weekend for official visits.
The state of Arizona will be critical for the Trojans in the next week as both Everson Griffen and Kris O'Dowd are expected to announce their college decisions. USC coaches Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin and Nick Holt made the trek last week to visit both prospects and Pat Ruel will head out this week to make one final pitch. O'Dowd is scheduled to announce on Thursday (12/14) while Everson will make it official on December 20th.
Among the recruits scheduled to visit this weekend are such top targets as Donovan Warren, DaJohn Harris, Ronald Johnson and Brandon Carswell.
This past Saturday saw a terrific day of football at Home Depot Center for the CIF Divisional championships in the Inland, Northern and Pac-5 divisions.
Jordan Campbell and his Norco teammates captured a CIF title for the second year in a row after beating Chapparal 43-0. While last year's team had a bonafide superstar in state career rushing leader Toby Gerhart, this year's Norco squad was an unheralded group that simply stonewalled Chapparal on their way to the title. No player represents this Norco team more than Campbell with his energetic style of play as he notched 16 tackles and four sacks in the game.
The Canyon vs Moorpark game went right down to the wire as Moorpark scored a touchdown with just over a minute left to take the lead but Canyon quickly drove downfield (including a long completion to a 5-5 receiver who had previously caught three passes this year) to kick the game winning field goal with seconds remaining. It was a typically gutty performance for a Canyon team that has returned to prominence in recent years under Coach Harry Welch and they will be rewarded for the victory with a spot in the State Championship game against De La Salle. Canyon held junior running back Darrell Scott to one of his lowest rushing totals of the year.
The marquee event of the night was the Orange Lutheran vs Edison game and it turned out to be a game that the Lancers had control of all night. It didn't help Edison when they lost Trojan commit Martin Coleman during the week to an injured ankle. Coleman had been expected to match-up against fellow USC verbal Michael Reardon and many people were looking forward to those two going at it. You have to like the fact that Reardon called Coleman the day after the injury to express his condolences, that's a class move. Of course, Reardon didn't hold up on the field as he took advantage of Coleman's absence to wreak havoc in the Edison backfield, especially with his pressure on QB Nick Crissman. On one sack, Reardon drove Crissman to the ground and re-aggravated a shoulder injury that impacted the QB the rest of the night. Reardon capped a terrific year with a dominant showing in the title game. Another person who played well was Aaron Corp and his stats were on par with every game he played this year. 12 for 20 throwing the ball with two touchdowns passing and two touchdowns rushing. Corp is the X factor for why this talented Orange Lutheran team was able to rise above the tough competition in the Trinity League and the Pac-5 division. He is a rare 6-4 quarterback who can run well but who can also make every throw in the book. One other name to mention is junior tight end Blake Ayles, who has an SC offer. Ayles had one touchdown catch where he caught the ball, fought off tacklers and then outran other defenders to the end zone for a 50 yard score. It was the definition of a tight end getting downfield to make a big play and it showed why Pete Carroll and staff offered immediately after watching him play in person earlier this year.
I also got a chance to see Oaks Christian in action last Friday night as they demolished Oak Park on their way to a 4th straight CIF title. The Lions are so good, it's amazing to think they can look that good without Marc Tyler. We had a chance to talk on-air with Marc during the game broadcast and he said he didn't realize how talented the team was until he got injured and had a chance to watch them from the sidelines. Trojan verbal Marshall Jones had an interception return for a touchdown and, more impressively, he also continued to carry the load for the Oaks Christian running game in the absence of Tyler. It was the first time in four starts that Marshall failed to gain 100 yards but he came close with 80. Remember the name of his brother Malcolm, a 6-3, 215 freshman linebacker. This year will not mark the last time the Trojan coaches stop by to do some recruiting at the Jones household. Malcolm is going to be big-time. I continue to be impressed with how smooth Anthony Gildon is as a cover corner but it sounds at this point as if Oregon would have to screw something up for the Trojans to have a realistic chance. Keep an eye on Sean Wiser too, he's going to Stanford and he can be a Danny Farmer type of player. You can't write about Oaks without at least mentioning Jimmy Clausen, he had his usual outstanding day including a fourth down touchdown pass to Wiser that was a thing of beauty on both ends.
All three games of the CIF State Championships will be televised live this Saturday on FSN Prime Ticket. The times are as follows:
11:00am Division 3
Oaks Christian vs Cardinal Newman
3:30pm Division 2
Orange Lutheran vs Palo Alto
8:00pm Division 1
Canyon vs De La Salle
FSN Prime Ticket will be on the air for 12 straight hours that day and will also provide coverage of the coaches clinic, the cheerleading competition and the SPARQ testing combine (Jordan Campbell and junior lineman Tyron Smith are expected to be among the participants)
In case anyone had forgotten, the Trojans do have a little game to play coming up in a few weeks. The fans are still feeling a little hungover from the surprise loss to the Bruins but the team has already put in a pair of practice days and will really start getting things going on Thursday with full bowl game preparation mode. The early days of bowl practices are often a chance for the younger players to get some extra reps to show the coaches where they are. Some guys like Vidal Hazelton, Travon Patterson, Anthony McCoy, Stafon Johnson, Shareece Wright and Vincent Joseph can really use this opportunity to position themselves for more playing time during the upcoming spring ball session.
The fans aren't the only ones feeling the pain from the UCLA loss as Trojan coach Pete Carroll issued a gag order on any discussions of that game, a rare move for a coach who holds his program up as an open book. That kind of move shows just how much the loss resonated within the Trojan Family and it will be interesting to see how Carroll gets the team re-focused as they prepare to face a very tough Michigan team. Let's be clear on this one, if USC doesn't regain focus in time this is a Wolverine team that is more than capable of doing some serious damage. We've often said that this year was Carroll's best overall coaching job and the season will end with him having to prove that point by getting his team ready to play at a high level after suffering such a devastating loss.