Redefining "Local" Recruiting
Like politics, all recruiting begins locally, and a successful program starts by convincing the majority of the best players in its own backyard to stay near home to play football. But in a very real sense, Pete Carroll and staff have redefined what local recruiting for USC means. Local recruiting used to mean attracting players in the Southern California region. But in recent years, the Trojans' recruiting dominance has expanded "local" to mean all of the Western United States - including California, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Hawaii, Utah, and Washington.
Grabbing the best players from those states has become routine for the Trojans. And for proof, one only needs to review the annual Long Beach Press Telegram's Best in the West (BIW) football team as voted on by a select group of media members who cover West Coast football. Since 2003, the Trojans have snagged at least 40% of BIW's first team players each year . . . leaving the rest of the college football world to fight for everyone else. In 2007 alone, USC received commitments from a stunning 55% (11 out of 20) of the BIW first team players - Best in the West
And 2008 looks like it will be more of the same. With national letter of intent day still nine months away, the Trojans have already received seven verbal commitments from California players who will be candidates for BIW recognition, with several in the running for first team honors.
Mining Prospects Out of State
But even with all of its success locally, one could argue that its the nationwide recruiting dimension that has set the Trojans apart. Make no mistake, prospecting for nationally known recruits in traditional football states like Texas, Louisiana, Florida, New Jersey and Michigan is no easy task. But from USC's point of view, identifying the best football players anywhere in the country simply involves a process of selecting the best local football players, and then searching for what Coach Pete Carroll calls "first round draft picks" nationwide and competing for their signatures. When one looks at the contributions of out of state commits like Mike Williams, Keith Rivers, Lendale White, Brian Cushing, and Dwayne Jarrett over the past few years, it would seem that the effort to recruit out of state athletes against long odds is well worth the effort.
One of the debates that often rages at this time of year is whether or not it is wise to pursue seemingly "hard to get" out of state prospects at the expense of in-state prospects. Again, from SC's perspective its all about competing for the athletes on their priority list. If a local player is high on USC's priority list, that athlete will get the "5 star" treatment (no pun intended) no matter which other out of state prospects are being pursued. And when a talented local player chooses another school over SC, more often than not it's because they've had an eye on the depth charts, and have identified an immediate playing opportunity elsewhere. And there's certainly nothing wrong with that. As for the athlete who may feel "slow played" by the Trojans during the course of their recruitment, there are usually other circumstances such as academic approvals and scholarship availability that have to be taken into account.
As the 2008 recruiting class rounds into shape with the camp and combine season getting into full swing this summer, USC will again try to execute the delicate balancing act between reloading its roster with the best local talent, and leaving no stone un-turned in pursuit of high impact players from around the country. One thing is for sure, few teams will be able to pull it off the way USC does.