A look back at the 2003 recruiting class

When Pete Carroll took over as the head coach at USC, there weren't many who were overly thrilled and there definitely wasn't much talk about his recruiting prowess, because he was an NFL guy.

Add a one and four start to the season and many fans were wondering if the football program would ever turn around.

Yes, SC was one and four, but the Trojans lost a nail biter to No. 12 Kansas State and lost to No. 7 Oregon and No. 11 Washington on game ending field goals. On the four game losing streak the Trojans were beaten by Stanford 21-16. So, the Trojans had lost four games by a whopping 14 points. Nobody enjoys losing, especially four in a row, but it was obvious that progress was being made and Carroll knew it.

After the loss in Seattle Carroll and Rick Neuheisel met on the field and Carroll said to him, "It's not going to take us very long." When asked if he really said that Carroll replied. "Yeah, I did. I was pissed we just lost another close game we should have won. We had almost beaten the top two teams in the Pac-10 on the road and I felt it wouldn't be long before were beating those guys."

I have often talked about the 2002 recruiting class and it contribution to SC emerging as one of the top programs in the Pac-10. However, Justin Fargas was a one and done player and SC also lost Sultan McCullough after the 2002 season. SC needed a solid 2003 running back class, and that's exactly what the Trojans got.

With Hershel Dennis being the only solid running back returning for the 2003 season, the addition of the Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Chauncey Washington was huge. Jody Adewale was also brought in as fullback and Desmond Reed would switch from cornerback to running back.

What can you say about Bush and White? Those two came in and played sparingly early in the 2003 season, but midway through the season it was clear to all Trojans that those two were something special. Washington was actually ahead of Bush and White on the depth chart for the first game of the season at Auburn, but White and Bush established themselves as better options and Washington was mainly a special team's player and missed the final four games because of a stress fracture in his ankle.

Bush Appeared, he ran for 521 yards on 90 carries (5.8 avg.) with three touchdowns, had 15 receptions for 314 yards (20.9 avg.) with four touchdowns, had a team-best 18 kickoff returns for 492 yards (27.3 avg.) with a touchdown and returned two punts for four yards (2.0 avg.)

Bush era officially began at Notre Dame where he rushed for a game-best 89 yards on six carries (14.8 average), including a 58-yard run (he was untouched), and he caught a 38-yard pass. He followed up that performance and had his way at Washington. He had 270 all-purpose yards at Washington (132 yards on five receptions-the most receiving yards ever by a Trojan running back-with touchdowns of 60 and 37 yards, plus 81 yards on 12 rushes and 57 yards on two kickoff returns).

Who could forget Bush running a skinny post and Leinart throwing a perfect pass allowing Bush to run full stride past the Husky defensive backs and linebackers for a 60kopo yard touchdown? I know my eyes popped out of my head after seeing that play. SC hadn't had a playmaker in Bush's league in decades. Ok, Pete, you were right--you were just getting started.

White's impact was also felt mid-way through the 2003 season. The Trojans were tied 10-10 at half-time against Arizona State. White took over in the second half and on the first drive of the second half; he had a 19 yard run and a 26 yard run for a touchdown. He ended up gaining 141 yards on 21 carries, scoring twice.

Washington never really played much in 2003 and was ineligible in 2004 and 2005. And never became the player we thought he would.

SC's offensive line also got a shot in the arm in 2003 with the addition of big John Drake, Sam Baker, Drew Radovich, Travis Draper, Matt Spanos and Ryan Kalil.

Drake was a junior college transfer who enrolled at USC in the fall of 2003. He made a quick impression and emerged as a starting offensive lineman by mid-season of his 2003 junior season. After seeing significant action as a backup in USC's first four games, he started the Arizona State and Stanford games at right tackle and then started the next 5 contests at right guard. He broke his right ankle against UCLA, which sidelined him for the final two games of 2003.

Drake's move to starting guard pumped up the Trojan's running game and the nickname, "Pancake" Drake, was quickly adopted.

Kalil backed up center Norm Katnik in 2003, played in six games and became USC's starting center in 2004 after beating out freshman Jeff Byers. He also started in 2005 and entered the 2006 season as an All-American candidate. It seems like yesterday when we were reading posts on USC message boards that Jeff Byers should start over Kalil.

Baker red shirted his first year at SC, but he joined Kalil as a starter in 2004 and had an outstanding season. He was the starting left tackle since then and earned first-team All-American honors in 2005.

Radovich red shirted as an offensive tackles in 2003 and was a backup offensive tackle and played on special teams in 2004. He played sparingly as an offensive guard and on special teams in 2005, but missed the final 10 games after suffering a hip strain that required surgery. He missed spring ball rehabilitating and earned the starting left guard job in the fall. It was a fairly rough road for Radovich and it was nice to see his talent on display his final season.

Draper has also dealt with injuries in his first two years at SC. He red shirted as an offensive guard in 2004 and broke his right thumb before the Oregon State game. In 2005 he was moved to nose tackle and played in five games, recording two tackles. He had arthroscopic surgery on his hip after the season, missed spring ball and returned to the guard position in the fall.

To this date, most believe the 2003 recruiting class is Pete Carroll's finest. I know I do.

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