After weeks of speculation and rumors, there was a defined shift in the Trojans' recruiting focus at the quarterback position for the Class of 2015 this past weekend when it was reported that Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy's David Sills had officially decommitted from USC, and head coach Steve Sarkisian had followed that up by extending an offer to Sam Darnold of San Clemente (Calif.).
The news that Sills, who was one of two quarterbacks locked up for the Trojans along with Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure's Ricky Town, had decided to break ties with USC didn't exactly come as a surprise. Former Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin made national headlines when he extended an offer to Sills in February of 2010 -- when he was in seventh grade. After immediately committing, the young signal-caller developed a strong rapport with Kiffin and his staff, making it a routine to visit the campus each spring.
Once Kiffin was let go in September of 2013, however, and Sarkisian came in as his replacement following the season, Sills' fate with the Trojans looks to have been sealed. Even though Sills unofficially visited the USC campus recently and offensive coordinator Clay Helton watched Sills work out in Maryland during the May evaluation period, the 6-foot-3 passer never developed the kind of relationship with the new coaching staff that he had with the prior regime.
And with Sarkisian quickly securing a verbal commitment from Town in late January, along with talk abounding that the Trojans were looking closely at other quarterback prospects as well, the writing seemed to be on the wall.
While Sills' departure wasn't a revelation, USC's targeting of Darnold is to a certain extent. Anaheim (Calif.) Servite's Travis Waller -- the No. 6 ranked dual-threat quarterback -- has been a hot name this summer, and someone whom the Trojans staff was known to have been evaluating as of late. Standing 6-foot-3 and 188 pounds, he's expected to announce his commitment to a school on Tuesday, with Oregon, Notre Dame, Northwestern and Ohio State looking like the primary contenders. The Trojans are not among the schools that have extended an offer his way, however, and Waller opted to forgo an opportunity to perform in front of the USC staff last week at the Rising Stars Camp.
That appears to be one factor that played a role in Darnold -- who attended USC's 7-on-7 Camp, and was said to have shined -- ultimately landing an offer. And there is certainly plenty more to like about the 6-foot-4, 209-pound passer. Selected to participate in the 2014 Elite 11 Finals in early July along with Town and Waller, he's the No. 89 ranked prospect overall in the ESPN 300, and he's the No. 5 ranked pocket-passer. And despite that label, Darnold is a fantastic all-around athlete who can also do quite a bit of damage on the ground. As a junior he was only able to play in two-and-a-half games for San Clemente due to a broken foot, but he still put up solid numbers, completing 63 percent of his passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, while also rushing for 322 yards (9.2 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. Also a standout basketball player, he would appear to be a perfect fit in USC's new up-tempo offensive attack.
But the Trojans aren't alone in their pursuit of the SoCal passer. Like Waller, Darnold's stock has risen dramatically this offseason, and he currently holds over 10 offers, including one from Oregon that he received after one of their prime targets, Corona (Calif.) Santiago's Blake Barnett, recently committed to Alabama. Darnold was actually on an unofficial visit to the Ducks' campus when he got word of the USC offer. As a childhood Trojans fan who resides in a region of Southern California known for producing USC quarterbacks, it's safe to say that it has shaken things up for Darnold in a big way.
Also considering Utah and Northwestern among others, Darnold is expected to announce a decision at some point in the very near future, and if he ultimately chooses to commit to the Trojans, expect Sarkisian & Co. to shut down recruiting at the QB spot for the Class of 2015 for good. But if he opts to go elsewhere, it will be interesting to see what direction the staff goes next.