Changing the game: Robert Woods

Emerging as the most crucial piece in Lane Kiffin’s first recruiting class at USC, Robert Woods lit it up on the field, opening a wide receiver pipeline to Serra High School in the process.

When Lane Kiffin took the reins as head coach at USC in January 2010, there wasn’t a second to spare in his first days on the job. With signing day less than a month away, the immediate fate of the program potentially rested in his ability to keep the majority of the class that Pete Carroll had put together intact.

But for Woods -- the top-ranked wide receiver prospect that year -- no special coaxing was needed. A lifelong Trojans fan who had given a verbal pledge to Carroll in August 2009, the Gardena (Calif.) Serra receiver never wavered for a second, telling everyone around him that he had committed with the idea of the program itself in mind, rather than any one coach.

For Kiffin, it was the ultimate windfall – the value of which even he couldn’t have fully comprehended at the time. Part of an incoming group that also included standouts such as Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard and Nickell Robey, Woods emerged as arguably the most vital piece in that first class.

Wrapping up his three-year Trojans career as the program’s all-time leader with 252 receptions, there is more than enough proof in the numbers, but there’s a whole lot more to it than that. Teaming with Matt Barkley, he played a central role in the establishment of the USC offense as one of the most exciting and receiver-friendly in the country in his time on campus – right from his freshman season, when he hauled in a team-best 65 passes.

It was enough to undoubtedly catch the attention of a couple of Woods’ former teammates who he had won a state title with in 2009, Marqise Lee and George Farmer -- both of whom were still in high school at the time. Highly regarded in their own right, each followed Woods’ path to USC, and it was the opening of that floodgate that might actually be Woods' greatest legacy.

After all, it was Lee who actually exceeded Woods in production before too long, culminating this past season when he compiled a Pac-12-record 118 receptions for 1,721 yards.

Farmer, on the other hand, has been hampered by injuries and has had to remain patient in hopes of earning more playing time down the road – something that looks like a real possibility in 2013.

That’s because Woods, a junior, recently announced that he’s entering this April’s NFL draft, leaving his old receiver spot at USC wide open.

Generally figuring to go within the first two rounds, Woods once again finds himself in the position as a prized prospect looking for a place to take his talents.

And there’s sure to be more than a few NFL teams out there champing at the bit for the opportunity to grab him, all in the hopes that he’ll wind up being the key component of their draft class, just as he was for USC three years ago.