Even after a less-than-stellar 2012 season, it’s safe to say USC has enjoyed phenomenal success on the football field over the past decade or so. And while a number of factors have gone into that run, one crucial component has been the ability of the coaching staff to put together elite recruiting classes every year.
And while USC has gotten plenty of production from five-star, blue-chip recruits, the Trojans have also unearthed their share of hidden gems.
Here’s a look at five of the top sleepers who produced big for the Trojans:
1. S Troy Polamalu, Douglas (Winston, Ore.), Class of 1999
Hidden away in the small town of Tenmile, Oregon, Polamalu wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of high school despite starring on both sides of the ball for Douglas. Winding up at USC primarily because of his uncle and current Trojans’ running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu, he would go on to earn All-American honors at safety before
landing in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he’s earned seven Pro Bowl berths.
2. LB Clay Matthews III, Agoura (Agoura Hills, Calif.), Class of 2004
The son of former Trojans’ All-American Clay Matthews Jr., Matthews III was physically undersized as a prep player and arrived at USC as an unrecruited walk-on. A tireless worker, he would eventually develop into a monster for the Trojans at linebacker, particularly in his senior season when he posted 56 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss. Now with the Green Bay Packers, he’s established himself as one of the NFL’s most prolific pass rushers.
3. DT Mike Patterson, Los Alamitos (Calif.), Class of 2001
Thought to be too small by many of the college coaches who came through Los Alamitos, Patterson signed with USC as part of the Class of 2001 thanks to defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, who had fallen in love with his talents. Possessing a non-stop motor, he made a name for himself as an All-American defensive tackle for the Trojans, and he currently plays for the Philadelphia Eagles.
4. RB Curtis McNeal, Venice (Calif.), Class of 2008
An explosive big-play threat, McNeal was equally effective at running back and cornerback for the Gondoliers, but he was passed over by most college programs because of his diminutive stature. After a slow start at USC, he would emerge as a more-than-dependable ball carrier -- his best season coming as a junior when he rushed for a team-best 1,005 yards.
5. TE/FB Rhett Ellison, Saint Francis (Mountain View, Calif.), Class of 2007
Originally headed to Virginia Tech, Ellison received a late offer from the Trojans -- the alma mater of his father, USC great Riki Ellison – and jumped on it. Enjoying an extremely productive career at USC as a tight end and fullback, he played this past season for the Minnesota Vikings.