USC makes statement with strong finish

USC closed with a flourish on national signing day, putting an exclamation point on a recruiting haul that gave head coach Steve Sarkisian plenty to smile about as he spoke to the media inside the John McKay Center.

Adding to a group of five mid-year enrollees who are already on campus, USC landed the signatures of 14 prospects on Wednesday, eight of whom are ranked in the ESPN 300.

“It’s a pretty exciting day ... a pretty exciting week to be a Trojan, quite honestly,” Sarkisian said. “I think that we signed a really balanced class, one that is competitive ... it’s got competitive individuals in it that have high character, and guys that are going to fit in great.”

Possessing an already solid collection of commits heading into the day, USC’s class was elevated from No. 24 to No. 14 in the RecruitingNation Class Rankings with Wednesday pledges by cornerback Lamont Simmons (Jacksonville, Fla./Raines), as well as the three most highly touted targets remaining on the Trojans’ radar -- offensive guard Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), athlete Adoree’ Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) and athlete John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly).

“It was like being in the fourth quarter of a game, and maybe you’re down by 10, maybe you’re down by seven, and you just play great football in the fourth quarter,” Sarkisian said of USC’s strong finish.

“I feel like we didn’t get outside of ourselves [and] we didn’t get desperate as a staff. I thought we stayed true to ourselves, continued to rely on the relationships, but in the end there was a little bit of that anxiousness, a little bit of that nervous excitement, and then the joy of, essentially, victory. I couldn’t be more excited for our football program [and] for those young men and their families. What an unbelievable opportunity for them to come and join the Trojan Family.”

Not everything went without a hitch, however, as USC had yet to receive a National Letter of Intent from Jackson -- the No. 3 rated cornerback in the ESPN 300 -- as of Sarkisian’s late afternoon press conference. Sarkisian was unable to speak directly about Jackson at the time, but said that he anticipated that everything would turn out “favorable for the Trojans,” and by Wednesday night his statements were proven to be correct as the coveted prospect’s signed letter of intent was indeed faxed to USC.

In addition to Jackson, Simmons, Mama, and Smith, the Trojans also received signatures from offensive tackle Chris Brown (Los Angeles/Loyola), tight end Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure), defensive end Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), athlete Ajene Harris (Los Angeles, Calif./Crenshaw), athlete Rahshead Johnson (Long Beach, Calif./Cabrillo), cornerback Jonathan Lockett (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei), linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne), defensive back John Plattenburg (Houston, Tex./Lamar), offensive guard Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial) and defensive end Olajuwon Tucker (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra).

They add to the list of early entrants that includes offensive tackle Jordan Austin (Claremont, Calif./Claremont), quarterback Jalen Greene (Gardena, Calif./ Junipero Serra), defensive end Don Hill (Boise, Idaho/Timberline), offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra) and defensive tackle Claudeson Pelon (Mesa, Ariz./Mesa Community College).

Sarkisian, who took the reins as USC’s new head coach just a little over two months ago, gave a tremendous amount of credit to his coaching staff for the job that they did in such a short amount of time on the recruiting trail.

“All in all it was a fascinating process,” Sarkisian said. “To come on board in early December, to have a couple weeks to recruit, and then to have a month where it was an absolute dead period -- we could do no recruiting -- and then to finish the way we did in a two-and-a-half week span was just a great job by our coaches.”

The Trojans’ recruiting class of 2014 is the final group impacted by the NCAA penalties which have limited USC to taking no more than 15 scholarship players in each of the past three recruiting cycles.