LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans first-year coach Steve Sarkisian stepped to the recruiting class of 2014 home plate on Wednesday and proceeded to wallop asigning day homer, bringing home Adoree’ Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), John “Juju” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco).
It was a remarkable day for Sarkisian and staff, who had to fend off the likes of Florida, Oregon, Notre Dame, Alabama, and the shadow of UCLA for the trifecta. If anything, Wednesday’s successful recruiting results clearly establish that Sarkisian has re-established the recruiting foundation for a program hammered by coaching drama and one that can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel of NCAA sanctions and extraordinary coaching drama.
Wednesday’s signing day had its tensions as Trojans fans held their collective breaths waiting to hear from Southland prep All-Americans Jackson, Smith, and Mama. Most fans would have been pleased with two of the three high-valued talents, but to secure all three prospects was almost worthy of a parade down Colorado Boulevard.
Although it seemed as though most of the drama had subsided by the time Sarkisian stepped to the microphone for a mid-afternoon press conference, the first question posed was like an approaching hurricane.
Had Jackson’s letter of intent been received?
The Serra High superstar had made his announcement for USC well before noon, and the press conference arrived with no Jackson LOI confirmation. Rumors began flying that there might be an problem with Jackson’s father’s approval, but whatever the issue, later that evening in came Jackson’s official letter of intent and cardinal and gold smiles stretched all across Southern California.
So what does Wednesday’s recruiting victories mean to the future of the Trojans program?
Well, first and foremost it means that the Sarkisian era is off and running and the Trojans are again moving forward in a euphoric manner -- no longer burdened with the doom, gloom and crisis of previous seasons.
If perception is reality, the perception is that Sarkisian and staff have laid the foundation for even greater recruiting success for next season’s signing day when they’ll have a full complement of 25 scholarships.
The reality is that the Trojans have also served notice to the Pac-12 and the nation that USC will once again be the traditionally tough recruiting customer that they have been.
The future reality is with the 2015 commitment of all-star quarterback Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure), Sarkisian’s program has positioned itself beautifully for a major recruiting assault on the Class of 2015 in California. The state has, by most accounts, one of its better mother loads in recent memory.
While the 2014 signing of the three prep studs was crucial to this current recruiting class, it’s probably the less heralded prep players signed by the Trojans who will provide the true worth of this class.
Sarkisian made a point during his press conference of saying that when he and his staff look at talent, they try to watch what’s on film and not how many stars a particular prospect has next to his name. For example, he pointed out incoming defensive back Lamont Simmons (Jacksonville, Florida/Raines).
“When you just turn on the film and forget how many stars and forget who else has offered [Simmons] or whatnot, and just watch his film, this guy is a fantastic player,” Sarkisian said.
Besides the obvious consensus All-Americans, the Trojans also have a history of recruits that weren’t considered high value at the time but became huge contributors.
One of those star-lacking success stories is a former recruit from Winston, Oregon. Perhaps you’ve forgotten the likes of former strong safety Troy Polamalu, a lock for both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame?
If it wasn’t for the constant nagging of former Trojans assistant Kennedy Polamalu to former Trojans head coach Paul Hackett, Troy Polamalu, a 3-star recruit, would never have worn the cardinal and gold.
Then there is former preferred Trojans walk-on linebacker Clay Matthews. Talk about being overlooked in the “star system” of recruiting. From his Trojans walk-on freshman season to where he is today, we’re talking about an All-Pro with the Green Bay Packers, so you just never know.
And for good measure, there’s Trojans All-American linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who graduated from King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, Mass., with underwhelming offers? Tatupu spent a freshman season at the University of Maine before transferring to USC to prove he was woefully under-evaluated.
It takes more than just 4- and 5-star players to make a successful team. As that famous female politician wrote, “It takes a village.” Sarkisian can confirm that.
So next up for Sarkisian is the hard part -- coaching and winning football games. And if Sarkisian can coach like he recruits at USC, he just might be that power hitter who legendary former Trojans coach Pete Carroll once envisioned as his successor.