- Greg Katz, Columnist, WeAreSC.com
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LOS ANGELES – With college football’s national letter of intent day on Wednesday, USC fans are holding their collective breaths that those schoolboy legends who have publicly committed to the Men of Troy or those rumored to be “silent commits” or “leans” will officially fax their LOI in two days over to the John McKay Center.
While the early recruiting precincts are suggesting a fine-to-outstanding Trojans signing day, if things hold up, there is always the fear that at the last minute something will go awry and a major meltdown will begin for both coaches and fans -- as was the case last February.
The Trojans, who have historically been in the top 10 of recruiting ranking polls, have in recent times experienced their share of “what happened” moments on or near signing day, which does not totally reflect the NCAA sanctions. Steve Sarkisian and his new USC staff have been working hard since their arrival trying to ensure that last year's signing day history doesn’t repeat itself.
As of the moment, two California high school All-Americans are said to be heavy Trojans leans - offensive lineman Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and athlete John “JuJu” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly).
While Mama and Smith are considered among the top three high school players in California, the top-ranked Golden State star has everybody guessing.
All eyes are now directed toward uncommitted Gardena (Calif.) Serra High prized prospect Adoree’ Jackson, the consensus top player in California. A wide receiver/ defensive back, “AJAX” is said to be selecting between the Trojans and Florida; however, watch out for the UCLA Bruins, who might be what Jackson has in mind when he says his college selection on Wednesday will "shock the world."
There are those experts who claim that Jackson’s talent level is near or equal to former Los Angeles Crenshaw superstar De’Anthony Thomas, and most Trojans fans remember Thomas’s signing day stunner back in 2011.
Former Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin is still scratching his head over losing Thomas to Oregon at the last minute. “The Black Mamba” kept thing close to the vest in terms of his signing day leaning – although many thought he would sign with the Trojans. The Thomas defection to Oregon probably cost Lane Kiffin a few victories and maybe some future cardinal and gold job security as well.
Because of his recruiting silence, if Jackson does not select USC it will be disappointing for Trojans fans, but it won’t be quite the shocker that Thomas pulled. The Trojans really thought they had Thomas.
Kiffin isn’t the only former Trojans head coach to experience recruiting drama.
Nobody argues that former legendary Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who led the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday to victory in Super Bowl XLVIII, was one of college football’s greatest recruiters, regardless of era. Carroll’s recruiting prowess in “closing the deal” is almost mythical. Whomever Pete wanted to sign almost always came to fruition – almost.
Carroll, a virtual college rock star of a coach during his time Troy, found that even his unmatched charisma, recruiting skills, and coaching record wasn’t always foolproof. Perhaps you remember the great 2009 U-turn by Hawaiian schoolboy linebacker Manti Te’o, who ended up on the last day signing with Notre Dame.
Talk to people at Punahou School in Honolulu and even the school's faculty and athletic staff thought Te’o was headed for USC. In fact, Te’o’s fellow students were beyond shocked when the future college All-American announced he was headed for South Bend, Ind.
Then there was 2005 signing day head-slapper of former Long Beach (Calif.) Poly wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who shocked Carroll when the Jackrabbits star made the astonishing local television announcement that he was going to … Cal. It seemed almost absurd that Jackson would select the Bears, but that’s what he did during the prime of the Carroll era.
So now comes this Wednesday’s signing day and the Trojans are in position to possibly land the three top recruits in California. Fans of the Cardinal and Gold are praying that a new name doesn’t join the backfire list of “what happened?” recruits.
Yes, the names of Adoree’ Jackson, Damien Mama, and John “JuJu” Smith on a USC letter of intent would indeed erase some of the disappointments of the past. Just ask Steve Sarkisian and his staff how happy they’d be with autographs of the Big Three.