- Erik McKinney, ESPN Staff Writer
When the USC Trojans were hit with sanctions, many wondered how its staff would recruit with 30 fewer scholarships over three years. As it turns out, Lane Kiffin and staff can get the job done even without scholarships.
The thought was that with 75 scholarship players rather than 85, the Trojans would need to find several walk-ons capable of providing either game minutes or quality practice reps to fill in for the empty scholarships. Thus far, the plan has gone smoothly.
This fall, USC will add at least three preferred walk-ons in athlete Christian Tober (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente), safety Elijah Steen (Irvine, Calif./Beckman) and cornerback Ryan Dillard (Buford, Ga./Buford), all of whom turned down scholarship offers from other programs to enroll at USC.
Dillard, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound cornerback, originally committed to Air Force before changing his mind and planning to enroll at Yale. But the ball-hawking cornerback with the 3.9 GPA took a visit to USC in late February and saw enough to make another switch.
“I just felt like USC was a better fit for me, academically, socially and athletically,” said Dillard, who added that he made his final decision around the time of the trip. “I took a tour with the coaches as they showed me around campus, and Monte Kiffin showed me how I’d fit into the system.”
The trip to USC was the second time Dillard had been in the Los Angeles area. He took an unofficial visit to UCLA in 2010, as the Trojans beat the Bruins in the Rose Bowl. His father is good friends with USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin and Dillard knows USC freshman linebacker Scott Starr from their time together at the Semper Fidelis All American Bowl. He quickly shook off any worry about moving so far away from home, and said his maturity will allow him to stay focused on the task at hand.
That task could be an interesting one for Dillard, who will arrive at USC on May 16 to sign up for summer school classes, before shuttling back to Buford for graduation and then again out to USC to begin his next chapter. While he understands that during the next several years of scholarship reductions, earning a scholarship as a walk-on will be next to impossible. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the goal.
“I know while they are on probation they can’t give our scholarships, but within the next few years after I get acclimated, I believe I can [get one],” Dillard said. “I want to work hard to where I can get on the field, play special teams and do my thing at cornerback. I definitely feel like my work ethic is what keeps me going.”