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Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Trojans' 2010 class caught in transition

By Garry Paskwietz

As the Trojans continue to hit the spring recruiting trail, we take a look back at Lane Kiffin's first recruiting class as head coach at USC, the Class of 2010. It was a class whose foundation was built by Pete Carroll but had to be salvaged by Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and others after Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks only a few weeks before signing day.

Given those circumstances, it's not surprising to see both solid contributors and players who simply never found their way at USC. There were 19 players signed -- 10 of whom were in the ESPN 150 -- with wide receiver Robert Woods the highest ranked of the group and the No. 1 receiver.

Robert Woods
A 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in only his third career game established Robert Woods as a big-time player.
Woods had committed to the Trojans the previous summer and never really wavered with the coaching change. He was a starter from his first game and left school after three seasons as the leading receiver in USC history. Woods was picked in the second round of the recent NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills.

There were two other top-10 ranked receivers in the class -- Markeith Ambles (No. 4) and Kyle Prater (No. 9) -- but neither player panned out at USC and both will be on other rosters this fall. Kiffin gave Ambles a lot of rope with some off-field issues but eventually dismissed him from the team. He went to junior college and signed with Houston this year. Prater suffered through some injuries which slowed his development and it became clear that he wasn't fitting in the receiver rotation, so he transferred to Northwestern.

The Trojans also signed three talented tight ends: Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Christian Thomas.

Grimble and Telfer have formed one of the best tight-end duos in college football over the last two seasons, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see both of them end up in the NFL. Thomas was forced to take a medical redshirt during this offseason because of issues related to a hip injury.

It's a shame that USC fans never really got to see Thomas develop, because he was a very talented player. When all three tight ends came in together, there was a general thought that Thomas had the most overall talent. Thomas did play in his freshman season, but it was at defensive end, where he also showed promise. He preferred tight end, though, and was moved back to offense before the hip injuries took him off the field.

The quarterback for the class -- Jesse Scroggins -- showed a very strong arm in practices for the Trojans, but he also battled injury and eligibility issues, which hurt him in competition with Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. Scroggins eventually took the junior-college route before resurfacing this spring at Arizona.

There was a lot of hope for tailbacks D.J. Morgan and the incredibly productive prep star Dillon Baxter. Morgan was a world-class junior hurdler who also happened to be a very good tailback, but he suffered a knee injury late in his senior year of high school that forced a redshirt season when he got to USC. Morgan has shown flashes since, but some early fumbling issues hurt him, and he has yet to earn a consistent role.

Dillon Baxter
Dillon Baxter arrived to great fanfare at the end of the Pete Carroll era but struggled with off-field issues and left the program.
Baxter was a mismatch from the word go. He was a longtime Trojans fan who couldn't wait to live the lifestyle of a USC star in the Pete Carroll era. Instead, when he arrived on campus, he found Kiffin and an extremely different attitude around the program. There were millions of YouTube views of a spring highlight run, but there also were multiple off-field problems, including a suspension for a golf cart ride. Unfortunately, the issues just became too much, and Baxter eventually was released from his scholarship. He is now at Baker University in Kansas.

The Trojans also signed fullback Soma Vainuku, but he was a late qualifier and enrolled during spring 2011. Vainuku redshirted and learned under Rhett Ellison before taking over the starting spot in 2012.

The offensive line at one point featured a verbal commitment from top-ranked prospect Seantrel Henderson, but once the NCAA sanctions came down, Henderson asked for and received his release before ending up at Miami. USC did bring in Giovanni Di Poalo, who has been a reserve so far in his career and was the No. 2 left guard in spring ball.

On defense, the class produced two players who have started the last two years at linebacker, although neither player was ranked at the position. Dion Bailey was the No. 31 safety, while Hayes Pullard was the No. 53 athlete -- some people thought he could star at fullback. Bailey is expected to move back to safety in the fall, while Pullard is a linchpin at inside linebacker and a potential captain.

George Uko came in as the No. 5 defensive tackle and has improved steadily each year to the point where he should contend for all-conference honors this year. The Trojans also had a verbal from mammoth Dak Smith -- son of former USC star Tody Smith -- but Dak didn't qualify and never enrolled.

The secondary featured Nickell Robey, Demetrius Wright, Anthony Brown and Patrick Hall.

Robey made the biggest impact, starting for three years and becoming a fan favorite with his passion and work ethic. He declared early for the draft -- to the surprise of many from a football sense -- and signed a free-agent contract with the Buffalo Bills. Brown has been a starter in the past and also has battled injuries. He has a legitimate shot to be a starter at corner when fall camp opens. Wright also could be one of the starting safeties to open camp. He has seen limited playing time in his career, but he impressed with two picks in the recent spring game. Hall had so much potential but knee injuries and off-field issues resulted in him leaving the program before he ever played in a game.