USC Trojans: Adoree' Jackson

USC coach Steve Sarkisian anticipates incoming freshman Adoree' Jackson will get looks on both sides of the ball when he arrives for fall camp.

“I think he’s going to get some [reps] at both, quite honestly,” said Sarkisian after practice on Thursday when asked if Jackson would line up on offense or defense.

Jackson, who was ranked as the No. 3 cornerback in the nation by ESPN for the Class of 2014, compiled six interceptions -- three of which were returned for touchdowns -- as a senior at Gardena (Calif.) Serra. But Jackson also averaged more than 21 yards per catch on offense, gaining more than 1,450 all-purpose yards while scoring 12 touchdowns.

During the early part of his recruitment, Jackson stated that he wanted to play wide receiver if he ended up playing for the Trojans. He had developed a good relationship with USC receivers coach Tee Martin and had watched as Robert Woods and Marqise Lee -- who both graduated from Serra -- had a lot of success at the position.

As explosive as he can potentially be on offense, Jackson is also considered to be an elite talent at cornerback. His ESPN scouting report included the following line:

“Cover corners are hard to come by, but he has the speed and skill set to develop into a fine one at the college level if he can continue to add strength and polish his technique.”

Jackson will compete with starters Josh Shaw and Kevon Seymour as well as with Chris Hawkins -- who is working with the first unit this spring while Shaw sits out with a foot injury -- for a spot in the cornerback rotation in preseason camp. There is also opportunity on offense, as Nelson Agholor is the only established returner at wide receiver.

Roundtable: Position-battle breakdown

April, 10, 2014
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USC coach Steve Sarkisian said he expects to name a starting quarterback before the end of spring ball. There were other position battles that took place on the field this spring, as well, and the WeAreSC staffers give their thoughts on the following competitions and who they would name as the starter.

WR opposite Nelson Agholor

Garry Paskwietz: I’ll go with Darreus Rogers right now, but I’m not going to rule out George Farmer being the starter by the season opener. Rogers has all the tools and flashes them often, but the one thing Sarkisian has noted is his inconsistency. Farmer, on the other hand, has been steadily consistent as he continues to come back from a knee injury. He is looking strong and mature right now and if his health holds up, he could make a push for the spot.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Farmer
Harry How/Getty ImagesCould former five-star prospect George Farmer be in play as a starting wide receiver?
Johnny Curren: While the performance of Farmer as of late makes this decision more difficult than anticipated, I would still give the nod to Rogers. With his combination of size, athleticism and sure hands, he really adds a unique dimension to the offense. He’s especially dangerous in the red zone -- something he showed last Thursday when he hauled in three touchdowns with the offense in close.

Greg Katz: Although Farmer and Victor Blackwell have made strides, the vote here goes to Rogers, who has made some standout plays and continues to improve on his consistency and concentration.

DE opposite Leonard Williams

GP: The Trojans have a pair of veteran options to replace George Uko in Delvon Simmons and Claudeson Pelon. Both are big, strong bodies in the middle who will contribute this year, but if I have to name a starter I will choose Pelon. He got praise from Sarkisian this week for the way his conditioning seems to be paying off, and looks to be an impressive run stuffer.

JC: Simmons is the choice here. Not only does he possess 6-foot-6, 300-pound size, but what has impressed me most this spring is his quickness, and perhaps most of all, his stamina -- something Pelon and Kenny Bigelow appeared to struggle with at times. When you throw Simmons into a lineup that will also include Williams and an improved Antwaun Woods, there’s reason to believe that the Trojans will have one of the nation’s most formidable starting defensive line units in 2014.

GK: Simmons is the choice, having shown his experience of having already played for two seasons at Texas Tech. Simmons, while still striving for consistency on a play-by-play basis, is big and talented and has shown the most progress, which hasn’t been entirely unexpected.

SAM linebacker

GP: There are two really good options with a lot of upside in Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin. I would have said Powell at the start of spring, and while he didn’t do anything to lose the spot in my mind, Ruffin has showed me a little more. Any way you look at it, the Trojans are fine here.

JC: This is the toughest one to choose because Powell and Ruffin have each been stellar this spring. Still, if I have to pick one, it’s Powell. An explosive athlete with strong football instincts and the length that the USC coaches look for at SAM linebacker, Powell is really the total package. I think he has the potential to develop into a difference-maker down the line, and I can’t wait to see what he does in 2014.

GK: With Scott Starr having been moved to rush end, it’s a battle between Powell and Ruffin. Powell has the quickness and the attitude, but as Sarkisian recently pointed out, Ruffin is one heck of an athletic who really brings a physical game. I’ll go with Powell for the moment, but the way Ruffin is improving, Powell better do the same if he wants to hold on to the position.

CB opposite Josh Shaw

GP: Kevon Seymour is the choice, and he should be, but I don’t think you can rule out the possibility of Adoree' Jackson making a run in the fall. Chris Hawkins has stepped up his game to the point where he is in the mix too.

JC: A more refined and physically mature Hawkins certainly proved himself to a certain extent this spring, but I’d still give the edge to Seymour here. Not only has he had a solid spring, but with 11 starts under his belt, he has the undeniable edge in experience. I’d need to see more of Hawkins in fall camp before I’d be comfortable putting him ahead of Seymour, who is coming off the best performance of his career in the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State.

GK: There is no reason not to start Seymour, who had an outstanding performance in the Las Vegas Bowl. However, like Ruffin and Powell, the competition gap is closing, and look for Hawkins to continue his quest to unseat Seymour.
LOS ANGELES -- With spring football launching Tuesday at USC, one of the focal points of Steve Sarkisian’s staff will be the evaluation of players with the option for position changes, which could include player movement from offense to defense or vice versa.

The amount of player position movement in the spring could also have an impact on the position options of the incoming freshman class. A case in point would be the highly anticipated arrival this summer of enormously skilled defensive back/wide receiver Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra). Jackson, however, might not be the only entering freshman whose position could be decided by what happens this spring.

If you don’t think that correct player evaluation and placement doesn’t make a difference, just look back on the recently concluded career of Devon Kennard, who came to USC as a highly touted defensive end. In his five years at Troy, Kennard seemed to be constantly changing defensive positions and responsibilities.


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From now until fall practice, first-year USC Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian will be making decisions that not only affect his team and program but the general perception of the proceedings. Here’s a list of 10 items that Sark has addressed or will address in the coming months.

Spring practice viewing: Talk about a no-brainer and public relations bonanza. It appears Sark has made the decision to allow fans to watch spring ball. Viewing figures to be from atop Dedeaux Field, which to be quite honest, is probably a better viewing spot than on the sidelines. From Dedeaux Field, fans can get a better view of the offensive and defensive linemen doing individual battle, and you can also get a “50-yard-line ” vantage point.

Sark’s decision: Open practices.

Coliseum scrimmages: Sarkisian also has indicated that the public is welcome to spring scrimmages in the Coliseum. Saturday practices in the Coliseum make for a warm, fuzzy and cardinal and gold football day. And, of course, there is the final culmination of spring ball with the annual USC spring game on April 19 in the Trojans’ famous venue. Allowing the public into the Coliseum for a Saturday practice is another public relations windfall.

Sark’s decision: Open Coliseum scrimmages.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsWill Steve Sarkisian make quick changes to how the USC football program works?
Spring blocking and tackling: With Sarkisian saying 50 bodies or so will be able to fully participate in spring ball, the coach’s decision appears to err on the side of caution when it comes to measured hitting, tackling, and live scrimmaging. In particular, this spring is about learning new systems, formations and player evaluations. However, no major hitting or intense scrimmaging does impede in complete player evaluations.

Sark’s decision: Reduced hitting and scrimmaging.

Fall blocking and tackling: Sark has already indicated he is going to check with NFL teams on how they deal with hitting and scrimmaging with a small roster. Wait a minute, didn’t Sarkisian coach in the NFL and didn’t he see how lack of hitting hurt Lane Kiffin’s Trojans teams on both sides of the ball? Astute Trojans football fans will keep an eye on Sarkisian’s fall practice decision and probably compare the methodology to that of former interim head coach Ed Orgeron’s last season.

Sark’s decision: To be determined.

The Rising Stars Camp: This two-day, prep evaluation camp is the big one in late June in which the best of the best high school players -- locally and from out-of-state -- show their stuff on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Field. Because of the NCAA sanctions -- or so we are told -- the public and the media have been barred from attending. Will that change with the NCAA sanctions being completed in early June and what will the decision be if it is left up to Sarkisian?

Sark’s decision: To be determined.

Fall practice times: It’s a long way off, but practice times in the fall might return to those dreadful early morning sessions, which proved under Kiffin to be ill advised. The team’s GPA went down when practices were held in the early morning. One wonders if athletic director Pat Haden will have any input on Sarkisian’s eventual decision, especially given the fact Haden is very sensitive to academic issues. There is no question that returning players who have experienced both early morning and late afternoon practice have an opinion. Would Sarkisian dare take a team vote on this decision?

Sark’s decision: To be determined.

Credibility: How will the new relationships be between coaches and players once they hit the practice field? Has Sarkisian assembled a coaching staff that will make the returning Trojans forget about last season’s staff? With respected assistant coaches Orgeron, Clancy Pendergast, Tommie Robinson, and John Baxter gone, has Sarkisian put together a staff that can quickly overcome the loss of those respected coaches? Maybe the answers won’t come until the fall, but spring is a beginning.

Sark’s decisions: The head coach is pleased with his new staff, especially coming off a terrific recruiting effort for the class of 2014 and progress already made for the class of 2015.

Uniforms: Well, here is one item that apparently won’t need to be addressed. From his introductory news conference, Sarkisian made his preference clear. Unlike Kiffin, Sark understands the USC “look,” which means everything to the fan base and tradition.

Sark’s decision: No uniform changes.

Media relations: It appears that beginning with the first actual game week, the media will be ushered out of practice once game planning is being implemented. Honestly, Pete Carroll never worried about what the press saw. In fact, he even said that most of the press wouldn’t even understand what they were watching. Kiffin, of course, was understandably paranoid with media, and eventually didn’t let media into practice. Obviously, Kiffin closing practices didn’t help in the Coliseum loss last season to Washington State loss and the trouncing by ASU in Tempe. The reality is that games are not won or lost by the media watching practice. Interim head coaches Orgeron and Clay Helton opened practice up completely to the media -- including injury reports -- and you see how that turned out.

Sark’s decision: As of the moment, restricted media access during the season.

The Jackson factor: Depending on who you are listening to, five-star freshman DB/WR Adoree' Jackson will either be an offensive player who plays occasionally on defense or a defensive player who occasionally plays offense. Sarkisian says defense first, and Jackson seems to say he’ll play defense but will be part of selected offensive packages.

Sark’s decision: Jackson begins on defense, but there are possibilities on offense.
There’s definite reason for optimism for first-year USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox heading into spring ball. After all, he inherits some key pieces from a unit that finished the 2013 campaign ranked No. 13 in the FBS in total defense (334.9 yards allowed per game) and No. 1 in red zone defense (63 percent scoring percentage).

Still, for the defense to really take off under Wilcox in 2014, there’s one position group that will need to elevate its level of play -- the cornerbacks. Plagued by injuries, the USC corners struggled at times in pass coverage, particularly in games against Arizona State, Arizona and Notre Dame. As such, expect Wilcox and defensive backs coach Keith Heyward to hold an open audition this spring as they look to find the most productive starting duo.

[+] EnlargeKevon Seymour, Taylor Kelly
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesUSC's Kevon Seymour, who was inconsistent in 2013, has challengers for his starting cornerback spot.
Of course, with potential instant-impact freshmen Adoree' Jackson, Jonathan Lockett, John Plattenburg and Lamont Simmons all set to arrive this summer, the upcoming slate of spring practice sessions will almost certainly serve as just the first phase of a lengthy competition at cornerback that will extend through fall camp. Without those blue-chippers around to steal valuable reps, the March and April workouts will be crucial for the candidates currently on the roster to make a lasting impression on the new staff.

Josh Shaw, who started 11 games at cornerback in 2013, stands out as a virtual lock at one of the spots, but with an influx of talent on the way, might we see him make the move back to his more natural free safety position? With Su’a Cravens, Leon McQuay III and Gerald Bowman -- who is coming off shoulder surgery -- serving as the only other scholarship safeties, there is certainly a lack of depth back there, so a potential switch for Shaw seems to make sense. Having proven himself as the team’s most dependable cover man last fall, however, the USC staff might not have the luxury of making that change unless other cornerbacks prove that they can be counted on.

The primary starter on the other side in 2013 was Kevon Seymour, now entering his junior season. The Pasadena (Calif.) Muir product had his ups and downs, but he did cap off his season with an outstanding performance in USC’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl victory over Fresno State. The big question now is, was that an anomaly or just the beginning of something special? The answer will likely determine whether or not he remains atop the depth chart in the long run.

Fifth-year senior Anthony Brown has flashed at times, but he has never been able to put it all together on a consistent basis. A veteran with six starts to his credit, it looked like 2013 was going to be his season to make a name for himself. But he suffered a knee injury in the team’s opener at Hawaii that would keep him on the sideline for almost the entire season. He actually returned to start against Notre Dame, but his injury hampered his outing, and he wouldn’t see the field again for the remainder of the season. Standing 5-foot-9 and weighing 180 pounds, he lacks the size of some of his counterparts, but he makes up for that with his speed and quickness. It hasn’t been announced whether or not he’ll be available to practice this spring, but if he is, he'll be in the mix.

Devian Shelton is another player whose status for the spring is still unknown after having foot surgery this past fall, but he too, could factor heavily into the discussion if healthy. Listed at 6-1, he gives the Trojans a taller look, but having redshirted as a freshman, and then missing almost all of 2013, he still lacks experience. Impressing at times last fall in camp with his size, he could even conceivably make the transition back to safety -- where he saw time in high school

One of the more interesting names to keep an eye on is Chris Hawkins. Could this be the time when he emerges from anonymity into a major contributor? A highly touted Class of 2013 prospect, he spent his first season on campus learning the tricks of the trade while redshirting. Although somewhat raw, he showed plenty of ability in practice, especially as the season wore on. If his development continues on its forward path, there’s reason to believe that he has the skills to push for playing time.

Ryan Henderson and Ryan Dillard are two more contenders who have seen limited action in the past in reserve roles. Henderson’s athleticism is undeniable -- he was the 2010 SPARQ Rating National Champion -- but so far that hasn’t translated over to the football field at USC. Dillard, meanwhile, is a walk-on who has certainly held his own, but he would still appear to be somewhat of a longshot. This spring will mark an important time for both players as they attempt to make a move up the depth chart for the first time.

Top position classes: Athletes 

February, 19, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and Big Ten)
Ohio State continues to add speed and versatility, and the 2014 class was more of the same. The Buckeyes signed five athletes, and versatility was the name of the game. The Buckeyes' haul included potential corners to big wide receivers to safeties to speedy playmaking receivers and return men. The uber-impressive list includes future cornerback and ESPN 300 No. 45 Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville), No. 153 Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus Hall), No. 178 Parris Campbell Jr. (Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent-St. Mary), and four-star prospects Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII) and Malik Hooker (New Castle, Pa./New Castle).

The Buckeyes had the nation’s best athlete class; these programs had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


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Five poised to shine early at USC

February, 11, 2014
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USC head coach Steve Sarkisian had plenty to celebrate this past signing day as the Trojans closed with a flourish to finish at No. 14 in Recruiting Nation’s class rankings. And while it’s a collection that is overflowing with talent at almost every position, here’s a look at the five prospects from the group of 19 who appear most poised to make an instant impact in 2014, taking into account the team’s current depth chart, in addition to the skill set that each player brings to the table.

DB/WR Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra)
5-foot-11, 185 pounds
[+] EnlargeAdoree Jackson
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsAdoree' Jackson should find an initial fit on defense at USC.
Sarkisian noted last week that Jackson will start out on defense when he arrives on campus, so the stage is most definitely set for the elite standout to make a name for himself early at USC. With a glaring lack of healthy bodies at cornerback in 2013, the Trojans certainly had their struggles in pass coverage, so it stands to reason that Jackson, a lights-out athlete with unique playmaking ability, will receive every chance imaginable to step in immediately – just as Nickell Robey did back in 2010. In addition to Jackson, USC signed Jonathan Lockett, John Plattenburg and Lamont Simmons to go along with current Trojans cornerbacks Kevon Seymour, Anthony Brown, Devian Shelton, Chris Hawkins, Ryan Henderson and cornerback/safety Josh Shaw, so it’s safe to say that Jackson is going to face plenty of competition, but he is the No. 9 prospect in the ESPN 300. Sarkisian has also left the door open for Jackson to contribute on offense and special teams, so there’s reason to believe that one way or another, the Gardena (Calif.) Serra standout will make his presence felt more sooner than later.

TE Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure)
6-4, 240 pounds
With Xavier Grimble opting to take his talents to the NFL and the Trojans possessing just two other scholarship tight ends in Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Dixon was one of USC’s most crucial signings. The No. 1 player at his position in the ESPN 300, he’s a dangerous receiving threat who hauled in 64 passes this past season, making him a perfect fit in Sarkisian’s tight end-friendly offense. A phenomenal all-around talent who also impressed the new coaching staff with the athleticism that he showcased in basketball, he has a clear path to playing time, with the capability of adding a unique dimension to the offense down the line.

WR/DB John "Juju" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly)
6-2, 210 pounds
Smith is yet another in a large contingent of two-way stars that the Trojans landed in this class. Slated to begin his career on offense, where he garnered a reputation as a dynamic game-breaker on the high school level, he’ll be thrown into the mix as part of a receivers group that was down to just five scholarship performers following Marqise Lee’s jump to the NFL. Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers are the obvious front-runners to nail down starting jobs, with Victor Blackwell, George Farmer, Steven Mitchell and the other new additions also entering the discussion. But with the unique combination of size and speed that Smith brings, on top of the fact that the Trojans will be running more of an uptempo offense that figures to get a greater number of wideouts involved, there should be plenty of opportunities for the Long Beach (Calif.) Poly star to jump right in.

Toa Lobendahn
Blair Angulo/ESPNGetting on campus early gives Toa Lobendahn a chance to compete for early playing time.
OL Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra)
6-3, 290
A mid-year enrollee, Lobendahn has the potential to become a key piece of the puzzle for an offensive line group that lost some important members from last year’s team, most notably starting center Marcus Martin and right tackle Kevin Graf. Fortunately for the Trojans, Lobendahn can line up at just about any position along the line, and more than that, he’s also given every indication that he has the physical tools to succeed at the next level. At The Opening last summer, Lobendahn went up against the nation’s most sought-after defensive line prospects and more than held his own, emerging as one of the top five offensive line performers in attendance, all while taking reps at center, guard and tackle. USC is bringing in a phenomenal collection of offensive linemen in this class, including fellow ESPN 300 members Chris Brown, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, but Lobendahn gets the slight edge here with his versatility and the fact that he will participate in spring ball – a major factor in the lightning-quick development of safety Su’a Cravens and tailback Justin Davis last season.

DL Claudeson Pelon (Mesa, Ariz./Mesa Community College)
6-5, 295
During his signing day news conference, Sarkisian referred to Pelon as an “immediate impact” athlete, and it’s easy to see why. The top junior college defensive lineman on the USC coaching staff’s radar, he has hulking size to go along with an explosive burst off the line and a nonstop motor. Another new addition who will participate in spring practice, he will push for significant time right away on the interior. With players such as Leonard Williams, Delvon Simmons, Kenny Bigelow, Antwaun Woods, Cody Temple, Greg Townsend Jr. and Pelon all in the fold, it’s safe to say that the Trojans will have a formidable defensive line unit at their disposal in 2014.

Revisiting USC's 2014 resolutions 

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Shortly after the calendar flipped to 2014, we presented five possible New Year’s resolutions for USC recruiting and new head coach Steve Sarkisian.

Here they are again, with accompanying retrospective analysis that indicates how much the Trojans truly accomplished in the month leading up to national signing day:


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Should Jackson and 5 go together?

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LOS ANGELES – One could make a strong case that the most feared jersey number in all of high school football in 2013 was No. 21, worn by consensus All-American Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), the superstar wide receiver/corner, who signed his letter of intent with the USC Trojans last Wednesday.

And there was no more feared number the past generation in college football than jersey No. 5, worn by the electrifying but polarizing former Trojans Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.

[+] EnlargeAdoree Jackson
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsUSC signee Adoree' Jackson would like to wear No. 5, but it's hardly a given.
It’s possible Jackson and Bush, two incredibly dynamite performers, might be linked together through jersey No. 5, the one once worn by Mr. Reggie during his Trojans playing days in the Coliseum.

You see, Adoree’ says one of the major reasons he fell in love with Trojans football is because of Bush, which is a common theme with a number of USC recruits. Such is Jackson’s adulation of the current Detroit Lions running back that he has made it known he would like to wear No. 5 in honor of his idol.

Naturally, Jackson’s Trojans jersey number desire has heated up message boards considerably -- pro and con -- largely because of Bush’s and/or his family’s alleged indiscretions and the ensuing NCAA draconian sanctions.

There is no question the NCAA was mean, cruel, heartless and vindictive in its sanctions directive against USC, but one can’t escape the conclusion that Bush probably wasn’t exactly an innocent bystander either.

Bush, the disgraced Heisman Trophy winner, never really apologized to his alma mater. It’s entirely possible, however, that the former No. 5 can’t because of potential jurisprudence issues. What is true is that the former Trojans All-American tailback won’t be seen walking through the celebrated John McKay Center or recently renovated Heritage Hall anytime soon.

You can argue until the Coliseum torch is lit a thousand times the merits -- just or unjust -- as it regards to Bush. You can find enough Bush fans believing he has been wrongly branded and his full rights should be restored. Many are awaiting the final verdict in the Todd McNair case against the NCAA to see if Bush will be given some sort of “pass” over the whole sordid affair.

So the question becomes: Should Adoree’ Jackson be allowed to wear No. 5 and by doing so honoring Reggie Bush?

You can bet at some point that Trojans athletic director Pat Haden and first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian will be huddled either before or with Jackson regarding No. 5.

It’s a fact Bush’s jersey number is no longer retired; however USC has given every indication that No. 5 is not a jersey number that is being encouraged to wear. Maybe with NCAA sanctions officially over in June, the No. 5 stigma can be overlooked.

It’s a fact the Trojans have done everything in their power to remove anything visually Bush on campus other than the football media guide records.

It’s also a fact you no longer see a giant, cardinal No. 5 jersey hanging next to the other Trojans Heisman Trophy winners on the peristyle end of the Coliseum on game days.

Haden acknowledged early in his administrative tenure the greatness of Bush as a player, and he added that he hoped “someday” Bush would again return to the cardinal and gold fold.

That being said, the question still in hand is if he requests it, should Jackson be allowed to wear No. 5?

It’s our belief that despite the abyss brought on by the Bush fiasco and the ensuing NCAA sanctions, if his uniform number is available, Jackson should be allowed to wear it.

Jackson has graciously said for public record that if he can’t wear No. 5, he would be agreeable to wearing some other number. Currently, his high school number, No. 21, is being worn by freshman All-America safety Su’a Cravens.

With No. 21 already taken, maybe there is a better option. Young kids growing up watching Jackson wearing a new cardinal number like 2 or 7 could, in essence, allow him to create his own identity and legacy and not carry on somebody else’s.

Obviously, Jackson knows that by wearing No. 5 it places him directly in the media spotlight. Maybe the kid is media savvy and emotionally strong enough to handle the scrutiny. No doubt if allowed to wear No. 5 Jackson would be in the national conversation before he has even touched a ball.

Maybe by Jackson wearing No. 5, it’s actually a good thing. Maybe all Trojans can move on from what No. 5 has represented in the past.

Maybe Jackson will be such a prolific performer on and off the field that by wearing No. 5, he is the one who will be identified for wearing that number in the future.

And maybe by wearing No. 5, Jackson will be everything that Bush was without the sorry collegiate ending, excommunication from Troy, and the return of the Heisman Trophy.

As always, football remains a game of numbers. Just ask Adoree’ Jackson.
When Steve Sarkisian took the reins at USC in early December, he immediately began to assemble a coaching staff filled with assistants known for their prowess as recruiters, five of whom made the move from the University of Washington along with him.

But when the Trojans head coach spoke to the media on Wednesday, following a banner day in which USC closed with a fury to land the nation’s No. 14 signing class, a pair of holdovers from the previous staff drew the most praise – wide receivers coach Tee Martin and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Clay Helton.

After all, it was Martin and Helton who served as the one constant for many of the prospects committed to or considering the Trojans throughout the coaching change. And it was because of their efforts that the new staff was able to make what Sarkisian called a “seamless” transition.

“What they did with the players that were committed to us, and holding on to the relationships with the players that were not committed to us yet, and then as we brought on one coaching staff member after another, the ability of those guys to integrate together and collectively recruit what I think is a fantastic class in a short amount of time,” Sarkisian said, “those guys deserve a great deal of credit.”

[+] EnlargeClay Helton
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsClay Helton kept recruiting even when his own future at USC was unresolved, and the results showed on signing day.
Standing out in particular to Sarkisian was the fact both Martin and Helton’s commitment to the program never wavered for a second, even when their future at USC was completely up in the air.

“You know, they didn’t know if they were going to be kept on, but they continued to recruit,” Sarkisian said. “It was very clear that these guys love USC, they wanted to be a part of it, they wanted to continue to work for USC, and they did it at a really high level.”

Of course, Martin’s standing as an exceptional recruiter already was firmly established before this cycle began. Still, with what he accomplished this time around, there’s little doubt that his status was elevated even further. Primarily responsible for the Los Angeles-area targets, as well as those in Florida and Georgia, he was involved with no fewer than 11 of USC’s eventual signees, including the three ESPN 300 prospects the Trojans reeled in at the end – offensive guard Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra) and athlete John “Juju” Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly).

“Tee has done a fantastic job,” Sarkisian said. “Tee’s energy, his work ethic [and] his relentlessness in recruiting has been tremendous. I think he does a fantastic job of developing relationships with the high school coaches and with the recruits themselves.”

Helton doesn’t necessarily have quite the reputation in recruiting circles that Martin does, but according to Sarkisian, he was equally as impressive. He played a key part in the recruitment of at least six eventual Trojans, including the No. 1 tight end/H-back in the ESPN 300, Bryce Dixon (Ventura, Calif./ St. Bonaventure), as well as standout offensive linemen Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra) and Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial).

Noticeably low key when he’s off the field and dealing with the media, Sarkisian was quick to point out that when it comes to Helton’s pursuit of top-notch high school players, he’s as competitive and intense as any coach around – something he learned first-hand when the two went head-to-head in the past.

“I’ve had to battle Clay on the other side where I’ve felt like, ‘Geez, this guy just won’t stop,’" Sarkisian said. “You know, I feel like I’ve got the kid, and then Clay just keeps coming around and around.”

In addition to their work ethic and determined mindset, Martin, who hails from Alabama, and Helton, a Texas native, also share an ability to communicate and relate to recruits and their families that Sarkisian believes stems from their down-to-earth southern backgrounds.

“They’ve got that southern hospitality about them that I think the parents, the kids, they feel Clay, they feel Tee,” Sarkisian said. “They can really connect with them. They don’t have rushed conversations. They take their time. And in the end, the time that they spend, the quality of conversation that they have with the parents and the kids holds true.”

It’s those unique traits that Martin and Helton bring to the table that adds an element of variety that Sarkisian believes is one of the recipes to a strong coaching staff.

And with Wednesday’s results serving as potential proof of that fact, it’s safe to say that he’s thankful to have both of them around.

“The end result,” Sarkisian said, “was that they had a big factor in the class that we signed.”
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.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsSteve Sarkisian will now have to match on-field success to the recruiting heights he accomplished during his first signing as USC's head coach.
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.

Early Offer: It’s a wrap 

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Alabama’s 2014 class is special, but is it the best class ever? Who were my biggest winners Wednesday, and what can we look forward to with the class of 2015?

Special class for Bama


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Signing day wrap: Pac-12

February, 5, 2014
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While it was a terrific day for the Pac-12 overall, USC stole the signing day spotlight on Wednesday, hitting for the cycle in landing its top four targets.

The day began well for new coach Steve Sarkisian, as three-star cornerback Lamont Simmons (Jacksonville, Fla./Raines) faxed over his signature, but that was only an appetizer for the Trojans. With 19 scholarships available this year -- NCAA sanctions limited the Trojans to just 15 scholarships in this class and USC was able to roll four unused rides over from the 2013 class -- Simmons took the class to 16. Left on the board were a trio of Southern California ESPN 300 prospects in No. 9 overall prospect, cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), No. 24 overall prospect, athlete John "JuJu" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and No. 67 overall prospect, offensive guard Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco).

[+] EnlargeJohn
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsJohn "JuJu" Smith was part of a huge signing day for USC.
Sarkisian and the Trojans were able to land all three, giving USC one of the best signing days of any program in the country. The signings give USC 19 additions in the 2014 class, including nine ESPN 300 pledges, one ESPN JC 50 prospect and impact players on both sides of the ball. There is really no way to overstate how well Sarkisian and the Trojans closed on signing day, posting what amounted to a perfect day.

The Trojans wound up with the No. 1 class in the Pac-12, but the rankings in the conference were bunched at the top.

Stanford made a huge run late, landing commitments from all six recruits it targeted over the past two months. The Cardinal added signatures from ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Tex./Coppell) -- at No. 25 overall, the highest rated Stanford addition since ESPN began its rankings in 2006 -- and three-star cornerback Terrence Alexander (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian). Though the Cardinal lost a late commitment from defensive end Uriah Leiataua (Compton, Calif./Dominguez), it was a very strong visit and a terrific class headed to the Farm.

Alexander wasn't the only recruit from John Curtis Christian to commit to the Pac-12, as Oregon and UCLA took their biggest commitments of the day from that program. The Ducks landed ESPN 300 safety Mattrell McGraw, while UCLA picked up its lone signing day commit in Kenny Young.

Oregon missed out on Smith and defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Earl Warren) but was able to land safety Khalil Oliver (Meridian, Id./Rocky Mountain) in a battle against Washington.

UCLA coaches will likely be disappointed with the day. Although the Bruins did reel in Young, UCLA missed on Thomas, No. 1 overall wide receiver Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian) and the Southern California trio, which made matters worse for Jim Mora & Co. by committing to the Trojans. UCLA brought a very good recruiting class into signing day and did a good job of holding onto everybody, but the Bruins took some big swings at some big prospects across the country and didn't get the results they were hoping for.

Arizona State slid a few spots in the national rankings, but the Sun Devils did everything they could on signing day. Todd Graham brought a relatively full class into the day and was able to add two huge signatures in ESPN JC 50 prospects defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey (De Funiak Springs, Fla./Pearl River CC) and cornerback Kweishi Brown (El Cajon, Calif./Grossmont). The Sun Devils were also able to hold onto another junior college standout in wide receiver Eric Lauderdale (Fayetteville, Ga./Saddleback College), who received a significant late push from Florida.

Arizona was relatively quiet. The Wildcats brought in a huge list of verbal commitments and didn't lose anybody off the top of the class, landing five ESPN 300 prospects. Defensive tackle Marcus Griffin (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue) was the big addition, as the big lineman selected Arizona over Cal, Mississippi State and Washington State.

Oregon State grabbed a signature from offensive guard Kammy Delp (Pomona, Calif./Diamond Ranch), who will play defensive tackle for the Beavers. Utah announced defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham) as a part of this class after he attempted to sign with the Utes in 2013.

Washington's big addition came Tuesday night in the form of ESPN 300 safety Bishard "Budda" Baker (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue), but Chris Petersen and the Huskies also received a signing day commitment from intriguing 6-foot-5 receiver Brayden Lenius (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade). The Washington State Cougars closed with their second four-star commitment in this class, safety Deion Singleton (Paco, Wash./Chiawana).

But the day in the West belonged to USC, which jumped from No. 4 in the conference to landing the Pac-12's top 2014 recruiting class. Nationally, the Trojans moved from No. 24 to No. 15 overall.

Stanford (15th), Arizona State (21st) and Arizona (23rd) all finished among the top 25 recruiting classes in the nation.
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.”

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Signing day winners and losers

February, 5, 2014
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The ceremonies have concluded, the ink has dried and the fax machines have been turned off once again. And with that, the Class of 2014 is mostly in the books. As is the case annually, there were a number of winners but also some losers on national signing day. Here is a look at a few schools that excelled -- and a couple others that didn't.

THE WINNERS

LSU: The Tigers began the day at No. 3 in the RecruitingNation class rankings and ended with 2014's No. 2 class. The reason is simple: Les Miles and staff got the prospect they had to have in the nation's No. 1 wide receiver, Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian). The Tigers lost both Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson to the NFL, making defensive tackle a key position of need, and they inked a pair of talented tackles in ESPN 300 Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnant Catholic) and four-star Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio, Texas/Earl Warren). Under the radar but significant is three-star defensive end Sione Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller), who flipped from Texas to LSU. Teuhema’s younger brother Maea Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller) is the No. 38 junior in the ESPN Junior 300 and has pledged to LSU as well. Holding off Auburn and UCLA to keep ESPN 300 defensive end Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine) was another win on Wednesday.

Florida State: The Seminoles entered signing day with the No. 4-ranked class but were poised to close with a vengeance, and Jimbo Fisher and staff did just that. While the Seminoles moved up only one spot to No. 3, the hits on Wednesday are significant. Leading the way was No. 2-ranked wide receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead). The Noles weren’t done at receiver either, as Fisher and staff flipped Virginia Tech commit and No. 117 overall Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen). No. 158 Roderick Johnson (Saint Louis, Mo./Hazelwood Central) and No. 253 Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes) were key gets at offensive tackle and defensive tackle, respectively. Three-star offensive tackle Derrick Kelly Jr. (Quincy, Fla./East Gadsden) was another key win over rival Florida.

USC: The Trojans stood to have a big signing day, and Steve Sarkisian and staff certainly delivered. Not only did USC win the hotly contested battle for five-star athlete Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra), but the Trojans won the race for ESPN 300 No. 24 Juju Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and signed No. 67 overall Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) as expected. More than the names and rankings, Wednesday was a huge perception win for the Trojans and Sarkisian. USC jumped to No. 14 from No. 24 in the RecruitingNation class rankings.

Georgia: The Bulldogs didn’t have a big day in terms of number of commits, but quality ruled the day. Mark Richt and staff signed the player they had to have in five-star outside linebacker/defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross). While Carter’s announcement was the big one Wednesday afternoon, the morning started off with a bang for Georgia with the signing of No. 286 overall Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), who was first offered on Monday and never even visited Athens. Those two big signings kept the Bulldogs in the top 10 at No. 9.

South Carolina: One of the big movers in the class rankings on Wednesday was the Gamecocks. Not only did South Carolina make a jump from No. 27 to No. 19 throughout the day, but the Gamecocks also addressed major areas of need. Steve Spurrier and staff had key areas of need at cornerback and along the defensive front, and they delivered by picking up a pair of ESPN 300 corners in No. 87 overall Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) and No. 120 Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King), as well as flipping ESPN 300 defensive tackle Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) from Florida State and three-star defensive end Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) from Nebraska. Fighting off the late January runs by Alabama and Georgia for ESPN 300 linebacker commit Bryson Allen-Williams (Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove) has to be included in the huge wins in recent days.

Kentucky: Sure, Kentucky plucked only one key target on Wednesday in three-star former Vanderbilt and Penn State defensive end commit Lloyd Tubman (Louisville, Ky./Seneca), but it was still a huge day at the finish line for the Wildcats. The 2014 class marks the first time in the nine years that ESPN has ranked recruiting classes that the Wildcats have finished with a top 25 class, and that includes a big win over Alabama for in-state four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky./John Hardin). Signing six defensive backs fills a huge need as well.

Michigan State: The Spartans had a near dream season on the field, and followed it up by closing strong in recruiting. Not only did Michigan State jump nine spots in the class rankings from No. 38 to No. 29 on Wednesday, but it did so while filling a big need on the defensive front with big-time talent. ESPN 300 defensive end Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) was a big win over Ohio State, Florida State and Michigan, while flipping four-star defensive tackle Craig Evans (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) from Wisconsin earlier in the week was another huge win for the Spartans.

Pac-12: The conference as a whole was quite possibly the big winner on signing day. Of the 13 live commitments on ESPNU throughout the morning and afternoon, seven committed and signed with Pac-12 programs. The winner within the Pac-12 was USC, but Stanford also enjoyed a big day with No. 25 overall Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) and three-star corner Terrence Alexander (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian).

THE LOSERS

UCLA: Along with USC and South Carolina, the UCLA Bruins came into today with the most to gain. While Jim Mora and staff scored with four-star linebacker Kenny Young (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian), it was mostly misses throughout the day. Jackson and Smith picked crosstown rival USC, while Dupre opted for home-state LSU. At defensive end, the Bruins missed out twice on Wednesday with Thomas selecting Stanford and Godchaux sticking with LSU. And finally, No. 52 overall Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) stayed in state by picking Alabama over Auburn.

Ole Miss: It’s difficult to place the Rebels' No. 17 class with the losers on signing day, but that was the case in Oxford, Miss. Not only did Ole Miss drop a spot in the class rankings, but it also came up dry with explosive ESPN 300 receiver and return man Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), after Hugh Freeze and staff worked the Under Armour All-America Game standout all the way up until Wednesday morning before McKenzie announced for Georgia. While Dupre was a long shot, he was yet another prospect who went elsewhere. The Rebels also lost out on Alexander, who selected Stanford over Notre Dame. The bright spot for the Rebels on Wednesday was signing former Notre Dame transfer and No. 22 in the ESPN JC 50, Tee Shepard

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