April 10, 2013

USC casts wide net early in recruiting cycle

A cursory glance at USC's recruiting class shows the Trojans are laser-focused on in-state prospects and nearby players, but a deeper inspections belies that.

Yes, three of the USC commits -- offensive linemen Jordan Poland and Toa Lobendahn and defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood -- are from California, and the fourth -- offensive tackle Casey Tucker -- is from Arizona.

But of the 72 prospects - by Rivals.com's count -- offered by USC, only 13 are from California. The Trojans clearly are concentrating on other talent-rich areas, especially the Southeast.

Let's take a look at some specific positions: California wide receivers Dallis Todd (30 offers), Erik Brown (the wide receiver MVP at the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour in Los Angeles), Washington commit Rahshead Johnson -- a star on the 7-on-7 circuit -- and others have not been offered.

USC has offers out to three wide receivers from Florida, including Homestead's Ermon Lane -- who is very high on the Trojans' board -- as well as one from Georgia, one from Louisiana and one from Arizona.

Out of 13 offers at defensive end, only one is from California -- Sacramento Capital Christian's Nifae Lealao -- and another one from the region in Portland (Ore.) Central Catholic's Connor Humphreys.

Thirteen linebacker offers are out and the only in-state prospect offered is El Cerrito, Calif., standout Derik Calhoun. Gardena (Calif.) Serra's Dwight Williams has not been offered by USC. He just set official visits for Florida and Michigan this fall.

Across the board, at almost every position, there are more players from out of state offered than local recruits.

And there are several good reasons for the Trojans' strategy, including that the Southeast is teeming with players and two USC assistants have deep roots in the South.

But there is more to it than that.

"It's a trend across college football," USCFootball.com recruiting analyst Gerard Martinez said. "Schools want to make a splash with kids not familiar with their programs. An offer out of region gets a kid's attention and personalizes his recruitment. The risk of having that recruit commit to you, when he has never stepped foot on campus, is low. So schools get their cake and eat it, too. They get to say they were in on a recruit early with a verbal offer, and then know they have time to evaluate that recruit before a decision is made on a 'commitable' offer. That phrase 'commitable offer' is becoming quite popular in college football.

"Second, USC has great recruiters with ties to the Southeast, and regionally speaking, the South produces a majority of the nation's talent. Tee Martin and Ed Orgeron have recruited the South their entire careers, and new running backs coach Tommie Robinson was at Miami and Memphis prior to USC. But USC has to work much harder to get a kid from Georgia than they do San Diego, so they have to offer that recruit early to make up ground on Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and Florida."

The hyper-focus-on-local-prospects approach has shifted and it's not only at USC. Oregon has more offers out to prospects from Louisiana and Michigan than in-state kids. They have not even started to recruit Humphreys, even though he was the defensive line MVP at the Rivals Camp in Los Angeles. The Ducks' lone commit is from Hawaii.

Ohio State has offered 19 prospects from Florida, 17 from Georgia and 14 from Texas already, with only nine in-state prospects. Alabama has nearly 130 offers out with only 11 being to players within its borders.

Examples can be found across the country. This outside-in approach to recruiting seems to be taking hold more than ever before and Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell is not sure it's the most successful or prudent tactic.

"Many programs do it and I find it to be a big mistake," Farrell said. "When programs start to recruit nationally, it can take them away from the success they've had."

USC could be an exception. The lure of Los Angeles and all that comes with it still intrigues prospects from across the country. It was one reason why the Trojans had success last season recruiting Kenny Bigelow and Khaliel Rodgers out of Maryland.

Leon McQuay III, a five-star safety from Seffner (Fla.) Armwood, wants to pursue a career in music and spending time in studios during trips to USC helped him pick the Trojans. USC also landed four-star linebacker Quinton Powell from Florida in the last recruiting cycle.

Because of recent struggles, an offer from USC to a kid in the Southeast might not hold the same weight it once did but Farrell said it's still significant and the Trojans don't seem to be slowing down in that part of the country.

"They have always recruited well nationally and since Pete Carroll was there, they have had so much success luring top kids who make a big impact from other states," Farrell said. "But taking care of your backyard is important and it is something USC has been criticized for not doing in certain recruiting years.

"There was a time when a USC offer was 'the offer,' but that's been replaced by Alabama for the most part around the country. But I still think it's still a huge deal for many kids and they all seem to have interest in visiting USC and checking things out. Getting them out there has been more challenging of late but it's still a great offer."

And Martinez predicts the Trojans are not done offering prospects closer to home. The early emphasis at Ohio State and Alabama and across the country has been to recruit far and then turn closer to home later on. The same could hold true for USC in the coming months.

"Right now, 2014 isn't a banner year for talent in California, but I think the talent in-state does not completely reflect USC's recruiting methods," Martinez said. "USC will circle back in May and June with more scholarship offers to California kids. At that point, the evaluation process and camps will have set their recruiting board."

Look far first and then come home. It has been the approach of recruits for years. College programs are now following suit.



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