The Trojans received the commitment of “USC lock” Su’a Cravens on Wednesday, but while it’s a positive step towards what could arguably be the best recruiting class in recent memory for 2013, it’s far too early to start celebrating.
While USC fans love to point out the tremendous recruiting of the last decade that includes east coast imports like Mike Williams, Keith Rivers, Brian Cushing and Nickell Robey, and California blue chippers like Reggie Bush, Matt Barkley and Robert Woods, there’s a slew of local “USC locks” that have gone astray after committing, forcing the Su’a Cravens commitment to be seen within a cautious perspective.
Let’s look at five California recruits that committed to USC, before opting to sign elsewhere, all within the Pac-12.
Say what you want about DeSean Jackson’s attitude, ego and propensity to celebrate prematurely, he would have been a dynamic playmaker for the Trojans in the heart of the Pete Carroll era. Coming out of Long Beach Poly, Jackson pledged his commitment to USC after the Trojans beat Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl. Then, on live TV, Jackson flipped back to Cal, whom he previously committed to earlier in the recruiting season.
Right after committing to Cal,Jackson told Greg Biggins, who then worked for Rivals, that leaving home and playing away from USC gave him independence and put distance from him and his family, a sentiment echoed later by another local star.
Morrell Presley & Randall Carroll
When Matt Barkley went to Long Beach’s Veterans Stadium in September of 2008 to play Carson, much was discussed of the USC connection to the game, as Barkley’s Mater Dei was taking on Carson and USC commit Morrell Presley, a soon-to-be Barkley target at tight-end. Presley committed to USC in June of 2007 before his junior season with the Carson Colts, just like Randall Carroll, who committed out of Cathedral High.
According to UCLAFBall.com, Carroll was recruited by Pete Carroll to be a cornerback. Ultimately, Carroll and Presley’s friendship and their determination to play on the offensive side of the ball led them to ditch the Trojans and head west to Westwood in the Class of 2009.
Both have since been kicked off of the team by then-coach Rick Neuheisel, after both wound up in jail for separate incidents, with burglary being the case for Presley. Given the result of the Presley and Carroll tandem, the Trojans lucked out by not having their services, but it doesn’t take away the “it’s too early to be gung-ho about commits” point of view at all, and actually reinforces it inversely.
The “Black Mamba” was an inner-city superstar, or so he was billed. Praised by Snoop Dogg and playing in shadow of the Coliseum over at Crenshaw High School, Thomas was seemingly destined to play for the Trojans. He spoke about the Trojans at length whenever prompted, and after leading the Cougars to an LA City Championship in December of 2010, he further committed to the Trojans. But again,he was another instance of a local kid ditching the Trojans for a Pac-12 school, with the Oregon Ducks being the recipient of the wire-framed speedster.
Thomas’s story encompasses aspects of both DeSean Jackson and Randall Carroll’s spurning of the Trojans. Thomas spoke at length on Signing Day 2011 about how leaving LA was about him finding his own identity and getting away from family and friends, a la Jackson. Also, Chip Kelly wanted Thomas in his arsenal of backs and receivers, whereas at USC, Thomas faced the possibility of playing defense, a la Randall Carroll.
Was the threat of playing defense a deterrent for Robert Woods and Marqise Lee? Ultimately no, but with Oregon being the glitzy, hip, “cool school”, 17 year-old kids do the unexpected and want to do what’s best for them in the moment. You can’t necessarily blame Thomas; with the departures of Amir Carlisle and Dillon Baxter, the Trojans would’ve killed to have Thomas in the backfield, rather than banking on DAT Light, Nelson Agholor.
By some accounts, Arik Armstead was the best California player in the Class of 2012, if not the nation, outside of Dorial Green-Beckham. The brother of then-USC defensive tackle Armond Armstead, Arik was given the “lock” tag fairly early. He committed in June of 2010 as a two-way player in high school. Like those before him, the offense/defense debate was huge with Armstead. According to the scouts and analysts, his talent was top-pick worthy as an offensive lineman, but Armstead wanted a more glorious role on the defensive side of the ball.
Armstead decommitted on October 16, 2011, just six days before the Trojans headed to South Bend to take on Notre Dame, the then-favorite for Armstead. After the Trojans beat the Irish, he was fair game again. As the winter came, Cal’s Tosh Lupoi started wrangle him in, but his departure to Washington in January changed everything yet again and Armstead committed to Oregon on in late January and signed with the Ducks on February 1st.
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For many, recapping the departures of USC commits is a tired annoyance of old news, but they really can’t be overstated as reasons to be cautious with commits. In the grand scheme of things, verbal commits are just that, commitments, which much like marriages and political campaign speeches, are subject to much change. Penn State lost a whole class after the Jerry Sandusky scandal hit Happy Valley, and Arik Armstead won’t be the last Trojan commit to flip(nor Jordan Payton).
While plenty of players opt to commit early to take pressure off of them during their senior season, it actually puts pressures on the committed school to keep that commitment, as a verbal commitment isn’t a restraining order on an opposing coach. Resting on laurels is natural, and once a player is committed, it’s often harder to keep the recruit than it is to get the commit in the first place due to the pressures of a player wanting to feel wanted.
While commits can band together to recruit their peers, continued recruitment by a committed school can do the inverse, planting a seed of doubt within the ego of a player.
Imagine you just committed to a school and pledged your heart to that university. If they keep giving you the Kool-Aid to drink, you can’t help but wonder if they’re doubting your commitment to them, even if it’s in their best interest to fend off the opposition. It’s an awkward give and take, and as seen with all of the flip-flops, it’s often a problem that pertains to the ego of the recruit, as bad as that sounds.
DeSean Jackson famously quipped that USC thought they had him, which got under his skin. From the school’s perspective, how are they supposed to feel after getting a verbal commitment? Like they have the player, of course.
That brings up this question: would an early signing period for college football be beneficial in reducing the wavering of both committed and non-committed players? Coaches would love it, but the media wouldn’t. Let’s face it: Signing Day is big business, as the recruiting news industry makes millions on the hoof of wavering 17-teen-olds.
So, is Cravens wavering already? Not at all, and the chances of him sticking with the Trojans are beyond “likely”, especially since he’s exactly what the Trojans need on defense. He doesn’t have the gimmicks surrounding the D’Anthony Thomas situation, nor the family beef that the Armstead family was rumored to have with Lane Kiffin. By all accounts, Cravens is another top-shelf character guy to likes of Matt Barkley, Devon Kennard and Robert Woods, making him squeaky clean compared to the likes of DeSean Jackson, Morrell Presley and Randall Carroll.
So is there any reason to doubt his commitment? Based solely on Cravens, not at all. Doubt the act of committing, not the player.
But regardless of the fear of decommitment or the race to get commitments from other top players, there’s no denying that the relative uncertainty of college recruiting is what makes it so riveting for fans, fueling an industry predicated on paying for “insider information” from publications like Scout, Rivals, 24/7 Sports and ESPN. It’s addicting, even if it ends up hurting in the end.