Recruiting is the fickle mistress that has a hefty impact on college football. She promises a bright and successful future, but rarely does she deliver the full bounty with which she teases. And does she tease: she makes fans wait nearly a full year before giving us anything definitive, knowing full well that many, many things will change over the course of that time.
Fans love her and (mostly) hate her, but no matter how many times recruiting pulls the rug out from under the college football world, we know that she is the life’s blood of college football programs.
No fanbase understands the fluctuation between victories and pitfalls better than that of the USC Trojans.
Recently, recruiting has been USC’s strongest selling point, due in part to Lane Kiffin and his staff of juggernauts in the trade. It has also been one of the biggest disappointments for Troy, with the debacle leading up to the 2013 National Signing Day, when a number of USC’s most prized recruits all abandoned ship in the days before the event.
But before USC was dealing with mass de-commits and the Matthew Thomas situation this year, Kiffin was tasked with keeping together the class of 2010, built by Pete Carroll but dramatically impacted by NCAA sanctions.
The Class of 2010 is entering its fourth year at Troy and–for those who have stayed–it has been a tumultuous period, filled both with incredibly exciting highs and incredibly embarrassing lows.
Let’s take a look at the players that comprised this class, and what has happened to them over the past four years. In our first of three parts, we’ll look at the skill players on offense.
Baxter came to USC as one of two promising running backs, hailing from San Diego and looking poised to be the next larger-than-life Trojan running back. He was a consensus high school All-American, and a YouTube video of him torching his USC teammates in a practice session implied that big things could be expected from him.
From Day One, Baxter showed that he had the desire to live the glamorous athlete, but none of the drive to do so on the field.
He wanted to indulge in the carefree, party-all-the-time days of Pete Carroll but instead found himself in a much more rigid and aloof program run by Lane Kiffin, which he did not fit into.
A string of off-the-field antics–including accepting a ride in a golf cart to practice from an NFLPA-certified agent (albeit a USC student) and getting caught smoking marijuana in fall camp–it became abundantly clear that Baxter would not pan out at USC. He was ridden from the Trojan program in 2011, departing for San Diego State. But his tenure there was short lived; he was dismissed from the team for “various reasons” in February 2012.
Last season, he suited up for Baker University in Kansas, playing at the NAIA level. Baxter ran for 869 yards as Wildcat in 2012, scoring seven touchdowns and averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
Morgan was the other tailback in this class, and unlike Baxter, he has stuck it out in Troy. He came to USC as a standout hurdler and football player, but a season-ending injury his senior year at Taft of Canoga Park forced him to redshirt as a freshman. Since recovering, he has made cameo appearances in games but spent a substantial amount of time in Kiffin’s doghouse over his first two seasons because of ball-security problems.
In 2012, Morgan showed maturity as the third string back behind Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd. He ran for 201 yards on 41 carries, scoring one touchdown and fumbling just once. He currently is vying for a backup job in 2013.
This Eureka high school athlete was the lone fullback in 2010, but has only played one season so far at USC. Vainuku greyshirted in 2010, redshirted in 2011 but played in all 13 games in 2012, eight of which were starts. Vainuku split time with 2012 freshman Jahleel Pinner, with Vainuku being the main lead blocker on running plays.
Where he was the most noticeable however, was in the passing game and not necessarily for the right reasons. In a Week 3 loss to Stanford, Vainuku dropped what may have been a knockout punch to the Cardinal what would have put USC up two touchdowns in the middle of the third quarter. He had multiple drops in the loss at Arizona and again on fourth and goal against Notre Dame, on what was a poorly thrown Max Wittek pass at his feet.
Going into 2013, he’ll again split time with Pinner and get a majority of the reps as a lead blocker in the I-formation.
Prater was the No. 3 overall recruit in the nation when he came to USC in the fall of 2010. He originally committed to the Trojans under Pete Carroll, and cancelled an early enrollment after Carroll’s departure, only to stick with Kiffin on Signing Day. Unfortunately for the big 6-foot-5 wideout, injuries kept him out of the spotlight at USC. He redshirted the 2010 season and despite playing in 10 games in 2011, he had just one catch for six years.
After two years of slowly progressing and failing to find his place in the rotation, he announced that he was going home to Illinois, and transferred to Northwestern, where he was granted a hardship waiver to play immeditately in 2012. Prater caught just 10 passes for the Gator Bowl champs, while playing all 13 games.
Despite being more known for his “Trogans” tweet than anything done at USC, Ambles was one of two recruits to follow Kiffin from Tennessee. Ambles was the third ranked wide receiver in the 2010 class according to Rivals, giving USC the top trio.
He had a slew of off-the-field drama that kept him from suiting up, and ultimately, he would be removed just a year after he got to USC, due in part to academics. He spent 2012 at Arizona Western College, recording 44 catches for 757 yards and six touchdowns. This season, he will play for the Houston Cougars of the American Athletic Conference, with two years of eligibility left.
While Prater and Ambles were two of the top three receivers, Woods was the household name with an incredible tenure at Troy. He had 65 catches as a freshman and was a big factor in a near upset of No. 4 Stanford, in which he recorded 12 catches for 224 yards and three touchdown. While it was a national coming out party for Woods, he was only getting started, as finished with 65 catches as a freshman, before dazzling as a sophomore to set a then-Pac-12 record with 111 catches in 12 games despite a nagging ankle injury.
Woods ended his record-setting career with 250 receptions for 2,933 yards and 32 touchdowns, standing as the leading wide receiver in USC history, at least for a year before Marqise Lee shatters his records.
The former Serra High Cavalier departed USC early for the NFL, where his talents were recognized by the Buffalo Bills, who drafted him in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
* * * *
Six players into this 2010 class, and already more than half of them are no longer with the Trojan program. In the next installment, we will take a look at the tight ends and quarterbacks that USC signed in 2010, followed by the defensive talent that they pulled in for this class.