On Monday afternoon, the name ‘Matthew Thomas’ re-entered the fold in the USC football landscape. It went from forgotten five-star to potential pivotal player. Thomas, who had signed with the Florida State Seminoles on Signing Day, told the Miami Herald that he was hitting the eject button on Tallahassee, and looking for greener pastures like those at Georgia and USC.
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Once again, Thomas presumably became the hottest name on the cusp of Lane Kiffin’s depth chart, as the linebacker’s future appears as though it’s need of a re-write.
With Thomas seeking a release from his Florida State letter of intent, there’s plenty of questions to be asked, with very few answers to be had. Will he be a Dawg? A Trojan? Will Jimbo Fisher actually let a five-star linebacker walk away?
While we wait for the answers to unfold, it’s important to note that there’s direct precedence for this exact scenario. Oddly enough, the last time it happened on a grand scale, it was Lane Kiffin letting a five-star player walk, which may or may not make it easier for Fisher.
In 2010, Seantrel Henderson(right) was the nation’s top offensive lineman, and by some accounts, the best prospective recruit in the country. At 6-foot-8 and 301 pounds, Henderson gave the Trojans a sizable boost to their recruiting class when he chose the cardinal and gold on Signing Day, over Ohio State.
The timing however, was a little strange. USC, having put together a masterful recruiting class that included three of the nation’s top six players, were not standing on solid footing. Kiffin had just taken over for Pete Carroll, who had ditched the Trojans for the Seattle Seahawks in anticipation of NCAA sanctions stemming from the Reggie Bush investigation.
That ominous cloud over the Coliseum was large enough to wade over Henderson, who at one point threatened to not sign his LOI until USC’s penalties were disclosed by the NCAA.
Henderson ultimately signed his letter of intent six weeks after Signing Day, only to find out a few months later that USC would be banned from postseason play in 2010 and 2011, his freshman and sophomore seasons.
While the Trojans’ upperclassmen were granted immediate transfer eligibility had they chosen to leave, Henderson was forced to get creative if he wanted to depart USC.
Like Thomas, he showed signs of being an orientation no-show. Kiffin and his staff flew to Minnesota to re-recruit Henderson, which only resulted in the future franchise left tackle wanting a release from his letter of intent so he could sign with his second college choice.
On July 6, 2010, just 153 days removed from Signing Day, USC officially announced that Kiffin had released Henderson from the binding of his letter of intent. Three days later, Henderson informed Miami that he planned to enroll for their fall semester. Two months after that, he suited up in his first game as a Hurricane, playing without any restriction that would have caused him to sit out a year.
Fast forward to today, and Kiffin might not be calling Henderson the ‘one that got away’, but the ‘one that set the precedent’.
While Henderson’s move to Miami wasn’t a true legal precedent due to the variety of ways that a recruit can accept a scholarship other than a letter of intent, it provides an example for multiple parties to consider.
For Jimbo Fisher, it has to give him some assurance that he wouldn’t be the only head coach to gift a five-star talent free of charge.
For Matthew Thomas, Henderson’s ordeal is proof that requesting an LOI release isn’t that bad of an idea.
For Lane Kiffin, it of course serves as a recruiting tool.
And given the likelihood that Thomas ultimately lands in Athens as opposed to Troy, Kiffin just might need to get Platonic.