USC football players and coaches weighed in on the debate surrounding Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey’s decisions to sit out bowl games.
It’s the hot topic around college football this week — should players looking ahead to the NFL sit out bowl games to prevent injury and preserve their draft stock?
A number of draft eligible players have made that decision, including high profile running backs Christian McCaffrey of Stanford and Leonard Fournette of LSU.
What do USC players and coaches think of those decisions? They’re not judging, but they’re not ready to jump on the bowl skipping bandwagon.
“I guess it’s not their level of expectation of what a bowl game should be,” left tackle Chad Wheeler said on the mentality of McCaffrey and Fournette. “So they feel like they can get more out of sitting and training for the Combine than practicing and playing in that game.”
The redshirt senior is not in the same position as those running backs, but he is not so eager to get started on his draft preparations.
“I want to play in my last game no matter what,” Wheeler said. “It’s a great experience. This month all you focus on is football, so I would never sit this game out.”
That mindset suits head coach Clay Helton.
Ever the players’ coach, Helton wouldn’t condemn a player for making that decision to protect himself over playing in a bowl game.
Still, he knows the advice he would give a player considering it.
“I hope every young man would want to have one last opportunity to play with his brothers.,” Helton said. “My vote is to have that opportunity and that experience.”
The head coach raised the example of defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who was projected highly for the 2015 draft, but made a big impression in his final game in the cardinal and gold at the Holiday Bowl.
“It was his last statement as a player and how well he did in that game, it may have propelled him into a Top 6 pick,” said Helton. “It’s just another valuable experience.”
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All that said, Helton prefaced that he didn’t know the particulars for either McCaffrey or Fournette. As with a decision to leave early for the draft, every case is different.
“At the end of the day I think it’s a personal decision for each guy and you would have to support it,” Helton said.
This year, USC isn’t facing this particular issue, but with the trend in college football moving the way it is, Helton and the Trojans could be having more of these conversations going forward.
Of course, the key to avoiding such a dilemma is staying in meaningful postseason games.