Football coach Jason Negro didn't need to tune in the news reports. His Bellflower St. John Bosco High players were keeping him informed via text message as word spread that USC had hired Steve Sarkisian as coach.
"The kids are excited," Negro said.
Two former St. John Bosco players were starters for Sarkisian at Washington this season, quarterback Keith Price and safety Will Shamburger. The unbeaten Braves are also the Southland's top-ranked high school team entering this weekend's Southern Section championship games, and they have several blue-chip recruits who are likely to see a lot of USC's new coach in the coming weeks.
With close community ties from his days as a quarterback at West Torrance High and as an assistant at USC under Pete Carroll, the 39-year-old Sarkisian has been long recognized as one of the best recruiters of Southern California high school players.
In recent years, he has traveled to the Southland so frequently from Seattle that he probably knows the first name of the rental car workers at LAX and airports in Burbank and Orange County. Among his players at Washington were 34 with Southern California ties.
"He's coming home," said Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com and Fox Sports. "Sark knows the schools and the players, and that's huge for him. At USC, he was one of their best recruiters under Carroll."
Manuel Douglas, coach of two-time defending City Section Division I champion Narbonne, said Sarkisian has developed close relationships in Southern California.
"He was always a guy young enough that he understood the kids," Douglas said. "He represents himself well when he comes to our campus. In this community, it's hard pressed to find someone who doesn't say nice things about Sark."
Sarkisian had three players from Narbonne on his Washington roster, including freshman quarterback Troy Williams, who said about his former coach: "He's from L.A. and knew what L.A. kids had been through. He's a good recruiter."
During an interview at his introductory news conference Tuesday, Sarkisian said the key to recruiting was building relationships with the high school coaches.
"Some years guys have players, some years they don't," he said. "But you treat them with respect. You make sure you get by and say hello. … When you do that, those high school coaches can respect you for who you are and know that their kids are going to play for a guy that's going to take care of them."
Lompoc Coach Andrew Jones got to know Sarkisian when Washington was recruiting running back Lavon Coleman. Jones was surprised at Sarkisian's accessibility.
"It comes down to the communication he has with his recruits," Jones said. "Some head coaches allow their assistants to do everything, and he was pretty clear to call him if you need anything. He was very open and straight-up. Throughout the whole process, he told the truth. He was matter of fact and at the same time very personable."
The timing of Sarkisian's hiring couldn't be better for USC. There are still two months left before letter-of-intent day. USC has 15 scholarships available and is very much in the running for four of the top prospects in the state: defensive backs Adoree' Jackson of Gardena Serra, Jaleel Wadood of St. John Bosco and John "Juju" Smith of Long Beach Poly and lineman Damien Mama of St. John Bosco.
"A lot of top guys haven't made their choices because they were waiting to see who the coach was," Biggins said. "With two months to go, this is a guy who already had relationships with players and coaches."
Sarkisian has proven himself to be cool under pressure. While visiting Narbonne last month, Sarkisian asked to meet linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, who had committed to USC. But Nwosu had a third-period honors government class and the teacher refused to make Nwosu available.
Douglas asked the teacher if Nwosu could look at Sarkisian "through the window." Instead, the teacher came out and gave Sarkisian a lecture.
"I know who you are, but you are not a celebrity at Narbonne High," Douglas recalled her telling Sarkisian.
Said Douglas: "He handled it admirably. He addressed her, 'Yes ma'am, I understand.'
"Now he's much more a celebrity than we ever thought."
Staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.