Limited by NCAA no more, sky is the limit for USC's recruiting class

USC football team prepares to put finishing touches on first full recruiting class in four years.

USC assistant coach Keith Heyward posted a photo to his Twitter account this week, showing Trojans coaches seated in a private plane before taking off for a recruiting trip.

"It's closing time!" Heyward wrote.

With two weeks remaining until national signing day on Feb. 4, Coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff are traversing the country to put finishing touches on USC's first full recruiting class in four years.

USC is finally past NCAA sanctions that for three years limited the Trojans to 15 new scholarship players — 10 fewer than the allowable maximum — and forced former coach Lane Kiffin and Sarkisian to settle for talented but small classes.

No longer.

Five players graduated from high school or junior college in December and are enrolled at USC. The Trojans could sign 19 players next month.

Recruiting experts said that with a strong finish on signing day, USC's 2015 class would be among the best in college football.

"They are set up for a top-five class," said Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for rivals.com.

USC needs one.

Sanctions that capped USC's roster at 75 scholarship players — 10 fewer than the allowable maximum — along with transfers and injuries left the Trojans with fewer than 60 available scholarship players for much of last season.

Now the Trojans must replenish a roster that lost several key players who exhausted their eligibility, including four-year starting linebacker Hayes Pullard and tight end Randall Telfer.

Four other players also decided to forgo a final season of eligibility and declare for the NFL draft: defensive lineman Leonard Williams, running back Javorius Allen, and receivers Nelson Agholor and George Farmer.

Sarkisian has said that he expected it would take about three years for the Trojans to rebuild the roster to 85 scholarship players.

The 2015 class is a major step toward doing so.

"I like the position we're in," he said of the class. "I think we're shaping up to put together a really complete class that embodies all the characteristics we're looking for, not just physically but mentally."

USC's freedom from sanctions could not come at a more opportune time, recruiting experts said. The pool of 2015 California high school seniors is regarded as one of the deepest and most talented in several years.

"They kind of set their sights on, 'If USC is coming back soon, this class has got to be the one to really help push them over that hump,'" said Erik McKinney, who covers Pac-12 Conference recruiting for ESPN.com.

Quarterback Ricky Town, receiver Isaac Whitney, offensive linemen Chuma Edoga and Roy Hemsley, and linebacker Cameron Smith began classes this month and will participate in spring practice. Kicker Matt Boermeester was awarded a scholarship during training camp in August and counts against the 2015 class.

The Trojans also have 15 commitments, including those from San Clemente High quarterback Sam Darnold, Texas running backs Ronald Jones and Aca'Cedric Ware, and Campolindo (Calif.) tight end Tyler Petite.

Greg Biggins, national recruiting analyst for Fox Sports and Scout, said the California talent pool was strong at every position except running back. So the Trojans tapped two top running backs from Texas.

"They played it perfectly," Biggins said.

Three linemen and three defensive backs are also among USC's commitments.

Still looming are five top uncommitted players: Long Beach Poly High cornerback Iman Marshall, Gardena Serra defensive lineman Rasheem Green and linebacker John Houston, and Utah linebackers Osa Masina and Porter Gustin.

Last year, Sarkisian and his staff closed strong and secured multipurpose standout Adoree' Jackson, receiver JuJu Smith and offensive lineman Damien Mama on signing day. All three played significant roles last season.

Sarkisian must do the same with Marshall, Green and Houston, Farrell said.

"They need to send a message that, 'The five-star kids in our state are ours,' " Farrell said. "Sark needs that swagger going into 2016."

USC also could find itself with a "good problem," if Masina and Gustin decide they want to become Trojans, experts said.

Players previously committed to USC would be encouraged to find another option to make room.

"If they all tell the coaches, 'Hey, we're coming,' I would bet the five of them find spots," McKinney said.

USC finished 9-4 in Sarkisian's first season, which included a third consecutive loss to UCLA.

Quarterback Josh Rosen, who starred at Bellflower St. John Bosco, is already enrolled at UCLA and could compete for a starting position as a freshman.

But USC has not lost ground in recruiting against the Bruins, Biggins said.

"That just goes to show how strong the brand is," he said, adding, "and their staff has done a great job of connecting with kids."

Athletic Director Pat Haden has been encouraged by the latest recruiting cycle. But he said the Trojans must "load one good class after the next" to get back to full strength and win championships.

"If we end up where we think we're going to end up, it's going to be a good class," he said. "Then you have to develop them, you have to play and you have to get lucky that guys don't get hurt — all those kinds of things."

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