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Trojans won’t lose as many to the NFL

Times Staff Writer

USC suffered a mass exodus of draft-eligible juniors after last season, but the Trojans probably will avoid a similar scenario in January.

All-American tackle Sam Baker and running back Chauncey Washington said Saturday that they would return for their final seasons of eligibility.

“I’ve always said the whole season I want to come back,” Baker said after the Trojans’ first workout since their upset loss to UCLA. “My dad always talks about just gathering as much information as you can and just trying to figure everything out, but I can’t see anything really happening that would change my mind.”

Neither can offensive line coach Pat Ruel, who said he has discussed the situation with Baker.

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“He’s got a chance to be an Outland Trophy guy, which is only going to increase his value,” Ruel said.

Defensive end Lawrence Jackson already informed Coach Pete Carroll that he would return, and linebacker Keith Rivers said Friday that he requested an NFL evaluation but intended to play his final season.

All-American split end Dwayne Jarrett, regarded as the most likely draft-eligible junior to turn pro, reiterated Saturday that he would wait until after the Rose Bowl against Michigan to make his decision. Nose tackle Sedrick Ellis also is contemplating his options.

Washington said he sent paperwork to the NFL requesting an evaluation and draft prediction but was aware that he needed another year to prove his talent. Washington sat out the previous two seasons because of academic ineligibility and has been hampered by hamstring and knee problems throughout this season.

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He said he was looking forward to playing well in the Rose Bowl and attracting attention that will make him prominent on NFL scouts’ radar in 2007.

“I was hurt and playing on one leg for most of the season, so it’s going to be crazy to see me play at 100% next year,” said Washington, who has rushed for a team-best 736 yards and nine touchdowns.

Jackson, who had only four sacks this season, was relieved to have made his decision.

“At one point I was leaning the other way,” he said. “I just finally made up my mind and I feel better about it.”

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Quarterback John David Booty also is draft-eligible, but the fourth-year junior said he has no intention of leaving.

“I’m coming back,” he said. “There’s too much ahead of us and still a lot to learn.”

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This will be the first time in four seasons that USC will play a bowl game without a possible national title on the line.

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Carroll said he did not think motivation would be an issue for the Trojans against a one-loss Michigan team that is intent on proving it belonged in the national championship game against Ohio State.

“We’re playing for a lot, just who we are and what we’re all about and our program all that stuff,” Carroll said. “I’m not real concerned about that particular part.”

Much of the next few weeks will be devoted to giving young players repetitions, according to Carroll.

“We don’t need every day to plan on the Michigan game,” he said. “We need the time to get our football right to make sure we’re ready to play really well.”

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Baker was selected to the Football Writers Assn. of America All-America team.... The Trojans will practice today and then will be off until Thursday.... The Trojans practiced on the artificial surface at Cromwell Field because new turf was being installed at Howard Jones Field.

gary.klein@latimes.com


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