Losses Piling Up for USC

Times Staff Writer

Offensive lineman Fred Matua said Friday that he would forgo his final season of eligibility at USC and make himself available for the NFL draft, becoming the third Trojan in three days to say he would turn pro.

Matua, a fourth-year junior, joined junior running backs LenDale White and Reggie Bush, the Heisman Trophy winner, who decided to leave after winning two consecutive national titles and falling just short of a third.

"It's a time for me to really just go on and see some other challenges in my life," said Matua, who is expected to make a formal announcement at a news conference today.

Offensive lineman Winston Justice and safety Darnell Bing also could announce that they will turn pro on or before Sunday's deadline for declaring for the April draft. Both are leaning toward leaving for the NFL, according to a source close to the situations.

Matua, who turns 22 today, is not expected to go in the first two rounds of the draft but said his family's financial situation influenced his decision. Matua said his mother, Lemalie, has been battling breast cancer.

"I've got a whole bunch of brothers and sisters," said Matua, who attended Wilmington Banning High. "My mother is sick and it's time for me to really kind of step up to the plate and really try to support those people now.

"A lot of people say, 'It's only a year. You could wait a year.' But my family doesn't have a year. My mother might not have a year. We're day to day."

An NFL personnel director who studied tape of the 6-foot-2, 305-pound Matua projected him as a possible third- or fourth-round pick.

"I didn't like his body control or balance out in space," said the director, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He's got some strength in the interior, but I didn't see a top-level athlete. But he competes and he's tough. And those guys play at the NFL level."

Matua said he was confident he could play in the NFL and would not be concerned if he was selected in the fourth round. He said USC coaches encouraged him to remain in school.

"These guys are only looking for the best for me," Matua said. "That's why I enjoyed being here. My decision is based on my family.

Coach Pete Carroll said he understood Matua's desire to help his family but added that the possible financial payout from an NFL team would be greater if he waited a year and continued to improve.

Offensive line coach Pat Ruel blamed agents for supplying players with misleading information about their expected draft position and said that reality hits come draft day.

"The first time an agent will back up what he says and make up the difference is when you have a good agent," Ruel said.

If Matua follows through and turns pro, and Justice also makes himself available for the draft, the Trojans would need to replace three starters from what was regarded as one of the nation's best offensive lines. All-American guard Taitusi Lutui completed his eligibility and is regarded as a solid pro prospect.

Redshirt freshman Chilo Rachal and sophomore Jeff Byers are front-runners to replace Lutui and Matua. Junior Kyle Williams, who has played both tackle positions, would be the most experienced replacement for Justice.

Byers sat out last season while recovering from hip surgery. He said the year away from contact improved his overall condition.

"You never know, they might get a JC guy who's one of the best," Byers said. "You have to go out and compete. That's what we do here."


Times staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.

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