Trojans cash in on decision to stay

Times Staff Writer

How much is a final year of college worth?

For USC nose tackle Sedrick Ellis, linebacker Keith Rivers, offensive tackle Sam Baker and defensive end Lawrence Jackson, all of whom were selected in the first round of the NFL draft Saturday, it could amount to more than $43 million.

That’s about how much guaranteed money the players taken in the same slots in 2007 were collectively assured when they signed contracts last year.

On a day when a school-record seven USC players were chosen in the first two rounds, the four Trojans who passed up the chance to turn pro after their junior seasons hit the first-round jackpot.


“I’m hoping everyone who takes a look at this, whether it’s our guys or other guys, that they see there is clear information to play that final season,” Coach Pete Carroll said. “They make more money, not to mention that they are more mature to make that first impression.”

Ellis was the first Trojan picked when the New Orleans Saints traded up to the seventh spot. Rivers went two picks later to the Cincinnati Bengals. The Atlanta Falcons traded up to take Baker with the 21st pick and the Seattle Seahawks took Jackson with the 28th pick after moving down three spots following a trade.

Offensive guard Chilo Rachal, the only Trojans junior to make himself available for the draft, was selected in the second round, 39th overall, by the San Francisco 49ers. Tight end Fred Davis went 48th to the Washington Redskins and cornerback Terrell Thomas was chosen by the Super Bowl champion New York Giants with the 63rd and final pick of the second round.

“It was a great day to be a Trojan,” Carroll said.

It also could be a highly profitable one.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the seventh pick last year, signed for a guaranteed $17 million. Miami Dolphins receiver Ted Ginn, the ninth pick, signed for nearly $13.5 million. Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Reggie Nelson (21st) is guaranteed $7.1 million, San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Joe Staley (28th) $5.6 million.

Ellis will be reunited in New Orleans with defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, who recruited Ellis out of Chino High and coached him in 2003 and 2004 before leaving to become head coach at Mississippi.

“He knows that when I come to play football that’s my life and I’m serious about it,” Ellis said in a conference call with New Orleans media. “He took advantage of that at SC and made me a better football player and I’m sure he’s going to take advantage of that in New Orleans and make me a great football player there also. Great players need great coaches and I think it will be a great match.”

Despite being projected as a possible top-10 pick, Rivers would not allow himself to believe it until he received a call from the Bengals, who reportedly had their sights set on Ellis.

“I’m the kind of guy who thinks about the worst scenario at first so I don’t get my hopes up,” Rivers said by phone.

Rivers added that the decision to return for a final season under Carroll, defensive coordinator Nick Holt and linebackers coach Ken Norton, a former All-Pro, was worth it.

“It’s paid off for me and for the other guys as well who decided to stay -- their dreams are going to come true,” Rivers said. “You can’t leave early and miss out on some great learning from an All-Pro.”

Baker had been projected as a possible top-15 pick in 2007, but he returned and endured a season that included a broken rib and also a hamstring injury that forced him to sit out more than three games.

Baker, the sixth offensive tackle taken, said he was “pretty sure” that the Falcons would pick him, but he was pleasantly surprised when they traded up into the first round to do so.

“Even if I would have gone later, I would not have regretted the decision to come back to USC,” he said by phone.

Jackson also was elated and said the decision to return for a final season paid off in more than dollars, citing “the maturity I gained, the awareness of my body and the added knowledge of the game.”

Staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.