One down, one to go.
USC safety Taylor Mays’ announcement Tuesday that he was returning to USC for a final season of eligibility left Heritage Hall anxiously hoping quarterback Mark Sanchez will do the same.
Sanchez is expected to announce today or Thursday whether he will return to USC or turn pro. Thursday is the deadline for players to make themselves available for the NFL’s April draft.
“We definitely thought about if me and him both came back and the message that shows,” Mays said. “But we’ll see.”
Sanchez could not be reached for comment Tuesday. His father, Nick, said his son was still working through his decision.
When last season began, Mays thought he would be on his way to the NFL this month. Midway through the schedule, he was 50-50 about leaving for professional football. After the Trojans’ Rose Bowl victory over Penn State, the All-American was ready to turn pro.
“I wanted to leave. I still want to leave, but I just think it would be best for me to stay, the best for my future,” he said.
Mays, 20, was projected by NFL scouts as a first-round draft pick, though the three-year starter said he made his decision without having received the draft projection he requested from the league. He was tempted by the thought of becoming a millionaire but opted to return to school, confident he would make more money next year.
“I can’t say I want to come back so I can take Spanish 2, but I just think it would be best for me in the long run,” he said. “It might affect making a million dollars right now but hopefully in 10 or 20 years I’ll look back on it and be like, ‘That was the right decision.’ ”
Coach Pete Carroll, Mays’ parents and others he respects played a role in the Thorpe Award finalist’s decision to return. Former teammates such as Lawrence Jackson and Thomas Williams, who recently completed their first NFL seasons, also influenced his choice. “They all told me to stay,” Mays said of the players.
Carroll said in a statement that he was “delighted” that Mays was returning, describing him as “one of the most gifted safeties to ever play at USC.”
Mays’ announcement came nearly a week after he saw Florida beat Oklahoma in the Bowl Championship Series title game, which he described as “frustrating.” An opportunity to play for a national title was one of the factors that swayed Mays to return to lead a defense that loses its entire starting linebacker corps and three defensive linemen.
“We know we lose a lot of guys, but we still have a chance to reload and fire back,” he said.
Mays said his decision might have been different if secondary coach Rocky Seto had accepted an offer in December to become Washington’s defensive coordinator. Seto, who recruited Mays, instead became the Trojans’ defensive coordinator this month when Nick Holt left for Seattle.
Seto was thrilled with Mays’ choice.
“Sometimes you can get caught up in the momentum of popular opinion of the outside world,” Seto said, adding that for Mays to turn pro, “may have been a no-brainier for some people. But when you’re happy somewhere, that means a lot.”
Linebacker Malcolm Smith said Mays’ return is huge for the Trojans. “He’s been starting since he was a freshman so he’s obviously going to be a leader,” Smith said. “We’ll definitely look to him for guidance.”
Schneider gets job
USC’s coaching staff shuffle continued as defensive line coach Dave Watson was replaced by Brian Schneider, who was the Oakland Raiders special teams coordinator for two seasons.
Watson’s job was in jeopardy when Carroll hired defensive line coach Jethro Franklin in the wake of Holt’s departure to Washington.
“I had a great opportunity to learn at USC and I’m looking forward to my next opportunity, whether it’s in the NFL or with another college program,” Watson said in a phone interview. “I look at it as a great chance to grow.”