Eight days remain before the NCAA’s early signing period opens on Dec. 18. The three-day period begins annually on the third Wednesday in December, which has quickly become the most important date on the college football recruiting calendar.
The early signing period is the first opportunity for high school senior football prospects to sign a National Letter of Intent, locking in their spot with a college. Since being introduced in 2017, it has taken over the nationally televised hoopla that had been associated with the first Wednesday in February, a date that had become known as national signing day.
An earlier opportunity to sign means an earlier opportunity for last-minute movement and that’s what has become commonplace throughout the first couple weeks of December. Recruiting classes evolve as some players change their mind, flipping their commitment from one school to another, and as some colleges try to reshuffle their haul of prospects. Coaches may be trying to close out their class when a pledge has a last-minute change of heart while other long-term commits can be left out in the cold by programs that believe they can add a more coveted recruit.
December can be a time of much turnover as coaches and assistants are hired, fired or take new jobs. Four Pac-12 programs have had at least one commitment and one decommitment already this month. USC has seen multiple changes in the last week as Clay Helton’s immediate future was finally settled.
The day after USC athletic director Mike Bohn’s announcement confirming Helton’s return, commit Kyle Juergens said he was “really psyched about it. … happy that I get to work with [Helton] next year and couldn’t be more happy to be a Trojan.”
Just a few days later, Juergens’ mind had been changed. The two-way lineman from St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano announced he was renouncing his verbal pledge. He became the second lineman to decommit from USC in three days. Reno offensive lineman Joey Wright announced he was exiting the Trojans’ 2020 recruiting class on Friday, writing that “USC is something in the past.”
While Juergens’ decommitment seemed surprising based on his comments, there were also signs that there could be a change in his status. USC’s coaching staff had not visited with Juergens (or Wright) since the all-important contact period began on Dec. 1. Coaches are permitted to make in-person, off-campus contact during the 14-day stretch, often stopping by potential prospects’ schools and homes to have sit-down conversations with a player and his family. Trojans’ assistants had been on the road in Texas and Arizona among other places, but hadn’t made it down the 5 freeway to visit Juergens.
The head coach is allowed only one in-home visit with a prospect and his family, so it was notable that Helton had taken in-home visits with local commits Joshua Jackson Jr. of Harbor City Narbonne and Kobe Pepe of Bellflower St. John Bosco on the first two days of the contact period but USC had not visited Juergens.
Juergens also had not taken and had not scheduled his official visit to USC. He plans to skip the early period and sign in February. Juergens, who has seven other scholarship offers, still has time to assess his situation and determine what school he will attend. The decommitments of Wright and Juergens dropped the Trojans to No. 86 in the national recruiting rankings, per 247Sports Composite rankings, but USC didn’t waste any time.
The Trojans added their second Texas offensive lineman to the class in a week when Cedar Hill High’s Courtland Ford, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound three-star prospect, announced his commitment on Monday, joining 6-foot-7, 300-pound Casey Collier from Barbers Hill High in Mont Belvieu.
USC remained ranked No. 11 in the Pac-12 even after the Texas beef boost bumped it to No. 76, but 247Sports national recruiting analyst Greg Biggins and Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell believe the class ranking will greatly improve. They believe it could possibly even move into the top 25 when the Trojans, who only have 10 commitments, fill out their class.
UCLA sits just outside the top 25 after picking up its own verbal pledge in the Lone Star State. Dickinson cornerback DJ Warnell became UCLA’s 20th commitment Sunday night when he completed a whirlwind week by announcing his intentions to become a Bruin on social media. UCLA coaches extended a scholarship offer to Warnell on Tuesday while on the recruiting trail in the Houston area. He hopped on a plane headed to Los Angeles for an official visit over the weekend and knew what school he wanted to attend before he arrived back in Texas.
The addition of Warnell pushed the Bruins’ class to No. 27 and fourth in the Pac-12, but expect plenty more movement in the rankings by the end of the early signing period as things continue to shake out.