Top Southern California college football recruits head out of state
In an era of instant gratification, transferring high schools is as commonplace as players look for immediate playing time, instant notoriety and the opportunities that will put them in front of the most eyeballs.
Linebacker Justin Flowe was an immediate sensation at Upland High, but could have sought other pastures brighter than the Highlanders’ green after the team went 6-5 his freshman year. He could have looked for a brighter spotlight and nationally televised games when Upland coach Tim Salter retired.
Quarterback CJ Stroud never faltered in his dedication to Rancho Cucamonga High. The dual-sport athlete waited for his opportunities while still wearing purple and black. He could have departed when he wasn’t the starting quarterback his first two years. He wouldn’t have been blamed for quitting the basketball team to have more chances to train and participate in seven-on-seven passing tournaments.
Two players at rival schools had different journeys, but both became nationally ranked football prospects. Through their four years, their loyalty — to their school, their friends, their community — never waned. They stayed home.
But Wednesday when the college football early signing period opened, Flowe and Stroud realized they could no longer find what they were seeking in Southern California. They left like so many of their Southland peers.
The Trojans failed to land any of their top targets on the first day of the early signing period, leaving them with one of their worst recruiting classes ever.
The rest of the country saw just how vulnerable the area is to outsiders in a pair of nationally televised ceremonies held just eight miles apart. Stroud announced his commitment, grabbing a black Ohio State hat that sat beside a USC cap as well as Georgia, Michigan and Oregon caps.
That the Trojans were even on the table was surprising as they were considered an afterthought. They also failed to sign longtime commit Bryce Young, who flipped to Alabama in September. The Santa Ana Mater Dei five-star said, “I just felt like it was personally a better fit for me and would be better for my future.” USC and UCLA also watched Wednesday as the best pocket passer in the nation, Bellflower St. John Bosco five-star DJ Uiagalelei signed with Clemson.
Less than two hours after Stroud’s announcement, Flowe spurned overtures from the top programs across the country to stay on the West Coast, but the five-star prospect isn’t staying home to play in Los Angeles. The nation’s top linebacker stood up from behind a table and mulled over Clemson, Miami and Oregon hats before picking the Ducks. A USC hat was on the table, but fittingly tucked behind two microphones as Flowe gazed the other way. It may well have been sitting in another hemisphere.
California boasts 12 prospects in the top 100 of the 2020 recruiting class, per the 247Sports Composite rankings, and 23 in the top 250 nationally.
Oregon signed four of the top 24 players in California, a year after locking up six of the top 22 when the early signing period opened. Last year, USC and UCLA each signed one of the top 22 in the early period. None of the top 25 prospects from the state of California signed with UCLA or USC. Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Arizona State, Oregon and Washington all signed multiple top 25 prospects from the Golden State.
The threat of a talent exodus had grown during the season when USC and UCLA struggled early in the season, but both had some strong games in the second half of the schedule. It didn’t matter. The top Southland talent no longer wants to stay home to play.
Damian Sellers of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro was the jewel of UCLA’s 17-player early signing day class. He is one of seven linebackers to join the Bruins.
“I feel like the schools out here are doing great things,” Stroud said, “but I just think it’s different towards the Midwest, the East, the South. They just cherish their football so much. Not saying anything about the local schools, but those [outsider] schools, they’re just going up and beyond for their players and how they treat their players. I mean, the stadiums are bigger and everybody comes to the game. It’s like a home feeling. It’s not really like an organization feel, it’s just like a family.”
Flowe was considered a Clemson lean for a long time. The cross-country distance seemed to grow as a bigger impediment for Flowe and his family. He ultimately chose to stay in the same time zone, but left the state.
“Clemson was a really good school program-wise, but I think everything else that really factored in was really more on Oregon’s side,” Flowe said, later adding, “USC is a pretty great school, but Oregon was my dream school. That’s why I chose it.”
“Oregon just felt like more of the home environment for me that I’m used to. Just being there and just like feeling like I know everybody on the team and everything, so just feeling like it’s home.”
Flowe and Stroud proved their hometown loyalty the last four years, but the next four, it appears many Southland stars might search for home elsewhere.
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