USC stuttered at the start, gained long-distance momentum and then tailed off at the end, but the Trojans still did well Wednesday, the first day that high school seniors could sign national letters of intent.
USC, in the first year of scholarship limitations because of NCAA sanctions, put a premium on quality instead of quantity, opting to fill even fewer of their already reduced maximum of 15 when targeted players signed elsewhere.
“We didn’t reach,” Coach Lane Kiffin said.
Instead, USC actually banked a few scholarships as it heads into a three-year period of being allowed to carry only 75 scholarship players on its roster.
By signing 11 high school players and one junior college transfer who will enroll in the fall, Kiffin can bring in three mid-year enrollees next January in addition to the 15 scholarships he will have in 2013.
Kiffin was cagey in declining to specify how many players are currently on scholarship — “I don’t know,” he said — but he implied that several players, including defensive lineman Armond Armstead, would not be on the fall roster. He said others, including quarterback Jesse Scroggins, were dealing with academic issues. The Trojans are thought to be at 78 scholarships, three over the number they must be at by fall.
“I do not foresee it being an issue at all,” Kiffin said of exceeding the limit, adding that some players might no longer be with the program and that some former walk-ons who were awarded scholarships could return to walk-on status.
Despite its low number of signees — the NCAA allows non-sanctioned schools to sign as many as 25 players — the Trojans’ signing class was ranked seventh by Rivals.com, 13th by ESPN.com and 20th by Scout.com.
“For a small class to finish in the top 10 is pretty impressive,” said Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.
USC focused on offensive linemen and kept the three who had verbally committed — 6-foot-6, 295-pound Max Tuerk of Santa Margarita, 6-5, 335-pound Jordan Simmons of Encino Crespi and 6-9, 335-pound Zach Banner of Lakes High in Lakewood (Wash.)
The Trojans, however, lost out on Andrus Peat from Arizona and San Clemente’s Kyle Murphy, both of whom signed with Stanford. They also lost out in a late attempt to flip quarterback Cyler Miles from his commitment to Washington.
“Murphy would have put the bow on the class,” said Brandon Huffman, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, “but considering how few [scholarships] they had to give, they have to be pretty happy.”
USC Athletic Director Pat Haden, drafted into service as a recruiter because the coaching staff was short one full-time assistant, described the class as “sensational” under the circumstances.
Kiffin joked afterward that Haden’s help with Peat and Murphy did not go as anticipated.
“I did my home visits a week before him and we were in first place with Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy,” Kiffin deadpanned. “And then I kind of turned them over to him. Now they’re going to Stanford, so he’s going back to administration.”
Said Haden: “He fired me, thank goodness.”
All joking aside, the Trojans came out ahead.
The day started poorly, though, when defensive lineman Pio Vatuvei, who had verbally committed to the Trojans, signed with Washington.
USC rebounded with a surge from Florida, defensive lineman Leonard Williams from Daytona Beach Mainland High and receiver Nelson Agholor of Tampa Berkeley Prep announcing they were heading west to join the Trojans.
Soon after, Inglewood High defensive back Devian Shelton signed his letter of intent and it became a waiting game for Murphy, who ultimately became part of an outstanding recruiting haul by Stanford.
The drama continued into the afternoon. Carson receiver Darreus Rogers had verbally committed to the Trojans but was reportedly considering an offer from Arizona State. Rogers signed with the Trojans.
Other signees were tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, fullback Jahleel Pinner, linebacker Jabari Ruffin and defensive back Kevon Seymour.
Because he did not enroll as anticipated in January, safety Gerald Bowman of Los Angeles Pierce College also will count against the 2012 class.
Linebacker Scott Starr, offensive lineman Chad Wheeler, defensive linemen DeVante Wilson and Morgan Breslin and safety Josh Shaw, a Florida transfer, enrolled in January and count against the 2011 class.