Sam Darnold insists he hasn’t made up his mind about leaving USC for NFL

USC quarterback Sam Darnold is named most valuable player of the Pac-12 championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Dec. 1.
(Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

If Sam Darnold has said it once, he’s said it a million times.

But just for emphasis, USC’s sophomore quarterback said it nearly a dozen more times Wednesday: He hasn’t decided whether he’ll play in college or the NFL next season.

“[I’m] taking everything into consideration,” said Darnold, who won’t announce a decision until after Friday’s Cotton Bowl game with No. 5 Ohio State. “[I’ll] talk to my coaches, talk to my parents, obviously. But I’m not going to do that until after the bowl game.”

Even as Darnold was insisting he hasn’t made a decision, there are people who are convinced the choice has been made. So when he slipped into the past tense Wednesday morning while answering more than 40 minutes worth of questions about his future, that was quickly seen as a sign he’d made a decision.


The recent announcement that Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback J.T. Daniels, who shares a private coach with Darnold, was leaving high school a year early to enroll at USC was also interpreted as evidence that Darnold had decided to leave.

However, Tee Martin, USC’s offensive coordinator, said he’s waiting until after Friday to sit down with Darnold to discuss the future. Martin said he’s confident his quarterback, a likely early first-round pick in next spring’s draft should he declare for the NFL, would find success wherever he plays.

“He’s very aggressive. If there’s a little hole to get the ball in there, he’s going to try to get that ball in that hole,” Martin said. “He sees things really fast. His process of elimination is uncanny. And he can do it all. Whether it’s the legs, whether it’s the throws — deep throws, intermediate throws — seeing the pressures …

“His ability to manage the magnitude of things and still perform on Saturdays has been really good. To a professional level.”


Platform heals

The uncertainty over Darnold’s future has made him a lightning rod for media attention most of the year. But the quarterback said the attention can have an upside if managed properly.

“There are certain things as a player that you’d rather just not do,” he said. “At the same time, it does give you a platform to be able to have a say in a matter that you might find near and dear to your heart. You can use … being the starting quarterback at USC to be able to make in change in something.”

Darnold declined to identify what matter near and dear to his heart he was referring to, but he joined teammates Wednesday afternoon in visiting the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.

“To be able to have an impact just because of the platform that we’re on I think is really important,” he said. “It’s awesome to be able to do things like that.”

Keeping up with Jones

Darnold, who has passed for 3,787 yards and 26 touchdowns this season, has been the focus of the Ohio State defense in preparation for the Cotton Bowl. But Greg Schiano, the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator, said running back Ronald Jones II may be USC’s most impressive offensive weapon.

“[Jones] is phenomenal,” Schiano said. “He has an incredible feel right before he gets tackled. Not a lot of kids that you see in college football do this.”


Jones, who rushed for 1,486 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, is also fast, having covered 100 meters in 10.27 seconds in high school.

“He kind of takes what you call a raise step right before he gets hit and really delivers a blow,” Schiano said. “You don’t see a lot of guys that are able to do that. That’s kind of a gift.

“And if you make a mistake, he’s gone.”

Asked if he thinks he gets overlooked in the attention Darnold draws, Jones said no.

“But,” he added quickly, “if that is the case, that is a good thing.”

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11