Pete Carroll was on the verge of possibly his most impressive recruiting class. Instead, in the wake of Carroll's probable departure to the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, the Trojans have lost several players who figured to be coming to Troy on signing day. The 2010 class began to unravel at the US Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio on Saturday, a day after the revelation that the legendary Carroll was taking seriously a big-money offer from Paul Allen.
The most famous landmark in San Antonio is the Alamo, where Mexican army forces defeated a much smaller group of Texas soldiers. Although the stakes and cause were far greater in the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, there is a real skirmish going on in college football recruiting wars, and it is USC against the rest of the country's powerhouse schools.
The University of Southern California was very close to doing something amazing. Ryan Abraham, publisher of USCFootball.com, told me, "USC was in the discussion for an unprecedented run at all of the top six guys in the country, according to Rivals.com. They had No. 2 and No. 3 committed and were in on the rest. Carroll had a chance to make history."
Top high school football prospects as rated by Rivals:
No. 1. Seantrel Henderson, OL, St. Paul, Minn.
No. 2. Kyle Prater, WR, Hillside, Ill.
No. 3. Robert Woods, WR, Gardena, Calif.
No. 4. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Temple, Texas
No. 5. Ronald Powell, DE, Moreno Valley, Calif.
No. 6. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Plano, Texas
That dream has faded. Ronald Powell, a five-star recruit from Rancho Verde High in Moreno Valley, officially committed to Florida on Saturday in San Antonio. That's not a huge surprise. Garry Paskwietz of WeAreSC.com says "sometimes a player and a program really connect, and that's what happened with Powell and Florida." But, the big blow from Saturday's game is that wide receiver Kyle Prater will not be coming to Los Angeles on Monday as planned.
Prater is a 6-foot-5, 205-pound receiver from Proviso West High near Chicago. He had three receptions for 32 yards in Saturday's game, but that's not how he made news. Instead, he got headlines by changing his travel itinerary. The No. 2 overall prospect in the country according to Rivals (and No. 43 according to the ESPN 150) was set to enroll at USC on Monday, begin taking classes, and be on campus for spring ball. Now he has cold feet, and who can blame him? He is returning home to re-evaluate his decision.
That doesn't mean USC can't reel Prater back in, but you can bet he will be getting phone calls from plenty of big-name college coaches, including Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, Mack Brown at BCS runner-up Texas and Nick Saban at BCS champion Alabama. Those schools all were heavily recruiting Prater before he committed to USC and Carroll.
The good news from the Alamodome is that USC's other prized recruit at receiver, Robert Woods from Serra High in Gardena, made it clear he is sticking by his choice. Woods is the No. 3 overall player as rated by Rivals and No. 23 on the ESPN 150.
Offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson from Minnesota has long been considered a sure thing for USC, although he had not committed. Paskwietz now considers him to be more of a jump ball: "The Trojans are still in it, but Ohio State scares me." USC also remains in the hunt for both tailback Lache Seastrunk and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat from Texas, but the question now will be "Who will be doing the hunting for college football's West Coast power?"
Seastrunk has been heavily recruited by a pair of Pacific-10 Conference schools, Oregon and California, and he also is a target of Louisiana State and Auburn. Meanwhile, Jeffcoat -- whose father Jim played many years as a defensive end in the NFL -- could easily stay in-state and play for Brown at Texas or stay in the neighborhood and play for Stoops in Norman, Okla. Jeffcoat also made an official visit to Arizona State in November.
Carroll's potential departure comes at an absolutely critical time. Athletic director Mike Garrett needs to make certain that Carroll's decision -- one way or the other -- comes quickly. Then, if Carroll is gone, the Trojans must be deliberate but quick in hiring a new coach. Regardless of who takes control, USC's recruiting class will probably rank in the range of No. 10 to No. 15, though with the right hire a top-five class is still possible.
The name that comes up over and over with all of my USC contacts is Ed Orgeron. He is the associate head coach/recruiting coordinator for Lane Kiffin at Tennessee and would be a brilliant choice to become the Trojans' next defensive coordinator. He is one of the most compelling recruiters I have ever been around. He might be the guy to help seal the deal with Henderson, Prater and Jeffcoat. Some of Orgeron's "bayou charm" might be just what the situation calls for.
Also on Saturday in San Antonio, cornerback Demetrius Wright from Corona High committed to USC. "USC was always the place he wanted to be," Paskwietz said. "He said it throughout the recruiting." Abraham said Wright's announcement might "pave the way" for other kids who might be on the fence about USC. Wright is ranked No. 61 in the ESPN 150.
Both Abraham and Paskwietz report that running back Dillon Baxter of Mission Bay High in San Diego is "really broken up" about the news of Carroll's potential jump to the NFL. He ran for 1,258 yards and 16 touchdowns and had four other touchdown receptions last season and is rated No. 22 overall by Rivals and No. 135 on the ESPN 150. Ultimately, hopes are high that he will still find his way to Heritage Hall. Paskwietz puts the odds at "better than 50-50," especially given that he "committed two years ago and has been a USC fan his whole life."
Steve Mason is co-host of the "Mason & Ireland" show on 710 ESPN Radio in Los Angeles.