By Pete Donovan, The Lott IMPACT Trophy
As they say, this is not your father’s USC football roster. Gone are the days when the Trojan stars were locally grown in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Orange County, Riverside and maybe an occasional trip to the San Diego area to get Marcus Allen or Junior Seau.
They arrived at Heritage Hall, strapped on the cardinal and gold and played for four years.
The Trojans rarely even recruited junior college players with the notable exception of one Orenthal James Simpson from San Francisco City College.
All their Heisman winners were from California – Mike Garrett from L.A.’s Roosevelt High, O.J. from San Francisco, Charlie White from the San Fernando Valley, Allen from San Diego’s Lincoln High, Carson Palmer from Santa Margarita in Orange County, Matt Leinart from Mater Dei High in Santa Ana and Reggie Bush from Helix High in San Diego.
But look at their roster today. Thanks in large part to the transfer portal that allows college players to be virtual free agents all the time, USC has 24 transfer players – and counting. Coach Lincoln Riley says they are not done, looking to add more transfers later this spring.
The transfers come from 15 different colleges across the country – Colorado, Auburn, Virginia, Washington, Oregon, Texas and Oklahoma among them. These are now your Trojans, the new guys in town. Strangers in shoulder pads. Most of them couldn’t find the 405 Freeway without a GPS.
Of course this has generated lots of enthusiasm in the faithful. Some of the transfers – like quarterback Caleb Williams from Oklahoma – are among the best players in the nation, giving new hope to a program that has scuffled along in recent years.
“We didn’t take players from Oklahoma,” Riley told TV host Colin Cowherd. “We took players from the transfer portal. Those players and their families had to make a decision to either stay at that university, just like any other player has to make, or to enter the portal where then they can be recruited by anybody in the country. That’s up to those players and their families and we have nothing to do with that.”
It is not just USC, of course. Six players on 2021 All-American teams were transfers; 10 on the All-SEC team began college at another school.
And you can’t let your guard down. A player who originally did not choose your school might just come back if lines of communication stay open and positive.
“Sometimes you get in these heated battles,” an SEC coach said. “You can easily get mad at the kid in the end, but it’s just better to always take the high road. With the portal, it’s even more important these days.”
This 365-day recruiting process will become more and more draining on college coaches. A player could become disgruntled at any moment for any reason and pick up and enter the portal, forcing the coach to re-recruit him. Maybe over and over, too.
Good or bad, the transfer portal is the newest wrinkle in this grand old game.