USC recruits reconsider options
SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- For the past few years, Dillon Baxter had a plan. The nation's top-rated all-purpose back would play in a major all-star game, then return home to San Diego to finish his last few high school tests. Then, in mid-January, he would enroll at USC. He even knew that Hillside, Ill., receiver Kyle Prater, a fellow early enrollee, would be his roommate.
That plan imploded as rumors that Trojans coach Pete Carroll would leave for the Seattle Seahawks inched ever closer to becoming reality. Saturday afternoon, Baxter stood on the Alamodome field after the U.S. Army All-American Bowl with no idea what his next move should be. Baxter, who was named the U.S. Army player of the year after breaking the California record for rushing and passing touchdowns in a season (76) as a senior at Mission Bay High, sounded hurt as he described a meeting between his family and Carroll at Baxter's home about a month ago. "I asked him if he was going to stay," Baxter said. "He looked at me in the eyes and said he was. I guess it's business, if that's what you want to call it."
Now, Baxter will listen to all suitors. "I'm wide open," he said. "I'll talk to any college."
Prater, the nation's top-rated receiver prospect, stood a few yards away from Baxter. He explained that he had planned to fly to Los Angeles from San Antonio to enroll at USC. Now, he'll fly home to suburban Chicago and reassess his options. "All I heard is [Carroll] is gone," Prater said. "I can't go out there now not knowing anything, so I'm going to go home and get with my family and go from there."
Neither the Seahawks nor USC has made an official announcement concerning Carroll's future, and most recruits said they couldn't reach USC coaches. "Their phones were shut off," said Robert Woods, a Gardena, Calif., receiver who is committed to USC. "I'm sure they're getting a lot of calls."
One player did hear from a USC coach. Corona, Calif., defensive back Demetrius Wright committed to the Trojans during the game, and he said he received a voicemail from USC recruiting coordinator Brennan Carroll at halftime. Brennan Carroll is Pete Carroll's son. "He said the rumor is true that he got an offer from there -- Seattle. He's talking to them," Wright said. "He's going to announce it to us on Sunday." Wright said he would attend USC no matter what Pete Carroll decides. "I've always been with SC since I was little. That's my dream school," Wright said. "Pete Carroll wasn't there when it was my dream school, so it really doesn't matter ... if he's there. I would love it if he's still there, but if he goes, that's his decision."
Tailback D.J. Morgan, a USC recruit from Woodland Hills, Calif., said he didn't know what to think. He said USC would remain No. 1 on his list, but if Carroll leaves, he plans to re-evaluate after he learns the identity of the Trojans' new coach. "There's a lot to think about now," Morgan said. "I've got to talk to my family."
Of the 10 players who announced commitments during the game, only one besides Wright had USC as a finalist. Ronald Powell, a defensive end from Moreno Valley, Calif., picked Florida instead of the Trojans. Powell had been scheduled to announce his intention to attend Florida on ESPN late week, but he canceled that announcement after Gators coach Urban Meyer's resignation and subsequent announcement that he would return but take an indefinite leave of absence. By Saturday, Florida's coaching situation, tenuous as it may be, was more stable than USC's.
The most intriguing case is Baxter, who had no contact with any schools other than USC and Michigan. Baxter took an unofficial visit to Ann Arbor, but he never seriously considered the Wolverines. In fact, he said, he committed to USC so early to avoid the precise situation he finds himself in now. Baxter said he must finish a few tests, but then he plans to examine other schools. He said he still plans to enroll at his chosen school for the spring term.
Monday begins a four-day NCAA recruiting dead period that coincides with the American Football Coaches Association Convention, but coaches can begin hosting prospects on campus again beginning Friday. Coaches can begin visiting players' homes again Jan. 17.
By then, Baxter may already be a college student. There remains a chance that school could be USC, but Baxter hinted that if Carroll is gone, so is he. "My whole thing was Pete Carroll and SC," Baxter said. "He turned that whole program around. I really wanted to play under him."