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Leinart, Hart Keeping Options Open

October 31, 2000|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two high-profile Orange County high school quarterbacks committed to USC said Monday they will wait and see whether Trojan Coach Paul Hackett and his assistants are retained before signing letters of intent in February.

"Right now, I'm 100% committed to them," said Mater Dei quarterback Matt Leinart, one of the nation's top recruits. "If Hackett or [offensive coordinator Hue] Jackson leaves, I don't know if I would change my mind, but I might explore other options. As of now, I'm still committed there."

Said Mission Viejo quarterback Billy Hart: "I'm going to play it out and see what happens."

USC, which won its first three games only to lose five in a row to open Pacific-10 Conference play, is off to its worst conference start in school history, and speculation about Hackett's job security has intensified with every defeat.

Leinart and Hart are two of three prominent county football players who have committed to USC. The other, Edison running back Darryl Poston, could not be reached for comment.

Hart and Leinart said one of the main reasons they chose USC was its coaching staff.

"I think a big part of it was Coach Jackson," Leinart said. "I have a good relationship with him, and that could make a big difference if he leaves too."

"I'd like for [Hackett] to stay because I want to go in there with him still being there, but you can only hope for the best," Hart said.

Both players said if Hackett kept his job but the team lost its final four games it would not deter them from keeping their commitments. "I would hope once I got there I could help turn it around with the other recruits," Hart said.

If Hackett is fired, USC would likely continue to pursue all three players because they are coveted recruits. The university would also honor scholarship offers to less-attractive recruits under a new regime, Trojan sports information director Tim Tessalone said.

The signing period for football players begins Feb. 7.

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