After seven weeks on the job, USC football Coach Pete Carroll pulled off a recruiting coup Wednesday by landing All-American defensive end Shaun Cody of Los Altos High on the first day seniors could sign letters of intent.
Cody, who had 22 sacks, chose the Trojans over UCLA, Notre Dame and Washington.
"He's a defensive coach and I'm a defensive player, so I felt [USC] was best for me," Cody said. "This was the hardest decision I made in my life. It came down to what I felt was a gut feeling. All four schools were probably in it to the end."
Cody's signing, coupled with Carroll's success in keeping most of USC's commitments before Paul Hackett was fired as coach, left the Trojans excited about their 16-player recruiting class.
Washington and UCLA led Pacific 10 Conference schools with top-10 recruiting classes. Florida State, Louisiana State and Michigan brought in the top classes nationally, according to Orange County-based SuperPrep magazine and Woodland Hills-based PrepStar magazine.
Florida State, which loses Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke, rearmed its offense by signing All-American quarterbacks Joe Mauer from St. Paul, Minn., and Adrian McPherson from Bradenton, Fla. Diamond Bar's Dominic Robinson, regarded as one of the nation's top defensive backs, is expected to sign with the Seminoles today.
UCLA started fast, receiving the majority of its 18 commitments by December, but the Bruins struggled at the end, losing All-American linebacker Michael Craven of La Quinta to Stanford.
Coach Bob Toledo's focus was on bringing in fast, aggressive defensive players, and two of the state's best signed with the Bruins--free safety Matt Ware from Loyola and strong safety Jibril Raymo from Beverly Hills.
Ware, a Parade All-American, fits the mold of former Bruin All-Americans Shaun Williams, Eric Turner and Ken Easley. Coach Steve Grady of Loyola calls Ware the best athlete he has coached in 31 years at the Los Angeles campus. Both of Ware's parents graduated from UCLA.
"My whole life, I've been waiting for this day," Ware said.
Raymo is 6 feet 3, 200 pounds, and recognized for his exceptional tackling skills.
"I think he can play right away," Beverly Hills Coach Carter Paysinger said. "He was a big hitter in high school. He hits like a linebacker."
UCLA signed five offensive linemen, led by 6-7, 285-pound Robert Cleary of Temescal Canyon. He was rated the second-best offensive lineman in the West by one publication.
Toledo still faces recruiting obstacles because of UCLA's erratic play on defense. Last year, the Bruins lost safety Matt Grootegoed of Santa Ana Mater Dei to USC. This year, the loss of Cody to USC and Craven to Stanford prevented the Bruins from having a top-five recruiting class.
"Any time you recruit good football players, you don't get everybody," Toledo said. "Sometimes players grow up wanting to be Trojans, Bruins, trees or whatever. We might not have had those guys a couple weeks ago, but we had them on the rope at the end."
UCLA signed Parade All-American running back Tyler Ebell of Ventura. Ebell, the winner of the Times' Glenn Davis Award, set a national record with 4,494 yards rushing and 64 touchdowns last season.
"I saw him make so many 80-yard touchdowns runs it looked like instant replay," Toledo said. "He's the real deal. He's very strong, very explosive, extremely fast."
Quarterback John Sciarra from La Canada St. Francis is the son of John Sciarra, UCLA's 1976 Rose Bowl most valuable player. The Bruins also signed lineman Matt Mosebar, the nephew of former USC All-American Don Mosebar, and defensive tackle David Tautofi, a junior college transfer who's the cousin of former USC linebacker Junior Seau.
For those wondering if an 18-year absence from the college recruiting game might have hurt Carroll, think again.
Carroll, who last coached a college team at Pacific in 1983 before moving to the NFL, made a positive impression in his meetings with prospective recruits, displaying the affability needed to be successful in the recruiting game.
"I had no problem at all in the transition," Carroll said. "I had a lot of fun at it."
Said Cody: "He was a great recruiter. What impressed me was how personable he seemed to be."
Carroll and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron handled the recruiting of Cody, a 6-5, 255-pounder who had more than 50 sacks in his prep career.
"I think it's enormous," Carroll said of Cody's signing. "This guy is such a high-profile player and has a chance to play early. He's a great kid and a leader."
One of Carroll's first tasks was convincing early USC recruits to stick with the program. Quarterback Matt Leinart from Mater Dei signed with the Trojans after briefly considering Oklahoma. He's a Parade All-American who's expected to challenge redshirt freshman Matt Cassel for the backup spot behind Carson Palmer.