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93rd ROSE BOWL | USC 32, MICHIGAN 18

Jarrett isn't tipping his hand yet

Receiver says he is still considering whether to turn pro or remain at USC for his senior year.

January 02, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

The question of the game was obvious: Will USC receiver Dwayne Jarrett stay or go? He says that he's not sure and that he's weighing the decision to leave early for the NFL or stay for his senior season. But the answer could be in his eyes.

Or just below them.

In the Rose Bowl, the star receiver wore black eye strips that bore a message. They read "Tri" and "$tate," a gold-plated shout-out to his family and friends back in New Jersey.

"My family, that's the first thing that comes to mind," said Jarrett, who stole the spotlight Monday with 11 catches for a career-best 205 yards and two touchdowns and was chosen offensive player of the game. "I've been here for three years now. I've had great success here, but at the same time it's not definite. There's nothing written in stone. So when I go back home, we'll definitely talk about it, get all the facts and try to make the best decision for me."

He doesn't have the luxury of time. The NFL requires that he make his decision by Jan. 15, so the clock is ticking. If he were to come out early, Jarrett would be among the top three or four receivers in the draft and, several informed sources say, he could be selected around the middle of the first round.

A top scout for an NFC team said that Jarrett's stock isn't likely to improve dramatically if he stays another season and that "it's hard not to like a guy that's 6-5 who can run after the catch."

The scout, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Jarrett could blend into just about any style of pro offense, even though he doesn't have the route-running precision or blistering speed of some other elite receivers.

"He'll fit a West Coast offense that looks for those guys who can create separation underneath," he said. "And he can stretch the field vertically even though he's not a blazer."

Michigan's secondary certainly had a difficult time keeping pace with him. Jarrett showed his knack for making clutch catches in traffic, and had the breakaway speed to pull away from defenders on a 62-yard catch and run.

"He has good speed," said Michigan cornerback Leon Hall, also expected to be a first-round pick. "And all of his other talents too helps him get that separation.... He's pretty much Dwayne Jarrett, as advertised. I knew he was good before this game, but after today? Definitely."

The real separation Jarrett needs to achieve is the type he needs to distance himself from Mike Williams, who left USC early and was drafted in the first round by Detroit, where this season he was deactivated for half of the Lions' games.

"I think everybody's different," said Jarrett, who became USC's career receptions leader with 216, breaking Keary Colbert's mark of 207. "That doesn't weigh in at all. He was a great player when he was here. He decided to leave early.... I heard he scored his first touchdown [of the season], so things are looking up for him."

Last month, Keyshawn Johnson said he would advise Jarrett to stay put, adding that he had told Williams the same thing and Williams didn't listen.

Johnson knows something about elevating one's stock with a Rose Bowl performance.

Against Northwestern in the 1996 Rose Bowl, he made 12 catches for a -record 216 yards.

So Jarrett is in lofty company. And even one of his closest teammates seems to be coming around to the notion that No. 8 might not be in a Trojans uniform next season.

"I think everyone could benefit from him staying around," quarterback John David Booty said. "It gives him an extra season for his body, a year older, but he's already dominated this college level pretty successfully. It's going to be hard to get him back.

"But," he added with a smile, "I would love to have him."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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