A tearful Dwayne Jarrett announced Wednesday that he would give up his final year of eligibility at USC and make himself available for the NFL draft.
"The biggest factor I think is the challenge, just so I could compete," said Jarrett, a two-time All-American. "Coach [Pete] Carroll always talks about competing; that's our motto here."
The rangy 6-foot-5 receiver will forever be known for his clutch, fourth-and-nine catch at Notre Dame in 2005 and for his Rose Bowl performance less than two weeks ago when he made 11 receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns in the Trojans' 32-18 victory over Michigan.
About five minutes into his news conference, Jarrett was asked to identify the highlight of his career, during which he won two national championships and played in three Bowl Championship Series bowl games.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday January 12, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
USC football: An article in Thursday's Sports section said that receiver Dwayne Jarrett played on two national championship teams with the Trojans. He played on one, as a freshman in 2004.
"The highlight was just to be with my teammates. That was the most difficult thing for me," he said as tears filled his eyes.
Jarrett stepped away from the microphones to compose himself and was hugged by his mother, Camille, and cousin, Chris Ruffin, who has served as a mentor since Jarrett arrived from New Jersey as a homesick 17-year-old freshman.
"My teammates," Jarrett continued. "I love those guys. ... It's hard, but I have to do what's best for me and my family."
Jarrett, who caught 70 passes and scored 12 touchdowns this season, was thought to be leaning toward turning pro since the end of last season when five juniors, including running backs Reggie Bush and LenDale White, made themselves available for the draft. But he said he did not make a final decision until Monday when he sat down with his mother.
"I'm definitely doing it for my family, because I wasn't the most fortunate kid growing up," he said.
Said Camille, who late in the season had expressed her desire for Dwayne to stay in school and earn his degree: "I allow Dwayne to really make decisions on what he felt strongly. At the end of the day I didn't want it to be that I made the choice for him and then I had to live with it not being as he thought it might have turned out to be."
Jarrett interviewed prospective agents Monday and Tuesday in New Jersey but said he had not hired or decided upon a representative.
Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson, another junior who is forgoing his final season of college eligibility, is widely considered the top receiver in the draft. But Carroll said Jarrett's decision to turn pro was based on the projection that he would be a first-round pick.
"Could he have bettered himself by staying another year? Of course he could have. And could have he made more money? Sure," Carroll said. "But at this time he has accomplished a tremendous amount. He's been a great football player in a winning program."
Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who recruited Jarrett out of New Brunswick, N.J., and tutored him as receivers coach, said in a phone interview that he wished Jarrett well: "The way he finished off the season and played in the bowl game, it's apparent he'll be one of the top picks and a great pro."
Jarrett finished his career as USC's all-time receptions leader with 216 and as the Pacific 10 Conference's all-time leader in touchdown receptions with 41.
The departure of Jarrett and seniors Steve Smith and Chris McFoy leaves Patrick Turner as the Trojans' most experienced receiver.
The 6-foot-5 Turner, who will be a junior next season, caught 29 passes and scored two touchdowns this season.
Jarrett arrived from New Jersey in the summer of 2004 and struggled with homesickness.
USC was fortunate he stayed. On the day the Trojans were leaving for their opener against Virginia Tech at Landover, Md., the NCAA announced that USC's petition to reinstate All-American Mike Williams' eligibility had been denied.
Jarrett struggled in the opener, but caught touchdown passes in the next two games and burst onto the national scene at midseason by catching three touchdown passes against Arizona State. He capped the season with a 54-yard touchdown reception from Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart in the BCS title game against Oklahoma and finished the season with a team-best 55 catches, 13 for touchdowns.
In 2005, Jarrett scored 16 touchdowns and caught 91 passes, none more dramatic than the 61-yard reception at Notre Dame that set up Leinart's game-winning sneak.
Last summer, the NCAA declared Jarrett ineligible because of a living arrangement during the 2005 season. Leinart and Jarrett each paid $650 to live in a $3,866-a-month downtown apartment. Leinart's father paid the balance.
Jarrett was reinstated in August with the stipulation that he pay about $5,000 to charity.