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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

It's almost time to put it on paper

Letter-of-intent day for football is Wednesday and USC is landing the top Southland recruit.

February 01, 2010|Eric Sondheimer

Wednesday is letter-of-intent day for high school football players, and even though Pete Carroll is gone from USC, he left a gift that Trojans fans are going to be grateful for -- Gardena Serra receiver Robert Woods.

Woods is unequivocally the best football player in Southern California, a talent so good I'm certain he'll make an immediate contribution to the Trojans in the fall catching passes and returning punts and kickoffs as a freshman.

Even better is his character. He took unofficial recruiting visits to other schools during the summer, but once he committed to USC in August, he didn't waver. Yes, Carroll's presence helped him make his decision, but Carroll's departure to the NFL's Seattle Seahawks didn't cause Woods to question his choice. After all, he smartly decided that he wasn't going to a school solely for the coach.

"There's a chance you could get hurt and not play again," Woods said. "I always looked at it if I got hurt, would I still enjoy the school?"

The new USC coaching staff appears to be holding those players who previously committed to Carroll, but Woods is the crown jewel. Blessed with speed, elusiveness, great hands and a strong work ethic, he has the total package to succeed. And he's not into hyping himself waiting until the last minute to announce his college choice on TV.

He purposely took only one official visit -- to USC. He didn't get to enjoy all those free meals that he would have had if he had gone on several visits.

"I didn't want to waste their time or take someone's spot," he said. "There's going to be lots of food at USC."

Woods intends to compete in track this spring for Serra, running in the 200, 400 and both relays. He's also still friends with his football coach, Scott Altenberg, a UCLA graduate who would have preferred that Woods pick the school in Westwood.

"He just wants me to go where it fits me best," Woods said. "He said if I go to USC, he'll cheer for me."

Except when USC plays UCLA.

What has been interesting about this month's recruiting process is that USC has lost its monopoly in Southern California. Back when new recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron was running things for the Trojans in 2002, 2003 and 2004, all he needed to do was identify a prospect, make a scholarship offer and he'd usually get him. UCLA rarely put up a fight.

But there's a crack in the Trojans' recruiting armor, and the Bruins are taking advantage. Anthony Barr from Los Angeles Loyola, Cassius Marsh from Westlake Village Oaks Christian and Malcolm Jones from Oaks Christian are breakthrough recruits for UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel, who has made it clear the Bruins are going to compete for the best in the Southland.

There's still plenty of players waiting until Wednesday to reveal their choices, including defensive back Dietrich Riley of La CaƱada St. Francis, linebacker Josh Shirley of Fontana Kaiser and defensive back Anthony Jefferson of Los Angeles Cathedral.

For those who want to stay home and watch nonstop recruiting coverage on TV, ESPNU will have coverage starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. Prime Ticket will have a live show starting at noon, with Jefferson, Shirley and tight end Christian Thomas from Palmdale Highland announcing their college choices.

And it's not too early to start looking at next year's class.

One player who already has the college recruiters salivating is defensive lineman-tight end Troy Niklas of Anaheim Servite.

"He's 6-6, 255 pounds and lean," Coach Troy Thomas said. "He looks like he should be in college right now."

And, as good as Woods is, Serra will have another receiver heavily recruited next season in George Farmer, who might replace Woods as the No. 1 target in the Southland.

Has recruiting coverage gone over the top? Absolutely. But college football fans keep demanding more and more information on how their favorite teams are faring, and the media keeps escalating coverage.

So get ready for a wild Wednesday.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATsondheimer

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