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USC Coach Lane Kiffin focuses on recruiting quality at 'closing time'

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

The new USC coach appears likely to retain most of the prospects former coach Pete Carroll was recruiting, in a class that is expected to be long on talent if short on quantity.

February 03, 2010|By Gary Klein

With national signing day for high school recruits less than 12 hours away, USC Coach Lane Kiffin on Tuesday hastily sat for his media guide portrait in the lobby of Heritage Hall.

Total time with photographer: Less than 30 seconds.

"Every place I'm at for a minute may be a missed call," Kiffin said as he hustled upstairs to his office. "It's closing time."

Six seasons as a USC assistant and one as head coach at Tennessee have made Kiffin cognizant of the importance of finishing recruiting seasons strong.

Kiffin helped build USC into a recruiting juggernaut in the first half of the last decade, and he was on his way to doing the same at Tennessee.

His first test as the Trojans' head coach will be holding onto the small but highly rated recruiting class put together by former coach Pete Carroll.

Top prospects who had verbally committed to USC very publicly took a step back after Carroll left for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. Others looked elsewhere.

But not long after Kiffin's introductory news conference, receiver Kyle Prater of Illinois enrolled as originally planned at USC. The next week, multipurpose standout Dillon Baxter of San Diego also began classes.

When the fax machine starts whirring early Wednesday morning, USC is expected to receive national letters of intent from nearly every player who had verbally committed.

And more.

"It won't necessarily maybe be a large number of signees because it's more important to sign players that we feel are really good players instead of just signing players to sign players for a ranking or for numbers," Kiffin said.

Jeremy Crabtree, national recruiting editor for Rivals.com, said the number of top players still available, combined with others who might switch at the last moment, positions USC for a possible "mammoth" day that could propel it from No. 11 to as high as No. 2.

Looming large is Seantrel Henderson, a 6-foot-8, 335-pound offensive lineman from Minnesota. Henderson was thought to be leaning toward Ohio State, but Kiffin and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron are expected to keep pushing.

"It's the one that would really send a message to everyone in the country that USC is going to be a factor with Lane Kiffin as head coach as they were with Pete Carroll," Crabtree said.

The extroverted Carroll was regarded as one of the best closers in college football recruiting. Kiffin is not as ebullient as his mentor, but recruiting analysts routinely describe him as "fearless" and "relentless."

Kiffin took a media beating when he departed Knoxville after one season for what he called his "dream job" at USC. He left in his wake a string of secondary violations, many related to recruiting.

But Kiffin's reception in recruits' living rooms has differed from the ones he received at news conferences.

"In the media, after he got hired, you couldn't find anything positive," said Greg Biggins, West Coast recruiting analyst for ESPNRise.com. "But the kids and parents we talked to thought they were hiring Vince Lombardi."

USC fans will have to wait and see whether Kiffin, who is 12-21 as a head coach with the Oakland Raiders and at Tennessee, can produce championship teams.

This year's recruiting class features numerous players rated among the best at their positions nationally.

Prater and Gardena Serra High's Robert Woods are among the most highly regarded receivers, and USC is still in the hunt for Markeith Ambles from Georgia.

Lakewood quarterback Jesse Scroggins also is part of a USC class thought to be thin in offensive linemen and linebackers.

Crenshaw's Hayes Pullard, Fontana Kaiser's Josh Shirley and Huntington Beach Edison's Jordan Zumwalt, a Stanford commit, are linebackers who could help shore up at least one area if they choose the Trojans.

Allen Wallace, national recruiting editor for Scout.com, expects Kiffin and Orgeron to finish with a flourish. "We know one thing about both these guys," he said. "They know how to evaluate recruits and close the deal."

gary.klein@latimes.com

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latimes.com /sports

Signing day news

Find out where prep football stars are landing by visiting the Fabulous Forum blog. Staff writers Gary Klein, Chris Foster and Eric Sondheimer provide full coverage.

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