Seantrel Henderson, the nation's biggest — and by many ratings, the best — major-college football recruit, didn't show up for summer school classes at USC this week.
Instead, he remained at home in Minnesota, igniting renewed speculation that he might ask to be released from his scholarship and prompting Trojans coaches to make their second trip to see him in just the last few weeks.
Henderson, a 6-foot-8 offensive tackle who weighs in at well over 300 pounds, is vacillating about his decision and perhaps considering playing for Miami or Ohio State, according to various reports, though neither he nor his father has been quoted saying much more than no comment.
On Thursday, Coach Lane Kiffin described how USC was having to "basically re-recruit" Henderson but expressed confidence the player would eventually join the Trojans.
"Sometimes I think I know his main concern and then it seems to change the next day," Kiffin said. "Every other freshman has got here when they were supposed to and is sticking with it."
Henderson, who attended St. Paul Cretin-Derham High, could not be reached for comment. He committed to the Trojans on national signing day in February, but, because of what his father said was concern about the then-pending NCAA investigation into USC football, he did not sign a letter of intent until late March — after USC officials appeared before the NCAA Committee on Infractions.
After sanctions that included a two-year bowl ban were announced in June, Kiffin and several assistants traveled to Minnesota to reassure Henderson.
"Things seemed to end extremely well at that point," Kiffin said. "The anticipation at that time was for him to be out here this week to start school."
When Henderson failed to show up, Kiffin dispatched several assistants, including his father, Monte, and offensive line coach James Cregg, to meet again with Henderson.
"It's unfortunate because being a big guy and a lineman, the off-season workout is so critical for this guy," Kiffin said. "When we saw him, he was 355 pounds, so unfortunately for him he's not only missing out on academics but missing out on preparing himself to play."
NCAA rules require players to sit out a season if they are not released by the school that signed them. Last year, with controversy swirling about its basketball program, USC granted releases to three basketball recruits.
If USC fails to retain to Henderson, the program could suffer ramifications down the road.
"It's more important from a perception standpoint than Xs and O's right away," said Jeremy Crabtree, national recruiting editor for Rivals.com. "When you go out and land one of the most heralded players … that grabs headlines.
"To lose him after the sanctions, that could be something that hurts them down the road recruiting. To keep him sends the signal that everything is going to be all right."
However, Kiffin dismissed the notion that holding on to Henderson is important because of perception.
"It's critical for us because we only signed two offensive linemen," Kiffin said. "He's a great prospect — probably the best O-line prospect we've ever seen. That's why it's critical, not because of perception, because he helps our team and this a great fit for him."
Despite the drama, Kiffin remains hopeful that Henderson will play for the Trojans.
"I hope in the end Seantrel sees what every other freshman in this class has… that one or two games isn't why you choose a university," Kiffin said. "They didn't come to SC because of a bowl game the first or second year. They came here because of the education; they came here because of the football program."
Ed Orgeron, USC's recruiting coordinator, is similarly optimistic.
"There's no question in my mind that I know USC is the best decision for Seantrel and his family," Orgeron said. "He always wanted to come here, and I think once he gets on campus and visits again with coaches and teammates in the No. 1 recruiting class, which he helped recruit, he's going to be here."