USC defensive end Nick Perry, right, tries to block a pass from Utah quarterback… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
And then there were two.
All-American tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry are bound for the NFL, so USC is hoping that two other prominent draft-eligible juniors — quarterback Matt Barkley and safety T.J. McDonald — decide to return for a final season of eligibility.
Players have until mid-January to declare for the April draft.
Perry, who led the Pac-12 Conference with 91/2 sacks, was long regarded as the most likely to turn pro, especially after completing a season without a major injury for the first time in his Trojans career.
Perry has declined interview requests and could not be reached for comment Friday, but he informed USC coaches of his decision last week, said several people close to the situation.
Kalil, regarded by some as the top tackle prospect in the draft, told The Times on Thursday that he would turn pro. "It's time to move on," he said.
On Friday, Coach Lane Kiffin said in a statement that he supported Kalil's decision.
"Matt was thorough in his research and made a decision that is the right one for him," Kiffin said. "He is ready for the NFL. He will be a very high draft pick and will have a long, successful career."
Kalil also released a statement, saying it was "very tempting" to return to USC. Had all four juniors returned, the Trojans would have been regarded as a potential front-runner for a Bowl Championship Series title.
"I came to the conclusion that I can be the No. 1 tackle drafted, and you can't go any higher than that," Kalil said. "Now is the right time to go. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I have to take it.
"I was fortunate to play with a great group of teammates. We had a special bond, which I'll never forget. I am especially proud that we helped get USC back among the top teams in the nation. The future here is very bright."