USC safety T.J. McDonald celebrates after making a fumble recovery during… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
USC safety T.J. McDonald announced Wednesday that he was forgoing the opportunity to make himself available for the NFL draft and would return to USC for his senior season.
McDonald, selected to several All-American teams, said he seriously pondered turning pro but reconsidered once he returned home to Fresno after finals.
"I was gone," he said in a phone interview. "I was ready to chase my dream and go to the NFL and take that on.
"But I started to remember all the reasons I came to 'SC — why I play football, being a competitor and being passionate about the game. I want to finish what I started."
Offensive tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry have said that they will make themselves available for the April draft, leaving quarterback Matt Barkley as the only prominent Trojans junior still undecided.
McDonald said he had spoken to Barkley.
"We're close," McDonald said. "I told him I would love to play with him, but I'm going to support him whatever he decides. He's the biggest piece of the puzzle. He deserves respect and time to make his decision because he has done so much."
McDonald requested and received a pre-draft evaluation from the NFL, but he declined to reveal the projected round. He said the evaluation did not influence his decision to return to the Trojans.
The opportunity to graduate, to be a two-time captain and play in a bowl game next season were contributing factors, as was the chance to be a two-time All-American and Thorpe Award candidate.
"This season was the beginning of something special," he said. "That was sticking with me, that right now I'm in the middle of something special."
After losing Kalil and Perry, USC Coach Lane Kiffin was happy to retain McDonald.
"T.J. and his family did a phenomenal job throughout the decision-making process," Kiffin said in a statement. "As we have done with our other players, we told him we would support whatever decision he made."
Kiffin also announced that high school players Scott Starr and Chad Wheeler and junior college players Gerald Bowman and Morgan Breslin would enroll at USC in January and participate in spring practice.
Starr is a linebacker from Norco High, Wheeler an offensive tackle from Santa Monica High.
Bowman is a safety from Los Angeles Pierce College, Breslin a defensive end from Diablo Valley College.