USC will feature incoming freshman Max Wittek, another former Mater Dei… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
USC, taking advantage of a loophole that could ease the immediate sting of NCAA penalties while also adding depth, expects to welcome nine new players for the start of spring-semester classes Monday.
The swell — only a few players each year have typically enrolled at USC in January — comes in the aftermath of sanctions that reduce scholarships for three years. By enticing players to enroll early, USC can count them against its 2010 recruiting class rather than 2011, which will be limited to a maximum of 15, pending the school's Jan. 22 hearing before the NCAA's Infractions Appeals Committee.
Lane Kiffin, coming off an 8-5 season and completing his first year as head coach, said a lack of depth at several positions contributed to the aggressive approach. The new players are eligible to participate in spring practice, which starts in March.
"It was very apparent that we had depth issues and that we should not wait 'til the fall," Kiffin said last week. "We had the ability to get some guys and count them back. That's why we did it and we think we helped ourselves."
USC, which can carry only 75 scholarship players for the next three years, is in position to bring in a large midyear class because only 14 new players enrolled last fall, well below the maximum of 25. More roster spots opened when others transferred.
Kiffin announced last month that nine players had either signed financial-aid agreements or, in the case of junior college transfers, letters of intent.
Quarterbacks Max Wittek and Cody Kessler were among a group that includes offensive linemen David Garness and Jeremy Galten, linebacker Dallas Kelley, cornerback Isiah Wiley, fullback Soma Vainuku, kicker Andre Heidari and long snapper Peter McBride.
Garness, Galten, Kelly and Wiley are junior college transfers. Vainuku signed with the Trojans in 2010 but did not qualify academically.
Under former coach Pete Carroll, USC usually attracted one or two early enrollees each year. Junior quarterback Matt Barkley and sophomore running back Dillon Baxter are players who took that path.
Identifying, enticing and signing players capable of completing coursework so they can graduate early from high school or transfer mid-year from a junior college is more difficult than it appears, said Greg Biggins, West Coast recruiting analyst for ESPNRise.com.
"As a high school player, you basically have to know at least a year in advance so you can start stacking your [class] schedule," he said. "And the school has to make sure kids want to do that and that their school and district will allow them to."
Linemen Garness and Galten will provide immediate depth to a position group that was under-recruited during the final years of Carroll's tenure. Redshirt sophomores Kevin Graf and John Martinez and redshirt freshman Giovanni Di Poalo were the only offensive linemen signed in the previous two classes.
The next signing period begins Feb. 2.
Kiffin and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron are no strangers to early enrollment. After Tennessee hired him following the 2008 season, Kiffin said the Volunteers attracted 10 players who enrolled immediately for the spring semester.
Selling junior college players on an opportunity at USC was not difficult, Kiffin said.
"They saw our depth issues," he said, "and I think it became very apparent to guys that this was a different age of SC football compared to when we were here before — when there were guys in every class waiting to step in."