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USC's needs mean opportunities for JC transfers

Offensive linemen Jeremy Galten and David Garness are among four junior college players signed by football Coach Lane Kiffin and staff to address depth issues.

March 24, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • USC offensive lineman and junior college transfer David Garness, center, takes part in a team practice session on Thursday.
USC offensive lineman and junior college transfer David Garness, center,… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

For Jeremy Galten, it's a dream come true.

Same for David Garness.

Neither offensive lineman attracted a single scholarship offer while in high school.

Now both are key components to USC's spring practice — and perhaps the 2011 season.

They are among three junior college transfers that signed with the Trojans in December and enrolled in January. Galten, Garness and linebacker Dallas Kelley are participating in workouts; a fourth player, defensive back Isiah Wiley, is scheduled to arrive this summer.

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USC Coach Lane Kiffin said after practice Thursday that an influx of JC players is not part of the "blueprint we have for success" at USC, but that opportunity and major depth issues opened the door for transfers, especially those able to enroll in January and participate in spring workouts.

"It made them more valuable," Kiffin said. "More marketable."

USC went the JC route to make up for a shortfall in a 2010 recruiting class that included only 16 players. The class grew even smaller when offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson and linebacker Glen Stanley requested and were granted releases from their letters of intent.

Those moves, coupled with USC's already thin numbers at linebacker and on the offensive line, sent USC coaches in search of JC players who could qualify academically for midyear enrollment.

The reason: January enrollees count against the previous year's recruiting class. Had USC not filled those spots, it would have lost the chance to fill them. And Kiffin and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron would have turned their focus to high school players.

Last month, Kiffin said of the JC transfers, "They definitely are in a unique time. You're coming to one of the greatest places in all of college football to play, [a place] that normally isn't necessarily looking in your direction."

Said Greg Biggins, West Coast recruiting analyst for ESPNRise.com: "USC typically tells guys, 'We don't recruit you unless we think you can play in the NFL.' But because of attrition and scholarship reductions they had to get these guys to add depth."

Auburn showed last season that JC transfers can do more than serve as backups for championship teams.

Four JC transfers — Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton, All-American defensive tackle Nick Fairley, offensive tackle Brandon Mosley and cornerback Demond Washington — started for the Tigers in their Bowl Championship Series title-game victory over Oregon.

"You never know what you may get," Auburn Coach Gene Chizik said before the game. "It is … a little bit of a different dynamic when you are dealing with junior college players, simply because there [are] a lot of circumstances out there.

"So you've got to get the right guy, not just the right player."

USC, of course, has benefited from JC transfers.

Tailback O.J. Simpson, for example, came to USC from City College of San Francisco and helped coach John McKay win a national championship in 1967. A year later, he won the Heisman Trophy.

Running back Lynn Cain starred at East Los Angeles College before helping the Trojans and coach John Robinson win a national title in 1978.

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Kicker Ryan Killeen and offensive linemen John Drake and Taitusi Lutui played key roles on national championship teams during the Pete Carroll era.

Galten and Garness, with much to prove, hope they can do the same.

"Out of high school," the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Galten said, "there were D-III schools that wouldn't even take me."

But Galten showed promise in two seasons at College of San Mateo.

"When I figured out I could be a midyear qualifier, it went pretty quickly and [USC] gave me an offer," he said.

Garness, 6-5, 290, went to high school in Alaska, where major college recruiters rarely venture.

"I'd call schools and they just kind of ignore you and not call you back," he said.

Last fall, however, depth-starved USC called Garness' coaches before the season at City College of San Francisco to arrange for a visit.

"It was kind of a shocker for me," Garness said. "My coaches said that's unheard of" for USC.

Both linemen credit their JC coaches for molding them into players worthy of a USC scholarship. And they are counting on USC's staff to continue their development.

"We're here to show them we can play," Galten said.

Kiffin hopes that's the case.

"We're going to need them," he said.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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