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USC safety Dion Bailey opts to enter NFL draft a year early

The fourth-year junior, who already has a degree, says leaving school now is his best move. Several other draft-eligible players could also depart.

December 23, 2013|By Gary Klein
  • Hawaii's Donnie King Jr., right, is upended in front of USC safety Dion Bailey during the Trojans' season-opening win.
Hawaii's Donnie King Jr., right, is upended in front of USC safety… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Dion Bailey hinted at it for weeks.

On Monday, the USC safety made it official.

Bailey announced that he would forgo his final season of eligibility and make himself available for the NFL draft.

"With me graduating and having my degree already, and being healthy and coming off a really good season, I feel it's best for me to enter the draft now," he said during a news conference at the university's John McKay Center.

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Bailey, a fourth-year junior, intercepted five passes this season, 11 in his career. He started the previous two seasons at linebacker.

Bailey is one of several draft-eligible Trojans who will be deciding in the next few weeks whether to turn pro or remain at USC. Junior receiver Marqise Lee is projected as a possible first-round draft pick and is expected to make himself available for the draft.

Bailey said he had met with new Coach Steve Sarkisian before the Las Vegas Bowl and that Sarkisian told him he would support whatever decision Bailey made.

Bailey said he did not request a draft evaluation from the NFL but did speak with former Trojans in the league, including Buffalo Bills cornerback Nickell Robey, who left USC a year early after last season and went undrafted.

Robey signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills and is playing a significant role for the team.

"It shows me where you're drafted doesn't matter," Bailey said. "So I'm not nervous about the draft anymore.

"The higher you're drafted, the better it is when it comes to money, but really, when it comes to talent and productivity on the field, where you're drafted doesn't matter because at the end of the day only 11 people can go on the field. And they're going to put the best 11 out there.

"So I'm just praying and hoping for an opportunity, that one team believes in me enough to give me an opportunity to show them what I can do."

Bailey was one of several draft-eligible defensive starters.

Junior lineman George Uko, junior linebacker Hayes Pullard and junior defensive back Josh Shaw also are mulling whether to turn pro.

Before USC's Las Vegas Bowl victory over Fresno State, Shaw stumped for Sarkisian to retain defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Shaw said Pendergast's status could influence players' decisions whether to stay or leave.

Shaw, who intercepted a pass in the end zone during the 45-20 victory, continued to praise Pendergast after the game.

Offensive coordinator Clay Helton and Tee Martin are remaining on the staff and Sarkisian has hired three former Washington assistants — Johnny Nansen, Keith Heyward and Peter Sirmon. Sarkisian has said he would announce other hires in the coming weeks.

Sarkisan's choices on the offensive side could also influence players' decisions.

Javorius Allen, a third-year sophomore who blossomed into the team's most valuable player under running backs coach Tommie Robinson, is draft eligible.

Sarkisian has not announced who will coach running backs.

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

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