Troy Polamalu story shows 3-star recruits why heart and character matter most


LOS ANGELES – As it pertains to the Class of 2016, the USC Trojans and Steve Sarkisian are again in the midst a very promising recruiting run; yet there are some skeptics that are overly concerned regarding the amount of “stars” currently attached to some of the recent verbal commitments.

This cause for “star” paranoia, however, should be tempered by two words: Troy Polamalu. he future Pro Football Hall of Famer and former two-time Trojans All-America safety was once a three-star recruiting prospect himself and proved that star-ranking systems can only be realistically measured on the field of play.

Polamalu is one USC player who should remind recruiting followers that players can’t just be judged solely as athletes because character and heart are a big part of the equation.

It has been well-documented how Polamalu left the mean streets of Santa Ana, California, to the quiet and relatively isolated environment of Douglas High in Tenmile, Oregon. While his football acumen was known in his new prep environment, it seems that Polamalu’s resume was such that he was, well, almost invisible to most big-time programs.

That all changed, of course, when his uncle, Kennedy Polamalu, a USC assistant coach at the time, convinced former Trojans head coach Paul Hackett to give his clandestine football nephew a scholarship opportunity. It’s probable that in today’s world of high school evaluation camps and national all-star games, somebody like Polamalu might not be as readily overlooked or vastly undervalued.

Polamalu represents a recruiting blueprint of how you’d want all your football recruits to be, on and off the field. Hard-working from the time he stepped onto the USC campus, Polamalu performed like a warrior with class and dignity, helping Pete Carroll resurrect a moribund collegiate giant. It’s safe to say that Polamalu was a major catalyst for the Trojans returning to the halcyon days of John McKay.

He was USC’s team MVP in 2001 and Most Inspirational Player in 2002. This three-star recruit was also a two-time All-Pac-10 first-team selection.

He wasn't a three-star prospect in the eyes of NFL scouts when his USC career was completed. Polamalu was drafted 16th overall in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers and spent 12 glorious professional seasons with the Steelers. A lock for the pro and college halls of fame, Polamalu became great because he wanted to become great. He was fanatical on the field and provided evidence that sometimes you can’t see a five-star heart inside a perceived three-star body.

Polamalu’s warrior mentality and his intense desire to impose his physical will on the field belied his gentle off-field manner, role-model charisma and soft-spoken character. In fact, off the field, anybody who has ever come in contact with him comes away admiring his devotion to family, loyalty to teammates and coaches and his comradely nature with friends.

The world of advertising eventually came calling. With his trademark wavy, long black flowing hair, shampoo commercials turned this former Trojans great into a national household name. Again, not bad for a former three-star recruit.

For a proud and competitive athlete like Polamalu, retirement is rarely welcomed. The future can take some dramatic turns, even with more time to spend with a beautiful wife and two athletic boys. Equally dramatic, however, is what Polamalu means to current and future three-star recruits who are now given hope and inspiration through No. 43. He provides the motivation that the overlooked or underappreciated can someday have their day.

As for USC fans, they need to be reminded that five-star recruits don’t always pan out and three-star recruits don’t always fall by the wayside. Every once in a while, there are three-star recruits that are true diamonds in the rough. They are called winners, and nobody was a bigger three-star winner than Troy Polamalu.