The saga of Crenshaw High's De'Anthony Thomas stole most of the headlines on signing day Wednesday, but the recruitment of Lakewood offensive lineman Torian White was a fascinating story to follow in its own right.
In a nutshell, White went from being a strong UCLA commit, to shocking everyone by picking USC during a made-for-TV event, to ultimately signing with UCLA by day's end.
But it was hardly that simple. And the agony and emotional pain White endured began long before the whirlwind of events that took place Tuesday and Wednesday.
As a junior, White had a sports hernia and sat out the season. In the world of recruiting, that’s usually a death sentence. The way recruiting has been sped up the last five years, players are offered scholarships almost solely on junior-season performance as well as summer camps. What a player does as a senior has completely been minimized with players jumping on early scholarship offers and coaches just not having time to evaluate players who are not already on their radar.
White attended UCLA’s lineman camp last summer and so impressed that he was immediately offered a scholarship and accepted. He then went out and had a dominant senior year and other schools soon took notice. One of those schools was USC and the Trojans made White a priority.
“[USC coach] Lane Kiffin called me during the season and said he watched Torian’s first five games and he was the best lineman he had seen in the state this year,” Lakewood coach Thadd MacNeal said. “I’ve known Lane forever, so I know he wasn’t just B.S.-ing me. Coach O [Ed Orgeron] called me too and said, ‘Thadd, we got to have this kid, he needs to be a Trojan.’
“I talked to the family and they said they were solid with UCLA but were open to being recruited by other schools. Torian wanted to take his visits and make sure he was doing the right thing. He committed so early that he wanted to make sure he was doing the right thing and making the right choice for himself.”
White took his first official visit to Arizona and then, in late January, took successive visits to UCLA, Oregon State and USC. Throughout the process, White maintained a strong commitment to the Bruins, never wavering. Even after taking his final visit to USC last weekend, White re-affirmed his commitment to UCLA and it seemed like a foregone conclusion he would be signing with the Bruins on Wednesday.
Things then took an interesting turn Tuesday, the night before signing day, when the White family sat around the house and created a chart to weigh the pros and cons of each school. Not only did USC come out on top, Oregon State was No. 2 followed by UCLA, according to the family and MacNeal.
“I tried calling the family that night to make sure everyone was good to go and for the first time ever, Torian didn’t pick up or return the call,” MacNeal said. “I drove over there and when I walked in to the house, it seemed like someone had just died. It was weird how quiet and solemn everyone was. I excused myself and just said to text me when they knew what they were doing.”
Then on Wednesday, during a live webcast on FoxSports.com, with three hats on the table in front of him, White shocked viewers when he reached for the USC hat and put it on saying he was going to be signing with the Trojans. Following his announcement, the family walked out of the studio in what Joe White, Torian’s father, called "the longest walk of our lives."
“I looked at Torian and he looked miserable,” Joe said. “This was supposed to be the best day of his life and he was miserable because he was choosing a school he didn’t want to attend. I had put a lot of pressure on him and so did many others, telling him USC was the better place for him. It was a more stable football environment, they had a great track record for putting offensive lineman into the NFL and Lane Kiffin presented us with a great and organized plan of exactly how they planned to use him. I was sold, but Torian wasn’t happy.”
The long walk to the car became an even longer drive home until finally Joe turned and asked his son if he truly wanted to go to USC.
“I told him I was only going because I knew that’s what he wanted me to do,” Torian said. “USC is a great school but I just was never comfortable there. I just didn’t fit in there with the players on the team and just the environment. I’m a pretty low-key guy, almost shy and I was so much more comfortable at UCLA. I really like coach [Rick] Neuheisel a lot and I got along great with the players at UCLA too.
“It wasn’t anything personal against anyone at USC. I’m just a different guy and my heart was at UCLA. When I told my dad all this, I could tell it really hurt him. He felt bad that I was picking a school for him and my mom and not for me and told me if I didn’t follow my heart, I would resent both of them and lose my love for playing football."
Joe then called Neuheisel and told him they hadn't faxed the letter-of-intent to USC and to ask whether the Bruins still had a spot for Torian.
"Coach just laughed and said after watching the press conference and seeing my reaction when I committed, he was actually expecting our phone call and would still love for me to be a Bruin,” Torian said.
Joe then called Kiffin, apologizing and saying Torian would be attending UCLA and that he hoped the USC coach understood.
“After I faxed in my letter-of-intent to UCLA, it was the first time in a long time where I actually felt like I had a peace about things,” Torian said. “This whole thing had been so stressful on me and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I just really love the UCLA program and like I said, I had to follow my heart."
Torian says he knows UCLA's program is down at the moment but that he wants to be part of turning things around.
"They have some good young talent and I have faith in the coaching staff," Torian said. "We have a great quarterback coming in and I don’t think anything will be more rewarding in a couple of years than looking back and seeing that I was one of the guys responsible for making UCLA a winning program again. That’s my dream and I’m just relieved that things worked out the way they did. I didn’t mean to embarrass anyone or disrespect the USC coaches by switching. At the end of the day, I just want to be happy and right now, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time.”
Greg Biggins is an occasional contributor to the ESPNLA.com Preps Report. For more recruiting news, check out his Insider blog on West Coast recruiting.