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Monday, December 2, 2013
Sark to USC is a win with recruits

By Blair Angulo and Erik McKinney

The USC Trojans once again will dip into the past, as former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian accepted an offer to take over the same position at USC, according to ESPN's Joe Schad. Sarkisian was an assistant coach with the Trojans from 2001-03, and then again from 2005-08.

Born in Torrance, Calif., and having attended West Torrance High School and El Camino Junior College, Sarkisian is very familiar with Southern California, and he recruited it well for both USC and Washington. Now, coming back home, the thought from coaches and recruits alike is that he will hit the ground running on the recruiting trail.

The Trojans have received verbal commitments from 10 recruits, including several impressive offensive linemen -- most notably ESPN 300 prospects Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial), Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra) and Jordan Poland (La Jolla, Calif./La Jolla Country Day) -- and with nine spots left in the class, they have an opportunity to make a big splash on signing day 2014. And while reaction from the media has been decidedly mixed, that from recruits has been anything but.

The first big item came in a tweet from ESPN 300 running back Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom).

USC is now back in the picture for me. #Fighton

— ¡PRIMETIME!!!¡ (@Joe_MainMixon) December 2, 2013

Mixon had cut the Trojans from his list when he narrowed it to 10 schools. Although he is looking at programs across the country, UCLA and Washington continued to make a big push. While the Bruins are still a legitimate threat here, Mixon has a great relationship with Sarkisian and it means plenty that he is willing to give USC another look with the new coach.

But Mixon wasn't the only ESPN 300 prospect with thoughts on the hire. Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), the nation's No. 7 overall recruit, was a fan of the decision.

"It's great for USC," Jackson said. "Coach Sark is like coach O [Ed Orgeron] from a recruiting standpoint in that he's energetic and is fun to chat with. It's definitely going to be a total mix-up for everybody now, but USC is still the same for me. I won't really worry about the coaching staff but more about the fit."

USC commit Shay Fields (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) is having no second thoughts about his decision in the wake of Monday's news.

"I love it," Fields said. "That now it's reported we have an actual coach, hopefully he changes to the spread and we get more receivers and throw the ball."

Fields and teammate Jaleel Wadood were at a CIF luncheon on Monday morning when the news was announced. Wadood, an ESPN 300 prospect and former Cal commit who is now looking at UCLA and USC, shared Fields' excitement.

"I was excited when they announced it here," Wadood said. "It's a great hire for USC, and it has an effect on the recruits from Southern California. A lot of them like U-Dub; Coach Sark was a big reason why I'm considering the Huskies."

Several high school coaches and parents of local recruits made initial comments regarding Sarkisian's familiarity with the area and his ability to connect with recruits. While recruits still will wait to see who joins Sarkisian as his assistants, the overwhelming belief is that he has done enough and is a big enough name to start attracting recruits by himself.

With this hire, it's likely the Trojans will remain in strong position to close with ESPN 300 offensive guard Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and ESPN 300 athlete John "Juju" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly), who are close friends of Talamaivao's, although Sarkisian and the new staff will face plenty of competition from UCLA, among others, for both.

Miami quarterback commit Brad Kaaya (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade) has been a top target for UCLA and USC following his commitment to the Hurricanes.

"It's great for USC to find a coach that's a good recruiter," Kaaya said. "It will be great for kids from Los Angeles. I hope coach Orgeron stays on staff, but this is a good move for my hometown team. If Coach Sark wants to talk, I'll definitely hear what he has to say, because he's known for producing quarterbacks. I look forward to that conversation."

Kaaya's point about Orgeron is a strong one. Orgeron earned such positive feedback from recruits during his stint as interim coach that if he does not remain at USC, it will provide a huge hurdle for Sarkisian and his staff to overcome.

Three-star defensive end Uriah Leiataua (Compton, Calif./Dominguez), who holds offers from Stanford, UCLA and USC, among others, tweeted, "coach O left? I really liked coach O."

There has been no official word as to whether Orgeron will remain at USC, but early reports indicate he won't be back. Sarkisian's ability to overcome the initial disappointment that undoubtedly will come from USC commits and targets about Orgeron's departure will be pivotal in his hopes of making positive steps in these first few days on the recruiting trail.

These won't be the only recruits in the 2014 and 2015 classes watching Washington or USC closely over the next few weeks and months. Sarkisian moving from the Huskies to Trojans is only the first of what is likely to be a number of dominoes to fall in the Pac-12 this offseason, as the wild ride out west is only beginning.