The first days of each year have traditionally been a time of excitement for USC football fans.
The Trojans’ 34 Rose Bowl appearances are the most by any school and even in years when their team doesn’t play in the “Granddaddy of Them All,” fans have been able to watch the next crop of Trojans playing in the various high school all-star games.
The All-American Bowl on NBC, in particular, has often been a sneak peek for USC fans. The top West Coast players typically play in the game held in San Antonio and the Trojans often have a number of commits or targets participating.
That wasn’t necessarily the case this year.
The Trojans had already missed out on all the top-rated players who signed in December, including the Southland quarterback trio of Santa Ana Mater Dei’s Bryce Young, Rancho Cucamonga’s CJ Stroud and Bellflower St. John Bosco’s DJ Uiagalelei.
None of USC’s 11 early-period signees participated in the game.
There was hope heading into the game. Among the staples every year are in-game commitments and seeing a cardinal and gold hat has been commonplace.
Five-star receivers Bru McCoy and Kyle Ford chose the Trojans last year. USC has been able to use the game as a momentum-builder leading into a strong finish of its recruiting class at the February national signing day.
Five of the 10 players making declarations Saturday had a USC hat on the table. Four were considered USC leans at one point, but only four-star receiver Gary Bryant Jr. chose the Trojans.
The addition of Bryant, Corona Centennial High’s top offensive weapon, gives USC’s recruiting class a much-needed boost. It began the day ranked No. 79 in the 247Sports composite team rankings, ahead of only Missouri among Power Five programs.
Bryant’s commitment moved the Trojans to No. 56. He is the No. 9 ranked receiver and the No. 57 player in the nation.
He becomes the crown jewel of the Trojans’ class and the only likely immediate impact player in the current class. Nine of USC’s 11 signings during the three-day December early period were linemen whose development typically takes a little longer. None of them were ranked in the top 350.
Bryant adds some star power at the receiver position and can provide an element that was missing from Graham Harrell’s offense this season — speed.
At Centennial, Bryant showed he stretches defenses in a variety of ways, getting behind defenders for deep-ball catches or taking short throws and turning them into explosive plays or just pushing back safeties to open up short and intermediate routes.
He caught 58 passes for 1,134 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior and averaged more than 20 yards per catch over his final two seasons for the Huskies.
He showed his big-play ability Saturday on a 43-yard touchdown reception from Young in the first half. Young, a former USC commit who flipped to Alabama in October, also had a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first offensive play of the game. Young was selected the game’s MVP after helping the West to a 33-20 win over the East.
Bryant was the last of California’s top 25 prospects to publicly announce his commitment. He is the only one to sign with USC.
Arizona State will sign five of the state’s top 25 after Gardena Serra receiver LV Bunkley-Shelton chose the Sun Devils over Michigan, Oregon, Texas and USC on Saturday.
Two days earlier, ASU picked up commitments from Folsom High teammates Daniyel Ngata and Elijhah Badger at the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando, Fla.
Upland linebacker Justin Flowe, the state’s top prospect according to the 247Sports composite rankings, highlights four California top 25 prospects signing with Oregon.
Washington signed three while Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State signed multiple top 25 players from the Golden State. Michigan also signed a pair after Harbor City Narbonne cornerback Darion Green-Warren announced Saturday he had chosen the Wolverines over USC.