Three-star punter Kris Albarado (Lake Charles, La./St. Louis) signed with USC this morning, becoming the third special-teams exclusive player the Trojans have brought in within the last month. Kicker Andre Heidari and long snapper Peter McBride signed as early enrollees last month and have begun taking classes. We spoke with Albarado by phone Wednesday to get his take on his signing and all things USC on signing day:
Q: What are your thoughts on a day like this, signing a letter of intent to enroll in only a few months at USC to presumably be the Trojans' starting punter as a freshman?
A: I’m excited that I get to go to a place that’s as a good a football program as USC. As a punter/kicker, you don’t get a lot of chances to go to big schools, and I’m really fortunate to be able to go to USC. It’s a really good feeling -- I’ve kicked with tons of guys and only a handful of them are gonna be signing with big schools, so I feel honored.
Q: You're the third special teams signee in the last month, with Heidari and McBride coming in in January. What does that tell you about Lane Kiffin and his staff's focus on that unit?
A: That shows that their heart and souls are in special teams. When I was there this weekend, we had a special teams meeting with all of the coaches and all of the recruits that were there. I’ve been to select special teams camps and haven’t even had that before. So to have that on an official visit was awesome. It shows their commitment to it. They’re extremely committed to it and that’s not going to change.
Q: This day is obviously shaping up pretty well so far for USC, with pretty much every recruiting service putting you guys in the top five with a few hours left to go on National Signing Day. Your thoughts?
A: I think that’s awesome. That shows that even though we have the sanctions and everything we can still push through because we’re USC. The coaches can really get out there and say: ‘This is who we are. This is what we’ve had. And we’re gonna be back there if you come to our school.’ I think that’s helped with all those guys. They’re all really genuine guys and they like to play football and it’ll be good to spend the next four years with them. USC just has not only a really experienced coaching staff but a really enthusiastic one. And they know what they want to do and they’re definitely getting themselves out there, trying to get the best guys to get USC back to where they used to be in the early 2000’s and all of that.
Q: I've got to ask. You visited this past weekend, you said. What'd you think about special teams coach John Baxter? He's very big on kicking and all of that stuff, right? Intense, too. Did you like him?
A: I really did, actually. He’s pretty much exactly as I pictured him to be. He knows what he’s talking about. He was a big deciding factor for me – not only that USC is a great school and a great football program but that he is the best special-teams coach in the nation. That was a big deal to me, and he plays a big role in their focus on special teams. It was just good to hang around him and kind of get to know him some.
Q: Did he and Kiffin tell you something about how many kicks USC blocked this season? They brought that up quite a few times this season.
A: Yeah, it was: 'USC alone blocked nine kicks. The rest of the Pac-10 blocked nine combined.' And they were saying, ‘That’s how committed we are,’ you know. They were there talking to a couple of big offensive and defensive line recruits last weekend and they were like, ‘You might not have played special teams in high school but you’re gonna play it here. And you’re gonna be good at it.’ They include everybody in special teams and it’s incredible what they do.
Q: Did the sanctions play any sort of role in your decision? Assuming the appeal is denied you'd be ineligible to play in a bowl game next season. Does that mean anything to you?
A: Not really. Coach Baxter kinda laid it on the line for me. He said, ‘Really? All it’s going to come down to is would be one football game. If you really think about it, it’s only one football game.’ When he said that I was like, ‘Dang, he’s right.’ It didn’t really affect my decision anyway in the first place, and then when he said that I was like. ‘Oh, OK. No problem.’
Albarado plans to enroll in summer school at USC beginning in June and will be the only scholarship punter on the Trojans' roster in 2011.