SoCal players banding together

LOS ANGELES -- It's often said that all USC has to do to succeed in recruiting is to put a wall around Southern California, as there are enough top-flight athletes in the Trojans' backyard to keep the program well stocked.

Local talent always has served as the base for USC's recruiting efforts. That home-town emphasis has continued under Lane Kiffin and his staff, which includes assistant coaches Ed Orgeron and Kennedy Polamalu, who are known as highly respected recruiters among local high school coaches.

One of the benefits of recruiting players from a particular area is the possibility that they might have grown up together, played Pop Warner football together or even attended the same high school. They can become friends, go through the recruiting process together, and -- in the case of a group of USC's young players -- they can talk about re-establishing a legacy together at their chosen school.

Marcus Martin. Robert Woods. Dion Bailey. Hayes Pullard. D.J. Morgan. Marqise Lee. George Farmer. Anthony Brown.

These players are the nucleus of a tight-knight group of players that have shown a unique ability to contribute early while sharing a special bond off the field that is noticeable to the coaches.

"These young guys have a chance to be a real special group," USC head coach Lane Kiffin said. "They care about each other, and they care about their school. They are very close."

That closeness is evident in the way they play and feed off each other during games. Woods and Lee form an impressive duo on offense, while Bailey and Pullard are the leading tacklers on defense. They helped Martin adjust to being a starter on the offensive line, and they were there to support Morgan when his playing time was cut due to early fumbling issues.

"These kids listen to each other," Orgeron said. "They've known each other for so long. That bond really helped us in the recruiting process to get them."

Part of the appeal for the players to become Trojans was the desire to see USC return to the top of the college football world. When these players were growing up in the area, the Trojans were a dominant team. By the time they were being recruited, however, sanctions and coaching transition had halted the high-flying run. They wanted to be the ones to bring it back.

"When we were being recruited they showed us a video of the University of Miami program being built upon local players," Martin said. "We wanted to bring that back here, that's how it all got started. We just started talking to all the guys we knew from the area to try and get them to come here. We would hang out together, come to SC games together, just trying to get a feel for what it would be like to be a Trojan."

Polamalu understands that feeling. He was once a local recruit who chose to play for the Trojans. Originally from Samoa, Polamalu moved to Orange County as a teen and attended Santa Ana Mater Dei HS before playing fullback at USC from 1982-85.

"There's an inner spirit -- a passion -- of being a Southern California kid playing for USC," Polamalu said. "These kids feel it. Their families are here, they are able to be a part of it and the kids represent them. I felt that. I felt like I represented my family, my school and all those who helped me get here.

"These kids are the same way. They grew up wanting to be Trojans, and they're the ones carrying the torch for future guys."

The tight bond has been continued off campus, with several members of the group living together in a housing arrangement that has been dubbed, "The Palace."

"It's fun, it's like our own little frat house," Bailey said. "It's me, Anthony Brown, Xavier Grimble, D.J. Morgan, Robert Woods and Hayes Pullard.

"It's very competitive. If you have a bad week you're going to hear about it until the next week. You want to have a good performance just to shut them up. We like it. It's a fun experience."

Things are fun in college when you are playing ball with your friends, but these players know the ultimate goal lies ahead in terms of what they want to accomplish as the future of USC football.

"We know we're young and have a lot to learn, but hopefully one day we're all here together competing for a national championship," Martin said.

Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at garry@wearesc.com.