Woods leads class to first bowl game

LOS ANGELES -There was a panic that came over San Antonio in January of 2010. As some of the top high school players in the country gathered for the Army All-American Bowl, news began to spread that Pete Carroll would be leaving USC to return to the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks.

All of a sudden Robert Woods and six other members of the USC 2010 recruiting class were caught of guard and unsure of their future plans. The seven players were in San Antonio at the time after being selected as an Army All-American.

“For an hour, we all said we was going somewhere else,” Woods recounted. “And then we really sat down and thought about it like ‘We can’t leave SC.’”

That was an interesting decision considering Carroll was only part of the equation. The NCAA was sure to come down on the program with sanctions but the severity of those penalties was unknown. With that hanging as a cloud over the program, newly hired head coach Lane Kiffin had less than a month to try to keep the recruiting class together.

“That was a very difficult two weeks,” Kiffin said. “I think we had two weeks before Signing Day, basically, once we got situated here and got hired. With a lot of things swirling around about what was going to happen (with the NCAA) all the way down to the death penalty. That was not an easy job.

“As I’ve said before, I think any other place there’s no way they would have signed those guys. It’s because of this place and even though they knew there were some problems most likely coming and some things were going to be taken away from them, they still came here.”

They did so not knowing exactly what they were getting themselves into. The NCAA ruling wasn’t handed down until June.

Included in the sanctions that were handed down by the NCAA was a two-year bowl ban. Any juniors or seniors on the roster were free to transfer to any other school that would have them – free of penalty – and there were plenty who took advantage of it.

Those who just completed their freshman season on the gridiron had to come to terms with the fact that the Emerald Bowl they were just a part of would be their last bowl game until they were seniors.

Incoming freshmen, such as Woods would have to go through their first two seasons of college football without knowing what it’s like to play in a bowl game. Although they were months away from their first game and many of them had yet to go through an official practice as a Trojan, the NCAA said if they were to transfer, they would be treated just like any other student athlete, meaning they would have to sit out a year.

Woods and the rest of his 2010 mates made a decision to stick it out and those that remain in the program, have done that.

“We felt like we were going to stick together to make an impact on this team. I think we did that and we’re still doing that,” Woods said.  “Our whole class has been making an impact and we’re just trying to keep that impact going, keep that brothership going and show the classes under us and the future classes how it’s supposed to be done.”

Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard, Xavier Grimble, and Nickell Robey are some of the members of the 2010 class that are still in the program.

Now is the time for them to get ready for the Sun Bowl. They are bowl eligible and for the first time in their college careers, they’re able to practice past the final game of the regular season.

“This is our first bowl game,” Woods said. “(We’re) playing against a good team, Georgia Tech. (They) always put up a great amount of points. It’s going to fun for us. It could be a shootout.”

Despite the fact that the Trojans shot at a national title was lost months ago in a season that has been looked upon as a huge disappointment, this is a special time that is not to be taken lightly.

“With all of the preseason expectations –BCS bowls and not going to a BCS bowl– (we’re) making sure we’re in the right frame of mind,” Kiffin said. “We’re very appreciative that we get to go to a bowl after having that taken away. As a staff we are and as players we are. We get extra practice. We get extra time as a team. You grow up wanting to play football. You grow up wanting to get out there to practice football and we’re able to continue to do that.”