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Five Main Takeaways: USC Head Coach Lincoln Riley's National Signing Day Presser

Feb 2, 2022

Head coach Lincoln Riley took the podium Wednesday to discuss USC's 14 2022 signees and the future of the Trojans' football program. Here are five main takeaways and key quotes from his 21-minute press conference on National Signing Day.

A class of its own: "The portal has been an advantage for us."

Out of Wednesday's 14 signees, just one came from the high-school ranks -- Santa Ana, CA (Mater Dei HS) wide receiver CJ Williams. Riley explained how USC's staff has relied heavily on the NCAA Transfer Portal to reshape the team's roster.

"As far as the class, we're certainly excited about it," Riley said. "It's been very unique, building it this way, with the transfer portal obviously being kind of, in some ways, the focus point of this class, certainly in terms of the number of players that we've brought in up to this point. And the portal has been an advantage for us. There's really no other way to say it. And when you're trying to really revamp a roster and fill the amount of spots that we're attempting to fill, being able to have all these different mechanisms to use to fill that has been extremely valuable."

Riley later explained why this offseason required so many additions out of the portal. He also shared that classes under his tenure will likely have a better balance between transfer and high school prospects going forward. 

"I think in the future, certainly, I don't think the goal is to rely as heavily on the transfer portal as we have right now," Riley explained. "I think this is a unique year and a unique situation that we're at in terms of the roster. And we as a staff felt like this was going to be the best way to address the things that needed to be addressed. Certainly, we would like to have much more balance with the number of players that we sign out of high school compared to the transfer portal. I don't know that I would want to put a number on it, but we certainly-- I would fully expect in the future that our class has a much higher percentage of high school players than this one currently does. So, it'll be interesting to see how it evolves."

All hands on deck: Riley credits support staff for USC's successful recruiting class

Riley started his press conference by thanking the staff he assembled at the end of 2021. He shared the critical role they played in the program's success so far this offseason. 

"Our staff has done a tremendous job," Riley said. "And you talk about coming in, at the end of November, you know, where your main signing day is just a few weeks away, and really assembling a class that took, I think, all of our talents, skill, and patience to assemble.  And the staff really did a phenomenal job. You can see the reputation that our coaches have, the connections that they have, being able to piece this thing together and build these relationships with these kids and these families in such a short amount of time. And [I] would also mention our support staff … Our support staff that we've assembled has done a great job meshing with our coaches and starting to form our team. And they've really, really have just been outstanding at coming together, building, again, such a fantastic recruiting class and in a short amount of time. So, very thankful for those people and the job that everybody's done."

Riley also mentioned how the collective resume of USC's coaching staff has ultimately been an advantage on the recruiting trail. 

"I think when the recruits have gotten a chance to get around campus, and get around us, and start to see how well the staff has meshed together in a short amount of time, and you look at the history and pedigree of the staff, I think it does add some credibility to it," Riley said. "That this is not some pipe dream that none of us have experienced, you know? We've been in these moments. We know what these things look like. And most importantly, we're all excited to be here together doing it at USC."

Caleb Williams: Everything Lincoln Riley said about the No. 1 prospect out of the NCAA Transfer Portal

On how Caleb fits into Riley's offense:

"He's a talented player," Riley said "[I] felt that from when I got to see him in high school. I felt like he had all the tools to really be a good player. And I think most importantly, he's a confident young man. He works really hard at his craft. And he does a great job of bringing people together. He's got a great feel for people and a great feel for being a leader at a young age. So, he certainly was thrown into some unique situations as a true freshman for us last year and handled them well. And I think he'll be a really positive member of this team. I think that's the thing he's most excited about right now, is to just like to go to class, like to get with the guys, like to just kind of get back just in the flow of being part of a team and part of the university. And that's what he loves to do. So he'll be a great addition to our quarterback room and to our team."

On what Caleb brings to USC's roster:

"Caleb fits the bill, like a lot of these players do, that we felt like they could come in and upgrade the roster," Riley said. "I think adding Caleb to our quarterback room gives us a better quarterback room right away. It's gonna provide a lot of really positive things. But I think I, honestly anybody that we signed, I could say that about right now."

On recruiting Caleb out of the portal:

"It's unique," Riley said. "It's not anything you ever really expect to go through. It's difficult because you have all these players, Caleb included, that you coach, that you recruited. And then all of a sudden, you know, one day you're coaching at a different institution, and you can't even you can't contact these guys, you can't other than the day I left, you can't say bye. The rules don't permit you to do any of that. And so, there's a long period of time where there's zero communication. And then all of a sudden, Caleb and his family make the decision to jump into the transfer portal, and we had a conversation shortly after that. I don't think we talked even one bit of football. It was just kind of like, kind of a long-lost friend. It was kind of good just to be able to reconnect. I think we kind of took it step-by-step. And there were some things, certainly, that he knew about with myself and about a lot of the members on our staff that he had a positive experience with. And then obviously, there's a lot of things new with a new program, a new city, a new university. And I think the biggest thing was making sure that this was going to be the right fit for us as a program, the right fit for him as far as his development as a player and for him as a student. I think the more we went through it, we had a chance to lay that all out. And he and his family looked at the options, and at the end of the day felt like USC was going to be the best."

Riley's standards: Do expectations change because multiple high-profile players have been added this cycle?

"Oh, that ain't changed," Riley said. "I mean, they'll have changed on the outside. But I told you guys from day one, our expectations will never change … You don't bring in a staff like this, and all of a sudden set the bar low. I mean, that's just not, you don't do that. The bar should never be low at USC. I mean, this is one of the best programs of all-time, and we feel like we really assembled the championship staff. Regardless of one player, one recruiting class will never cause our expectations to fluctuate. Our expectations were high the day they got here, and they will be high as every single day that we're here coaching. That will not change."

Roster rebuild: More turnover expected into the summer

"We still have a unique amount of flexibility in terms of being able to still evaluate our roster and make adjustments as needed," Riley said. "So obviously, spring ball will be helpful to be able to evaluate and really get on the field and coach these guys. I think we have a lot more answers than we have holes [in the roster] right now. I'll put it that way. But also being realistic, we know there's going to be another surge of people in the transfer portal after the spring balls across the country start to wrap up, and I believe we're gonna be in position to continue to build this roster at that time as well."

Riley also shared how the transfer portal has completely changed how rosters are shaped in this era of college football.

"I think you're constantly building all parts of your roster," Riley said. "You just never really get to a part where [you're like], 'Alright. We're set at offensive line. We're good there.' Like I just don't, I don't think that'll happen much anymore. I think you're constantly looking to upgrade and you've got to constantly be ready with answers because it can change. It can change quickly. Both in having the opportunity to bring players in or potentially losing a player. So it's an ongoing process. As you see, we added quite a few. I think we got most of the positions covered on the team. And I think we'll continue to add several on both sides of the ball, and at all positions after spring wraps up."