They Said It: Everything USC HC Lincoln Riley said at his signing day presser
The Trojans had a rather quiet National Signing Day.
Most of the fireworks came in the run-up to Wednesday. USC signed eight high school recruits, including two 5-star players and four from the 247 Composite top-100. It also landed 13 transfer players, including 5-star quarterback Caleb Williams, who 247 ranked as the No. 1 available transfer player during the cycle. With 21 players total, USC’s class ranked 10th overall in the team rankings and No. 1 in the transfer-only class rankings.
Head coach Lincoln Riley met with reporters Wednesday afternoon to discuss Williams, the class, the portal, and a lot more. Here’s everything he said:
“I’m excited to be here on this second signing day to announce our class. It’s been a very unique ride to begin to put this class together and I would say that (we’re) certainly far from done with the amount of roster flexibility that we have right now. So, this is something that will continue all the way up through the spring and certainly end of the summer as well.
“First thing I would say is (I’m) very proud of our staff. Our staff has done a tremendous job. You talk about coming in at the end of November where your main signing day is just a few weeks away, really assembling a class that took, I think, all of our talent, skill, patience to assemble, and the staff really did a phenomenal job. You could 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.
“I would also mention our support staff. I know we’re going to introduce those people to you guys here in the near future but our support staff that we’ve assembled has done a great job kind of meshing with our coaches and starting to form our team. They really have just been outstanding—coming together, building such a fantastic recruiting class, and in a short amount of time. Very thankful for those people and the job that everybody’s done.
“As far as the class, we’re certainly excited about it. It’s been very unique building it this way with the transfer portal obviously being, 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. 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.
“It’s been rapid. You grow up being used to recruiting players for one year, two years, and then all of a sudden some of these things are happening in a matter of days or even a matter of weeks, and to be able to get all that assembled so quickly, to build relationships, to be able to really express to these players and families the vision of our program here at USC in such a short timeframe has been a challenge. But, again, a lot of credit to everybody, a lot of credit to our administration, to everybody here at USC for working with us. Everybody’s just really come together and done a phenomenal job.
“And that’s what we said on Day 1 here, we said it’s gonna take everybody coming together to build a program here that we’re all extremely proud of in the future. In the first couple of months, we’ve been able to see some great examples of that—of the coaches, the recruiting staff, the administrators, people from the university, everybody working hard together even though we’re still learning each other. Just some great synergy going on here early, so (I’m) very proud and excited about that.
“Team is doing very well. It’s been great here in the last few days to be off the road recruiting with it now being at that period, to be back in-house daily with our guys, to see them train, to be able to spend some of the limited time that we get with them to start installing our offensive and defensive systems. You see leaders start to emerge. You see some of the players obviously that we retained and players that have been here really starting to raise their games, welcome in the new players, and you see those relationships and bonds already starting to form. Certainly excited about that and can’t wait to continue on here to the offseason, lead into spring ball, and I would say that first day of spring practice can’t come soon enough. We’ll certainly be counting down the days to get there.”
On how much he felt his recruiting reputation helped USC this cycle:
“I wouldn’t say my reputation. I think this university’s reputation (and) this football program’s reputation plays a huge part in it. I think I would point to just our staff as a whole, not me or anybody individually. I think players can look at this staff and see that we’ve done the things that they want to do here. A lot of us have done it together at our previous institution, and then when we introduced the staff, we brought in some very key pieces, people that have been very successful in some major programs, people that have won championships and done it the right way and experienced some of the best things the sport has to offer. And we brought all these people together under one common goal. I think when our 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. 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.”
On the process of recruiting Caleb Williams:
“It’s unique. It’s not anything you ever really expect to go through. It’s difficult because you have all these players—Caleb included—that you know, that you coached, that you recruited and then all of a sudden one day you’re coaching at a different institution and you can’t contact these guys. 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.
“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 a long-lost friend, you know? It was kind of good just to be able to reconnect.
“We kind of took it step by step. There were some things certainly that he knew about myself, about a lot of the members on our staff that he’d 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 options and at the end of the day felt like USC was going to be the best.”
On the differences in evaluating transfer portal players and evaluating high school players:
“It’s probably easier because the majority of these guys you have college film. I would say the projecting… there’s not as many variables when you’re watching college film. You’re watching guys at this level, a number of guys we’re watching them play against teams that we’ve maybe played against or we’re familiar with. And so I would say the evaluation on purely just the football part of it is probably easier.
“High schools, a lot of times you’re trying to weigh level of competition, what do they do schematically, there’s a lot of different variables at that point. So I would say that part’s easier.
“The toughest part is, typically, unless it’s somebody that you’ve known before and had a previous relationship with, you’re getting to know somebody very, very quickly and the timeline is so accelerated that it’s got to come together pretty quickly. Easier on the film, tougher on the relationship side.”
On what makes Williams such a strong fit in Riley’s offense:
“I mean, he’s a talented player. I felt that from when I got to see him in high school. 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. 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 go to class, get with the guys, just kind of get back in the flow of being part of a team and part of a university. That’s what he loves to do, so he’ll be a great addition to our quarterback room and to our team.”
On when he knew of Williams’ decision and whether there was any stress along the way about how portal additions might impact the chemistry on the team:
“That’s a little bit the nature of the beast in this day and age. We’ve had a lot of internal conversations about that. You know, how recruiting or signing one player can affect other players? I understand that’s the nature of the beast, but having been in this position for a few years, I’ve learned to… I don’t try to project as much anymore. I’m just trying to build the best roster that we can at USC. With the transfer portal right now and the fact there’s really no guardrails, players can leave you virtually 365 days a year if they choose and that’s just part of how it is right now. You can’t predict all of that. You can almost drive yourself crazy trying to.
“So for me, I think our standpoint has been we’re going to be honest with all parties involved—whether it’s a current player on our roster or somebody that we’re recruiting—about what we’re doing, about future plans, try to be very transparent, but (express) that we’re not going to recruit or try to build our roster out of fear that people will leave. You can’t operate that way and we’re just not going to. We’re going to build the best roster we can with people that want to be here and believe in the vision and believe in this program.
“The way that it played out again was unique and you certainly get that. There’s a lot of unique things going on right now in college football and recruiting in general. But, certainly excited that Caleb chose to be here.
“Timeline of it, I don’t know that I want to get into specifics, but he got in school or registered or whatever we want to say late Friday, and that was that.”
On how the expectations might have changed in the last few weeks:
“Oh, they haven’t changed.
“They’ll have changed on the outside, but I’ve told you guys from Day 1 our expectations will never change. You don’t bring in a staff like this and all of a sudden set the bar low. The bar should never be low at USC. This is one of the best programs of all time and we feel like we’ve really assembled a championship staff. Regardless of one player, one recruit, one recruiting class will never cause our expectations to fluctuate. Our expectations were high the day we got here, and they will be high every single day that we’re here coaching. That will not change.”
On how many holes still need to be filled:
“I don’t want to put numbers on it right now. We still have a unique amount of flexibility in terms of being able to still evaluate our roster, make adjustments as needed. 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 right now. I’ll put it that way. But, also being realistic that we know there’s going to be another surge of people in the transfer portal after these spring balls across the country start to wrap up, and I believe we’re going to be in a position to continue to build this roster at that time as well.”
On whether there was a specific position group or area that they focused on with the class:
“I don’t know that there was one position on the team that we felt like we didn’t need to address. And not all that means that has to happen for this year. I mean, obviously we took some older guys in the transfer portal that will have shorter careers here at USC, we get that, but also there’s a future to look at as well. In this day and age … I think you’re constantly building all parts of your roster. You just never really get to a part where you’re like, ‘Alright, we’re set at o-line, we’re good there.’ I just 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 quickly, both in having the opportunity to bring players in or potentially losing a player.
“It’s an ongoing process. As you see, we’ve 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 at all positions after spring wraps up.”
On how NIL changes things:
“Well, NIL has become a major factor in recruiting. I don’t know if that was the intent of it. I think it was very much anticipated. You saw an initial surge of NIL (deals) when it became official in July with current college players. I think that the real surge has happened now that the recruiting got competitive here, and you knew that’s where you were really going to feel the impacts and really see a change and that certainly has happened. I mean, there’s evidence all across the country. So, it has changed. It’s a factor nowadays. It is. Anybody that says it’s not is just simply not paying attention. And I think it’s another area for us with the support that we have here in our program, the obvious opportunities being in Los Angeles, I think it’s going to continue to be another way that we as a program can separate ourselves. And we absolutely plan to do that.”
On whether this transfer class was what he envisioned to get, and on how Williams changes what they can do on the field:
“The first question, I’m excited about what we’ve done in a short amount of time. I mean, I think it’s been a very successful first couple of months. And I think we got some key players here. Not only guys that maybe fit the bill at a certain position or you feel like they’re gonna be able to help on the field this fall, but also we got some guys that are going to be key parts of this team in terms of leadership, in terms of building the environment and culture that we want to be synonymous with USC football. Shane Lee certainly comes to mind as one of the guys that’s obviously excited to be here to play but has a strong desire to be one of those leaders on this team. Travis (Dye) has that, Austin (Jones) has that. There are several guys, especially some of the older guys in the class that I think are just as excited to come in and have an opportunity to lead and share their past experiences and help our program grow as they are to go perform on Saturdays.
“Obviously we want to add as many good players as we can. We want to build this roster as much as we can. Caleb fits the bill, like a lot of these players do. 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 honestly anybody that we signed I could say that about right now.”
On what the ideal balance is in the future between transfer additions and high school recruits:
“Certainly I don’t think the goal is to rely as heavily on the transfer portal as we have right now. I think this is a unique year and a unique situation that we’re at in terms of the roster. 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 I would fully expect in the future that our class has a much higher percentage of high school players than this one currently does.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves. I mean, at the end of the day, nobody’s really gonna ask how at the end of the day. It’s did you put together the best roster you could and give us the best chance to accomplish what we came here to do? That’s our focus right now. And as this roster builds and as we evolve we’ll certainly continue to evaluate that.”