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The 10 most surprising moments in the past decade of Pac-12 football recruiting.
Being a fan of high school football recruiting can be a lot like being a frustrated parent. When you are living and dying with the day to day choices of high school kids, there are sure to be a lot of surprises and that is part of what makes following it so much fun. High school kids will change their mind at the drop of a hat, make a certain choice despite all logic suggesting that they shouldn't and get themselves (and coaches) into trouble. In all honesty, it is actually strange that there aren't more shocking and surprising moments in recruiting, but also in honesty, I assume that a lot of behind closed doors shocking moments in recruiting that happen that we fans just never finding out about.
The advent of online recruiting coverage probably hasn't increased the level of shocking and surprising moments in college football recruiting, but they have without a doubt made them more frequent and raised the level that fans care and find out about them. The accessibility and the immediacy of social media has also added fuel to the fire and is a teeming breeding ground for controversy and speculation. Recruiting fans can now literally keep track of the public stream of consciousness of the nation's top recruits and even (foolishly) interact with them and try to sway their decisions in their favor.
With the increase in 24 hour awareness of what is going on, I think we will start to have fewer true surprises as we will only continue to know more and more about the minute to minute developments in a players recruitment, so we have probably passed the golden age of shocking recruiting developments in college football recruiting. With that said, I think the last 10 years or so have been some of the most interesting in the history of Pac-12 football recruiting and are the only years that are fully documented by the media, and because of that, we are able to look back and remember what were some of the moments that we didn't see coming.
1. De'Anthony Thomas signs with Oregon - February 2011
The ultimate rumor that was birthed on recruiting message boards and social media that ended up actually being true. Thomas was a USC commit for nearly a year, recruited other LA athletes to USC and was a legend in the area, but the weekend before signing day was rumored to have been seen in an airport sporting Oregon gear, coming home from a top secret visit to Eugene with Snoop Dogg's son. Unlike most message board conjecture, this one ended up being true and Thomas signed with Oregon at a tearful press conference that shocked all of conference, probably no one more than Lane Kiffin.
2. USC hit with heavy sanctions - June 2010
Clearly, everyone was aware that USC was under investigation and that it was likely that penalties would be levied upon the Trojans, but few expected them to be the level that they would be when they were announced in 2010. Not only were the Trojans stripped of previous accomplishments, but were struck with scholarships limitations and a bowl banned aimed to slow the West Coast's most dominant program.
3. Pete Carroll leaves USC for the NFL - January 2010
Many believed that Carroll would never be able to find a job that fit him as well as his position at USC did and that it would take a dream NFL situation for him to leave his post, so it came at a surprise when he bolted suddenly to become the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, who were not a marquee franchise at the time. After the dust settled it because clear that the Seahawks gave Carroll a great deal and that Carroll likely saw the stiff sanctions headed in USC's direction.
4. Chip Kelly and Oregon accused of recruiting misconduct in Yahoo! Sports article - July 2011
Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel dropped a bombshell on Chip Kelly and the Ducks last summer when they released a lengthy story detailing Kelly and other Oregon athletic staff members' interactions with street agent Will Lyles, particularly focusing on a payment that was made to Lyles that he admitted was for his influence on recruits and not his alleged scouting services. The article and subsequent controversy surrounding the program has put Oregon under the gun as the NCAA is still conducting an investigation into the program.
5. Darrell Scott signs with Colorado - February 2008
Scott was regarded by many as the top running back in the country in the Class of 2008 and chose the Dan Hawkins helmed Buffs, fresh off a 6-7 season, over pretty much every elite school in the country, including hometown USC and running back history rich Texas. The presence of Scott's Uncle Josh Smith playing receiver for Colorado was apparently enough to lead to him signing with Colorado where he would only play one full season before transferring.
6. Tosh Lupoi leaves Cal for Washington - January 2012
May Pac-12 fans had been scratching their heads on recent signing days, wondering how Cal was able to pull in so many elite prospects that many thought they shouldn't even be in on and most didn't realize that little known assistant, Tosh Lupoi was a big reason. A Golden Bear through and through, Lupoi grew up in the Bay Area and was a walk-on at Cal before becoming a graduate assistant and most thought he would never leave Berkeley. However, just as Lupoi was putting together a class for the ages at Cal in early 2012, he left for Washington who threw everything and about five kitchen sinks his way, making him an offer he simply couldn't refuse. Lupoi's exit was disastrous for Cal as they lost a number of elite recruits, including superstar Shaquille Thompson who ended up following Lupoi to Washington.
7. Randy Estes arrested and expelled from school - November 2003
Estes was widely regarded as the best safety in the Class of 2004 and was sought after by pretty much every school in the country before he was arrested for attempting to sell marijuana towards the end of his senior season. The arrest started a downward spiral for Estes that began with him being suspended from football, being kicked out of Los Alamitos High School, being dropped by most schools recruiting him and failing to qualify for college after signing with Washington State. A truly sad tale of wasted potential, not much has reported about Estes since his failure to qualify out of high school and it is unknown if Estes even played junior college football.
8. Lache Seastrunk signs with Oregon - February 2010
Before he would become primarily known for being at the center of the aforementioned Will Lyles/Oregon scandal, Seastrunk was known as one of the top rated running backs in the class of 2010 and a superstar at Temple High School in Texas. Despite being fresh off a conference championship and a string of good seasons, it was a surprise when the Ducks pulled the coveted running back out of Texas just before signing day in 2010. The Ducks had recruited a little bit in the Longhorn State in prior years but pulling away Seastrunk to the Northwest from powerhouse Big 12 and SEC schools was a major shock and statement about the appeal of the Oregon program.
9. Rick Neuheisel Makes Bold Declaration in Los Angeles Times - August 2008
Much has been made about the perpetual mediocrity of the UCLA program despite its vast potential and Neuheisel and UCLA wanted to make it immediately clear that he was the man that was going to lead them out of USC's shadow in LA. Neuheisel and UCLA deciding to start this process in a questionable manner, by taking out a full page ad in the LA Times in the Summer of 2008 that featured Neuheisel exclaiming that the football monopoly was over in LA. The ad's claim would fall flat over the course of Neuheisel's tenure in Westwood and would frequently be brought up during game broadcasts as an illustration of UCLA's continued struggles and Neuheisel's damaged image.
10. Shaquille Thompson signs with Washington - February 2012
A direct result of #6, Thompson had committed to Cal at the U.S. Army All-American game but changed his mind after Lupoi headed up the coast to Seattle. It wasn't a quick or easy turnaround though as Thompson wrestled between Cal, Washington, Oregon and USC before shutting things down and signing with the Huskies. Thompson's decision speaks volumes about Lupoi and Sarkisian's recruiting abilities as Thompson's older brother played at Cal and he was from relatively nearby Sacramento and Oregon and USC were coming off vastly superior seasons than the Huskies.