Former Five-Star Recruits Wait to Shine Again

Kyle Prater

Five five-star recruits came through USC in 2010. Just one committed to the Trojans in 2011. But three of those six players have yet to see significant time this season, despite their tremendous hype coming in.

The recruiting world isn't just dangerous to college coaches who have to follow strict NCAA guidelines when communicating with high school players.

It's also dangerous for the recruits themselves.

Take USC's Dillon Baxter, who had a run last spring that made him a Youtube sensation. Nearly 2 million people watched the then 18-year old Baxter explode down the sideline.

"The way the media or internet builds these kids up, they haven't even taken a college snap and then all of a sudden they're going to do this and do that," USC running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu said. "I've done this long enough. I've done it at the college level and at the pro level. You have to earn it. You have to earn it during the week, you have to work hard and be a good person, on and off the field.

Before Baxter had played a minute in a college game, comparisons flew. Before long he was being likened to that other San Diego, Calif. native.

"I had distractions everywhere coming out of high school and [I was] still trying to do my thing, sneaking out, being a freshman," Baxter said back in July. "You just [have to] look in yourself. As soon as you enter college it's kind of a check. Everyone is good [at the college level] and the media is all on you so you feel all this pressure and you kind of just have to believe in yourself and don't let anybody stop you."

A year later, Baxter is a noticeably different guy. While he still needs to work on his pass-protections and fully digest the playbook, he doesn't revel in the attention anymore.

"I'd rather not be in the news for bad news, I'd rather be laying low," Baxter said.

But laying low also comes with its own bad news: a lack of playing time or playmaking.

"Dillon is right where we want him to be, he's completely changed off the field around us, his approach to the game by being early, not been an issue one time for the people downstairs all summer, not been an issue for us all camp," Kiffin said in July.

But through three games, Baxter has barely been a whisper.

And then there's Kyle Prater.

Prater and Baxter were two of Scout's five-star recruits in the class of 2010, along with receiver Robert Woods, tight end Xavier Grimble and defensive tackle George Uko.

Unlike Baxter, it wasn't Prater's off-the-field behavior that sidelined him (Baxter was suspended a game in 2010 for a team rules violation), but rather, Prater had a penchant for accumulating injuries. But in a jaw-dropping one-handed catch at Wednesday's practice, it's clear the 6'5 Chicago native is healthy again.

"His injuries set him back [from] preparing and [he was] forced to redshirt last year and then had more injuries this offseason," Kiffin said. "[He] really just hasn't been able to get into the groove and feel real comfortable in there, really this is like his first year again because he missed so much time."

Both highly-rated recruits met with their head coach after the Trojans' season opener. Both were disappointed with the lack of playing time.

So far this season, Baxter has rushed for a total of 31 yards and had one reception. Prater has seen the field, but has not done much statistically.

"I come to practice and try to make plays and help this team win ball games. But right now I'm just keeping a positive attitude and just staying focused and keep doing my assignments," Prater said.

"I don't really know anything I'm just working hard every day," Baxter said.

Both Baxter and Prater still have the talent, that's not lost on anybody watching. But to the fans that knew these players' games at 17 and 18 years-old, they want to be watching them more than they are now.

"I can't worry about things I can't control. I definitely don't worry about the hype. It's never been about the hype. It's all about the prep," Prater said.

"It's kind of good just being able to do my own thing without people being on my back," Baxter said.

Now, there's George Farmer.

Scout's only five-star recruit in the Trojans' 2011 class, Farmer is expected to redshirt. Fellow Serra High product Marqise Lee has emerged as USC's second receiver, and with a loaded receiving class, Farmer wasn't ready for the prime time at the right time.

"He looks better than he ever has been. If this were the beginning of the year right now, he'd be in the mix because he's finally healthy. So we're excited about what he'll bring down the road," Kiffin said.

Kiffin echoed those future hopes when talking about Prater.

"He's very capable of huge plays," he said. "Every time he starts making strides, something happens. He's going to eventually be a really good player. Hopefully it's soon."

Whenever it is, it's still way too early to tell. One is a true freshman, one a redshirt freshman and one a sophomore. They're not draft eligible. There are players ahead of them on the depth chart that will graduate.

So despite the great hype these players received coming into USC, their potential to succeed, in this environment, under this competition, is even greater.

"I never really look at what people say," Prater said. "I just came out of high school and I'm here now. The focus is about what I'm doing now."

Not all five-star recruits end up like Robert Woods, highly recruited and instant game changers at their respective colleges.

Because every player runs a different route.

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