SAN ANTONIO – When players signed in for the Army All-American Bowl on the fourth floor of San Antonio's Grand Hyatt, they passed by some of the greats who played in the nine-year-old all-star game.
Through the hallways in the hotel, the prospects passed six-foot prints of players from games past like Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Brian Brohm and Reggie Bush.
Truthfully, the decorating staff could have found room for a few more college standouts who have played in this game, particularly some from USC.
Since the game began in 2001, 49 USC signees landed on Army All-American rosters. This year is no different. Six Trojans commitments are slated to play in this game. The number could grow in the coming weeks. Six more prospects on Army All-American rosters still have USC in consideration for their signatures come National Signing Day in February.
Texas still has the most commitments in the game with seven. Notre Dame also has six pledges on the two rosters.
"Watching them and knowing I'm going through the same process and same program is exciting," Fresno (Calif.) Edison safety T.J. McDonald said. "Seeing all the guys that played in this game and see what they've done, most have stood out. I'm glad to be a part of it."
Perhaps it's natural USC and the Army All-American game have a close connection. The first year of the Army game in 2001 was also Pete Carroll's first at USC.
Two Trojans signees played in each of the first two all-star games. That number exploded to eight future Trojans in the 2003 game. That Army All-American class included key parts of USC's BCS and Associated Press national championships.
2004: Five signees Highlights: C Jeff Byers, TE Fred Davis, WR Dwayne Jarrett, LB Keith Rivers
2003: Eight signees
Highlights: OT Sam Baker, RB Reggie Bush, WR Steve Smith, RB LenDale White
2002: Two signees
2001: Two signees Highlight: DT Shaun Cody
The eight in 2003 included two NFL first-round draft picks (running back Reggie Bush and offensive tackle Sam Baker) and two second-round picks (running back LenDale White and wide receiver Steve Smith).
After the initial breakthrough of Trojans in the Army game, more future USC stars followed – wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett and linebacker Keith Rivers in 2004, linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing and quarterback Mark Sanchez in 2005, safety Taylor Mays in 2006.
The USC crop in this year's Army game hopes to fit into that legacy.
The six USC commits in the game include three top 20 prospects – St. Bonaventure (Calif.) Ventura athlete Patrick Hall, Los Angeles Cathedral wide receiver Randall Carroll and Corona (Calif.) Centennial linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
McDonald and Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne safety Byron Moore are Rivals100 members. Compton (Calif.) safety Chris Metcalf is in the Rivals250.
"I think they're going to have that impact," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barry Every said. "As far as impact they're going to have, Randall Carroll is one of the fastest players in country. He can play as a freshman. Burfict is like Keith Rivers. They're both physically huge. He's already big enough to play. Patrick Hall is a little like Joe McKnight in that he played everything. It looks like Hall is going to make his impact on the defense. Another comparison is T.J McDonald and Taylor Mays. They are both big safeties, but Mays is really big."
This year's group already appears to have some chemistry on its side, too.
Hall, McDonald and Moore were the first three USC commits to arrive and were inseparable while making the rounds on the first day of bowl events. All three are from Southern California and project to be key cogs in a future Trojans secondary.
"We talk all the time pretty much," Moore said. "We get along real good."
The six USC commitments in San Antonio don't tell the whole story for the USC recruiting machine. Other all-star games will feature future USC players, too.
The Trojans have the nation's No. 5 class for 2009. If USC's ranking stays put or moves up, it will give USC its sixth top-five signing class in the last seven years. From 2004-06, USC had the nation's No. 1 class.
Although those numbers look great on paper, they can also cause a logjam of talented players on the roster. Only so many top prospects could find adequate playing time in Los Angeles.
Take the 2006 USC class who played in the Army All-American game. That class produced star safety Taylor Mays, but the numbers just didn't fit for other members of that class. Five of the 10 USC signees in the '06 game went on to transfer. Mays is the only full-time starter out of the group. (USC also added a transfer who played in that game, former Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain.)
This class doesn't appear to have a problem with the depth chart at USC. Perhaps that's because the Trojans have only signed three defensive backs in the last two signing class. Four of the six USC commitments in this year's Army game project as defensive backs.
"It's just a thirst for competition at USC," said McDonald, one of four USC defensive back commitments in the Army game. "If you know anything about Coach Carroll you know about competition."
Hall, the highest ranked of the USC commitments in the game at No. 9 in the nation, wouldn't mind if the Trojans left San Antonio with more commitments than they started.
He plans to target a couple of friends who committed to USC rivals to join him.
"I'm going to try to work something out," Hall said. "Shaquelle Evans was committed there but he committed to Notre Dame. (Notre Dame commit) Cierre Wood is a close friend of mine. I'm going to try to get him, too."
If none of that works out, Hall will be glad to join a personal tradition of playing in the Army game. He's a longtime USC fan, but also watched others close to him play in the Army All-American Bowl.
"I remember Reggie Bush playing, my cousin Lorenzo Booker played in it, a teammate of mine Darrell Scott played in it," Hall said. "I'm excited to play in it and continue the tradition"