LOS ANGELES — Receiver Damian Williams is the latest to leave the troubled Southern California football program, announcing Friday night he's skipping his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
The Trojans' news release on Williams' departure didn't include any comment from coach Pete Carroll, who's apparently closing in on a lavish deal to take over the Seattle Seahawks.
Williams and Carroll could be joined in the NFL by several fellow Trojans – everyone from defensive lineman Everson Griffen and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates to tailbacks Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson – if the various rumors swirling around USC's downtown campus all turn out to be true.
It all seems to add up to an abrupt fall for a program that ranked among the nation's best for most of the past decade, with Carroll going 97-19 and winning two national titles.
Williams was USC's leading receiver for the past two seasons. He was the Trojans' MVP for the just-completed season after catching 70 passes for 1,010 yards and six touchdowns while also excelling as a punt returner, returning two for scores. The Arkansas transfer caught 58 passes for 869 yards in 2008, his first at USC.
"The NFL has been a dream of mine since I can remember, and I feel that it is my time to take this step to the next level," Williams said. "I am proud to have earned my degree from USC, and that was an extremely important part of this decision for me and my family."
Although Carroll often sends his juniors to the NFL on a wave of verbal praise, his silence on Williams seemed to be good news for the Seahawks, who appear eager to give him the control over personnel moves that the 58-year-old coach always cited as a prerequisite for his return to the pros.
And the timing could be right for Carroll, who didn't return numerous phone calls and text messages, to flee the program he built into a national power over nine years. USC's string of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles ended in the just-completed season, and the school still is under several years of NCAA scrutiny for alleged improprieties in both Carroll's team and athletic director Mike Garrett's beleaguered department.
The most recent allegations concern McKnight, who also is entering the NFL draft early, according to the Los Angeles Times. USC's compliance department is looking into allegations McKnight drove a car owned by a Santa Monica businessman with interests in sports marketing. McKnight wasn't allowed to play in the Trojans' bowl game last month.
Johnson, who survived a near-fatal weightlifting accident last year, will participate in the Senior Bowl and won't petition for another year at USC. Griffen said after the Trojans' win in the Emerald Bowl that he plans to go pro.
Backup quarterback Aaron Corp also announced Thursday he's transferring to Richmond after losing his competition last year with freshman Matt Barkley.
Bates, an experienced NFL assistant who joined the Trojans last year to run Carroll's offense, has been the subject of rumors linking him to the Chicago Bears and now the Seahawks.