USC tight end Xavier Grimble plans to forego his senior season to enter the 2014 NFL Draft, according to a report by Los Angeles Times beat writer Gary Klein. Grimble becomes the fifth USC underclassman to leave for the draft.
Grimble was part of a dynamic tight end dup with Randall Telfer -- both redshirt juniors who were expected to play big roles this season but were hampered by injuries.
Telfer was the more likely candidate to enter the NFL Draft early after stating following the Las Vegas Bowl that he would make an announcement within a few days. Grimble had been reported to be leaning toward returning. But on Christmas Day, Telfer tweeted that he was returning for his senior season while Klein reported Tueday night Grimble planned to skip his last year.
Grimble was the top tight end recruit in the nation coming out of Bishop Gorman High (Las Vegas). He and Telfer both held true to their commitments to USC after Pete Carroll departed for the Seattle Seahawks head coaching opening and Lane Kiffin came on as the Trojans' new head man.
That both tight ends followed through is even more stunning when considering the talent that was already on campus at the position. Grimble and Telfer redshirted as freshmen because future NFL tight ends Jordan Cameron and Rhett Ellison were ready to take their turn after sitting behind another NFL talent in Anthony McCoy.
There was also the possibility of the new coaching staff moving David Ausberry in from receiver -- something that was experimented with and has since been tried successfully in the NFL.
People who questioned why Grimble would come to USC despite all those potential hurdles received a simple response:
"I want to compete. Wherever. I don’t really care."
He built a unique bond with Cameron, who took him in under his athletic wing and who Grimbile says he still calls for advice on occasion.
After redshirting his freshman year and morphing his body from 260 pounds to a slimmer 245-250, Grimble caught 15 balls for 244 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. His sophomore season, he had 29 receptions for 316 yards and five touchdowns.
Along the way, Telfer was there beside him, in the lineup as a co-starter. But there never was any tension as Grimble and Telfer tried to carry on the tight end tradition -- something I wrote about for FOX Sports' SC Playbook magazine early this season. Here's what Grimble had to say about his relationship with the other tight ends:
"It’s been a brotherhood from day one. Even before I got here with the whole coaching change thing happened, me and Randall were communicating back and forth, talking about SC and that we were still going to go. We’ve never really seen it as starter/backup type of thing and it’s really not.
We play two tights. We play about the same amount of snaps every game. We’re in there all the time together. It’s like a brotherhood. TE U. We’re a tight end family. We want to be the best tight end group we can be. That’s what it’s all about, being the best tight end group across the nation, across the board.
With me, Randall and Jalen, we want to be able to say that we’re the best tight end group across the nation and that’s what we’re working for.
It’s always been a good relationship. Never any tension or anything like that surprisingly. It’s been nothing but trying to help each other and that’s what we learned from Rhett and Jordan Cameron. That’s like kinda how they ran it and that’s how we’re running it now.
It’s a good situation. Everybody gets to learn. Everybody develops and everybody’s pretty happy."
Big seasons were expected from the tight ends this year, but Grimble's numbers regressed to 25 catches, 271 yards and two touchdowns. The tight ends were asked to do more blocking early this season with an inexperienced quarterback pair dueling for the starting job and an offensive line that was whiffing way too often. Grimble was then injured against Arizona and missed three straight games. His best highlight of the year came on a 30-yard touchdown catch up the seam against Utah State.
Grimble's decision to leave early surprised many. With new head coach Steve Sarkisian's offense producing the Mackey Award (given to nation's top tight end) winner in Austin Seferian-Jenkins this season, Grimble could have seen his numbers make a big jump next season. Instead, he decided it was time for him to take on the next challenge and prove his mettle at USC's Pro Day and then potentially at the NFL Scouting Combine.
With Grimble departed, Telfer's targets may grow as will the role of the athletic Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who stands the most to gain with increased opportunities to prove himself. The Trojans just picked up a verbal commitment from Bryce Dixon, the No. 2 tight end in the country, who Grimble would undoubtedly hope continues USC's "Tight End U" tradition.
BONUS Anecdote (and Video!):
I actually met Xavier his senior year at Bishop Gorman while he was playing in the Nike Extravaganza basketball tournament at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana. After the game, I did a short "Getting to Know" post and video with him. Though i haven't covered the football team day in and day out since his redshirt year and hadn't had a conversation with him in more than two years, whenever I've seen him around campus, he always acknowledged me with a grin and a greeting. (I don't know if I've ever not seen him smile.)
Last year, I saw him at a women's basketball game. He was there with former high school basketball teammate and then UCLA Bruin Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA's Tony Parker and a couple of USC football teammates. When I stopped to say hello, he immediately started telling Muhammad about me and the video I shot with him in high school (Muhammad was a freshman on that basketball team and I also talked to him at the Nike Extravaganza).
Though I hadn't talked to him much in two years, Grimble remembered the first time I had interviewed him and wanted to tell his buddy I was a good dude. With all the different recruiting analysts and the number of beat reporters that are at Howard Jones daily, it's easy for USC players not to remember your name if you haven't been around for two weeks, much less two years. It was a simple gesture by "Zae", but it also showed me a little bit about his character.
And here's that original "Getting to Know" interview from early 2010 where he talks about choosing USC, tight end competition, mom's cooking, video games and talking to girls: