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December 21, 2011On a day when USC football improved itself significantly with the addition of four top prospects, two high school and two from junior colleges, it got even better later in the day.
It added an All-American, or at least kept one, safety T.J. McDonald, for his senior season as the hard-hitting 6-foot-3, 205-pound safety indicated he would return for his senior season and not enter the NFL Draft.
"USC has been a powerful place for my family and it has been a part of my entire life," McDonald told the USCTrojans blog Ripsit.
"I came to USC at a unique time, when we were on probation, and a bowl ban, and nobody on my team was part of the reason for that bowl ban. We took it on full force and now we are on the way back to the greatness of USC."
That greatness is something McDonald knows about. His father, Tim, now the head coach at Fresno's Edison High School, was a two-time All-American safety and captain at USC and a 13-year NFL player and former Pro Bowler.
"Being a captain of this team and part of that greatness, we have an opportunity to do something great," T.J. McDonald said Wednesday. "That opportunity doesn't come around very often. I want to finish things out and be a part of something great. So I am returning to USC for my senior season."
USC Coach Lane Kiffin liked the sound of that.
"We're obviously very excited about T.J.'s decision to return next year," Kiffin said. "He'll be a leading candidate for the Thorpe Award in 2012 and he has a chance to be a two-time All-American, plus he will captain our team for a second straight year and graduate.
"T.J. and his family did a phenomenal job throughout the decision-making process," Kiffin said. "As we have done with our other players, we told him we would support whatever decision he made.
"We now return our starting back seven players on defense next season, and T.J. will anchor that group. That's great news."
It was the end, Kiffin said, of a very good day: "With T.J.'s announcement that he is returning and with the signing of the two junior college players earlier today, these are three wonderful early Christmas presents for Trojan fans."
McDonald all along had probably been the surest player of the four Trojans to return, it seemed, in the group with DE Nick Perry and OT Matt Kalil, who have announced they'll be going to the NFL, and quarterback Matt Barkley who has yet to reveal his plans. McDonald had mostly said he would be returning throughout the season.
But by the night of the football awards banquet last week, it was clear he was seriously considering the NFL as he said he didn't want to talk about it until he had made up his mind.
At the banquet, McDonald was given the Trojan Warrior Defensive Player Award.
"This season was something I'll never forget," McDonald said. "Something changed. With all the sanctions, something changed . . . It didn't matter who was on the field, they knew I had their backs and I knew they had mine . . . to all the guys leaving here, they are my buddies . . . We're all a part of the Trojan family."
Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.