Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2005 | 9:16 a.m.
One of the worst-kept secrets in college football finally became official shortly after 1 p.m. on Monday afternoon when former USC quarterback Rocky Hinds came striding into UNLV's Lied Athletic Complex.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Hinds, rumored since May to be heading to Las Vegas and the object of tampering allegations by USC coach Pete Carroll, enrolled at UNLV earlier in the day and must sit out the 2005 season per NCAA transfer rules. He will still have three years of eligibility remaining.
"I think it's huge," said a beaming first-year UNLV head coach Mike Sanford. "I think it's big."
How big? Well, entering his senior season at St. Bernard High School in Playa del Rey in 2003, Hinds was rated the No. 1 prospect in California by respected recruiting guru Tom Lemming of South Barrington, Ill. Sanford, then the offensive coordinator at Utah, had him ranked even better than that.
"I saw him (play) first-hand in high school," Sanford said. "He was the No. 1 guy in the nation for running our spread option shotgun offense. That probably says enough about him and about what we think about him as a quarterback in this offense."
Hinds didn't give Sanford or Utah a serious look back then.
"They came in late," he said.
By then he had already decided to sign with the defending national champion USC Trojans over Cal, UCLA, Washington, Notre Dame and Arizona. This despite sitting out his entire senior year due to a torn ACL in his right knee suffered during a preseason scrimmage.
As a junior, Hinds not only had starred in football but also in track for the Vikings, winning the CIF Southern Section IV title in the 100 meters. He posted a career-best 10.47 in the 100 meters to go along with a time of 22.0 in the 200. He also high-jumped 6 feet, 7 inches.
Combine those physical talents along with a year of quarterback grooming under former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow and it's easy to see why Sanford is excited to have Hinds on board.
"It's an offense that utilizes his talents," Sanford said. "He's an athletic quarterback that can run and make some plays, but he's also a good passer. I think the fact he saw Alex Smith get drafted No. 1 in the (NFL Draft) might (have) had a little bit to do with (his transferring to UNLV). It's an offense that fits his talent."
Hinds, who also took a recruiting trip to Texas last month, said there were two other factors in his decision to leave USC for the Rebels.
One was the Trojans' depth chart at the end of spring practice. Hinds found himself No. 3 behind not only reigning Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, but also sophomore John David Booty, who some observers felt was outplayed by Hinds in the spring. And Mark Sanchez, the national player of the year at Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School, signed with USC and is being touted in some circles as the heir to Leinart in 2006.
When asked if he wasn't ranked as high on the post-spring depth chart as he thought he should have been, Hinds replied simply, "Yeah, pretty much."
Another plus in the Rebels' favor as it turns out is the fact Hinds' best friend and old high school receiving target, Deshawn Green, attends UNLV and is also walking on the squad.
"I just felt it was a great opportunity here with Coach Sanford," Hinds said. "And it's close to home. With Coach Sanford and this great offense, it gets me real excited. I can run, throw and do everything in this offense."
USC initially wouldn't release Hinds to attend UNLV after the school alleged improper contact by the school. However, Hinds appealed that decision to a university appeal board and was later granted his release.
"There was no tampering," Hinds said. "It was all, 'He said, she said.' There was nothing proven."
"We did the whole procedure right," Sanford said. "We didn't have contact with him until he got his release. At that point he could only contact us because of NCAA rules and the fact he has to come here as a walk-on.
"It's been quite a journey."