Out with the old, in with the new.
USC football’s spring practice is now well under way. Saturday afternoon’s scrimmage was the sixth of the allotted fifteen spring practices for the Trojans. For those non-math students, that means we have already completed more than one-third of them.
Each spring, all players, coaches, student managers, student trainers, fans and the rest of the staff eagerly await the return of competitive football.
Sure, the players are doing football year-round with rigorous offseason workouts, OTAs and 7-on-7 drills. But the spring is a preamble to the upcoming season. Who the top players are? What type of team this will be?
But this year has something a little different than the past nine.
A new coach.
Since Coach Pete Carroll’s departure in January, the USC football team has been shaken up a bit. Lane Kiffin stormed into the offices of Heritage Hall just one day after Carroll left for Seattle, and brought recruiting guru Ed Orgeron and defensive guru—and dad—Monte Kiffin with him.
Right away, Kiffin made some waves. With only three weeks to work with before National Signing Day, USC earned Rivals’ No. 1 recruiting class among all college football teams, and landed three of the top-six national recruits.
Pretty good start.
From the start of a new regime, there are certainly some noticeable differences. Coach Kiffin is instilling discipline and hard work into his players and constantly reminding them that we need to re-earn our respect amongst college football’s greats, especially after a disappointing 9-4 season, ending with an Emerald Bowl victory against Boston College.
Although Coach Kiffin’s practices are structured nearly exactly the same way as Coach Carroll’s were, spring practice has definitely brought some change to the players and managers.
The coaches are different and teach football through different drills. But the most noticeable difference:
The swagger USC had under Carroll is being refined. Kiffin wants his troops to earn respect and act like champions to be champions.
Spring practice is a great opportunity for young players to get playing time and for others to compete for starting spots. And looking at the Xs and Os of the team, some players and positions are beginning to mold into top-of-the-line features for USC. Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley continues to hold the keys for the Trojans after starting 11 of 12 games last season. He is emerging as a real leader for not only the offense, but the entire team as well.
Senior running back Allen Bradford is excited to be the premier backer on the squad, with the departures of Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson into the NFL. He is a load to bring down and has speed to beat a defensive back around the corner, with a 6-0 frame, weighing 235 pounds.
New 2010 recruits—and spring enrollees—wide receiver Kyle Prater and running back/wide receiver Dillon Baxter are also making waves. Kyle Prater’s size (6-5) gives Barkley a nice target to throw to and his hands will catch any ball around his perimeter. And Dillon Baxter—who scored 73 touchdowns last season in high school—could make the next Reggie Bush/Joe McKnight comparisons. His shiftiness and agility are unmatched on this team.
Along with the rookies, senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson and sophomore wideout Brice Butler continue to provide solid speed and hands for Barkley to throw to.
On the defensive end of the ball, the defensive line may be the best in the country, with sophomore end Nick Perry and junior end Armond Armstead and a trio of tackles that could all be All-Americans in Christian Tupou, Jurrell Casey, and Hebron Fangupo.
And with an entirely new set of defensive backs, senior corner Shareece Wright will highlight and lead that pass defense.
The linebackers return all three starters, as sophomore Devon Kennard is also in the mix for the mike starting spot. He and Chris Galippo are battling for the starting stop at middle linebacker.
The spring is a great time for football. While the rest of the country is focused on March Madness and Opening Day for Baseball, football players, staff members and fans are evaluating their team’s progress and hoping for the best for the fall season.
And USC is all about football right now.
With a near-entirely new coaching staff, USC is getting back to the top. Kiffin and Co. are instilling fresh philosophies into the Trojans. And so far, so good.
People thought the departure of Carroll would mean a halt in USC’s success and dominance over college football in the past decade. But it’s looking up for the Troy.
It began in the classrooms and meeting rooms in January, continuing with offseason workouts through April and rolling with spring practice now. College football is a constant moving entity searching for championships.
It has been a few years—five to be exact—since USC has held the crystal ball, but it looks like the Men of Troy may be finding that mountaintop soon. The question now is, when?