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Joined at the Hip

Pete Carroll knows defense.

He identifies and recruits talent that can fit into his system.

He doesn’t get every player he covets but those he does get are a part of the toughest defense in the game.

For all the players Pete Carroll has recruited two have stood out and will always be a part of Trojan lore. Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga. They came in together and they will leave together. When both decided to stay for their senior seasons a collective sigh of relief could be heard because they will be the leaders on the SC defense in 2008. Both have been Rose Bowl MVP’s. Both were on the field during that heart breaking loss to Texas in the National Championship game as freshman and both have consistently improved their play on the field as they have been a part of some of SC’s great wins and terrible losses.

They are just two of the stand out players that link the past, the Bush-Leinart era, with the future, the McKnight-Sanchez era. Both share their thoughts and their expectations (in separate stories) on their final season together.

Rivals on Brian Cushing

Looking for veteran leadership on the USC defense is like looking for water off the side of the boat — it's everywhere. The group learned what it takes to lead when it arrived on campus, learning from guys like Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Darnell Bing.

Cushing said the information passed on from the older group when he arrived at USC has been crucial to his and the team's success.

"We came in to an unbelievable situation, and we couldn't have gotten better guys to show us what SC football is and what it takes," Cushing said. "You have to compete every day to be the best player or the best team — no matter how much talent you have."

It's a message he's trying to convey to the newest Trojans on campus during summer workouts.

"I definitely hope I'm showing them the right things," Cushing said. "If they take anything out of these workouts, I hope it's the work ethic it takes and the desire to be the best. We need to spread the message we learned. One day when they're the guys, they can teach."

With new blood from the incoming freshman paired with some returning players like Josh Pinkard and Kevin Thomas, Cushing's feeling good about the state of the defense.

Scout on Rey Maualuga

Probably one of the more misunderstood players on this year’s Trojan roster is senior Rey Maualuga. Maualuga is a ferocious hitter on the field, who can level an opposing player seemingly without much effort. He can appear to be a reckless defender, when quite the opposite is true. Part of the misunderstanding about Maualuga is that his defensive hits can be so powerful, that one highlight play will make the rounds on the internet or TV highlight shows for months without end.

Maualuga can also change the complexion of a game with his up-tempo, aggressive playing style. Take for example, the closing of the first half of the 2008 Rose Bowl vs. Illinois. By the end of the half, Maualuga rattled the Illinois offense, forced turnovers, and had such a big impact on the game that the Illini could never get back on track.

This even led play-by-play announcer, Brent Musburger to claim that Maualuga was leaving USC after the Rose Bowl, to enter the NFL a year early. Despite the fact that in the weeks leading up to the Rose Bowl, Maualuga and Brian Cushing both went on record to say they would return for their senior seasons.

Both have the opportunity to really make a statement this season and solidify their futures in the NFL. It has been a blast watching these two play together. They have come a long way since that first season and they have given us some great memories, lets hope they give a lot more this season.