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For Cushing staying healthy is the key

Last season Brian Cushing was looking to do some great things. He was coming off a Rose Bowl MVP and his presence on the defense was going to be key for SC to possibly getting to another BCS title game. But an ankle injury in the very first game against Idaho set his season back and it took awhile for him to get back on track. A dislocated shoulder in his freshman season also limited his playing time, so if he wants to make a big splash for the NFL this year he has to stay healthy.

For Cushing, playing a full season in 2008 is vital because he wants to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft. Some mock drafts list him as a potential first-rounder, if he can stay healthy.

"That would be helpful, because he has been banged up," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "This year will have something to say about his status if he missed a number of games."

Cushing said missing nearly 33 percent of two seasons is impossible to ignore, so he knows the NFL will inquire about it.

"I'm sure the NFL will ask, they're always looking for things," he said. "But I'm in my best shape and playing my best football ever right now. Mentally, I've never been close

to what I am now."

Durability is key in the NFL so Cushing needs to keep on playing his heart out and not get bit by the injury bug.

While he toyed with leaving for the NFL after last season his coming back for his senior season will go a long way to building his stock up with NFL scouts of course the key will be to stay healthy.

Although Cushing missed four games last season, he said he considered coming out early but spoke to Carroll and former USC linebacker Keith Rivers, who returned for his senior season and increased his stock.

"I knew it was the best thing to come back," Cushing said.

The temptation was there for Cushing, who earned All-American honors despite recording just 25 tackles. Some of his hits are so memorable, however, he probably gets more mileage out of his tackles than most players, except maybe middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. Cushing's potential always intrigued NFL teams, and he admitted even in April he wondered about his status.

"After watching the draft, I asked a lot of questions where I stood," Cushing said. "I wondered what teams thought of me. Next year, who knows what position they will want me to play?

It would have been weird not to have Cushing around this season when you consider that he and Rey have been practically joined at the hip since the arrived at USC. It definitely would not have felt right.

Cushing overcame a lot coming all the way from NJ. I was fortunate enough to see him play as senior. He was cocky and brash then but I could see why it was hasrd not to be. He was heading to USC a school who had just won a BCS title and who had put together one of the best defenses in nation and probably one of the most explosive offenses in the history of college football. Cush had his moments of being home hick but he quickly got into the groove in L.A. and when he has been on the field he has had some great moments.

He has turned into a leader and there is a good chance that he could be named co-team captain this week. That would be a good move as his vocal demeanor will go a long way to to setting the tone on defense.

He has been fun to watch while he has been here at USC, but it is not over yet and this season is for all the marbles.