Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick had a unique opportunity to learn from two talented teammates in Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer last season about thriving in an underutilized tight end position. And now, the former special teams ace will see his number called on a whole new level under a much-faster offensive system.
Appearing in 12 games overall for the Trojans, including the final offensive drive against rival Notre Dame, Cope-Fitzpatrick expects more from himself in all three phases of his game in what should be a jammed-packed junior season.
Steve Sarkisian's camp has come to town, which means the tight end position is in the process of being revamped and reloaded for a large production increase this spring.
"Any time someone can get reps, all the first team, its awesome," said the humble pass-catch prospect. I'm looking forward to this season, cause you know I haven't scored a touchdown in the Coli. So its something I really want to do."
After Xavier Grimble declared for the NFL Draft and while incumbent starer Randall Telfer remains sidelined after battling nagging injuries through the first ten practices, the former high school tight end/outside linebacker, who finished his prep career with a modest 58 receptions, gets his first real chance for stardom.
Under the guidance of new assistant coach Marques Tuiasosopo, inheriting the budding tight end position along with associate offensive head coaching duties, times will certainly be changing for the Trojans pass-catching specimens.
The addition of coach "Tui" brings a fresh look, as the former Huskies quarterback brings unique knowledge and strong field recognition that could possibly transform USC's talent into similar situations that allowed Austin Seferian-Jenkins to dominate Pac-12 opponents over the past three seasons.
"He's been awesome, a real positive guy out there. He brings a energy that I haven't been around in a while, and he knows a lot about football," Cope-Fitzpatrick said of his new position coach that he says brings "broad knowledge to the game."
In a position group that has featured the likes of Rhett Ellison, Jordan Cameron (2014 NFL Pro Bowler) and Fred Davis (2007 Mackey Award Winner), the Trojans are looking to revive its once dominant pass-catching position.
Through the first ten spring practices we've seen Cope-Fitzpatrick not only score the rock, but also drastically enhance his rhythm and timing with all three main stake quarterbacks by acquiring valuable first-team reps.
"It's great any time you can get the ball thrown your way," says Cope-Fitzpatrick, who currently boasts three receptions during the course of his USC career. "And with that repetition, I've really been noticing it in my game and it's been awesome to see it on film, and also be able to do it on the field."
The offense is frantically inputting 100 plays per practice and players are implementing many more skill sets into morning walk-through sessions. But the biggest difference for the Rocklin, CA native has come through film study and individual groups working on getting off the line of scrimmage, or playing with good pad level in run/pass blocking.
Cope-Fitzpatrick can't wait to have Telfer back by his side, and is also excited about training freshman four-star prospect Bryce Dixon once he arrives on campus. But right now its all about getting his reps done right, while the iron is hot.
"There's a big emphasis on the passing game and running routes. But as far as the blocking goes, hopefully I won't be too much in there," Cope-Fitzpatrick says. "But, I want to do a lot of run blocking with all our great running backs back here."
Whether he's leading the way for some power football, sitting back and holding the fort for USC's quarterback, or even getting his chance to score his first points in the Coliseum during the Spring Game, expect the junior tight end to place his 6-foot-4, 225-pound footprint all over Steve Sarkisian's offensive canvas.