The Pac-12 Media Days give teams an opportunity to discuss excitement for the upcoming season, and coach Steve Sarkisian, quarterback Cody Kessler and All-American defensive lineman Leonard Williams were right on point.
After sifting through 25 minutes of Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott breaking down all the innovative techniques implemented by the "conference of champions," the Trojans three biggest stars discussed the ever pertinent message of team camaraderie, total focus, and passing on the torch on from Coach Orgeron to Steve Sarkisian this season.
Leonard Williams, who says he now feels 100-percent heading into the fall, believes that he "needed some time off" last season and that the team "wants me to step up and be more of a vocal leader. The future top-five NFL draft pick addressed his future, honestly admitting that he doesn't talk about the league that much, even with his closest friends.
The one thing Williams mentioned that certainly will draw some nice discussion is that the team thought "I never really hold on to stuff in the past...but it was hard to fight for guys when you knew he (Lane Kiffin) could be gone the next day."
Williams recognizes that these guys are meshing well with the new coaching staff, and he believes that can be utilized well in the passing situations on the outside on tackles and tight ends, as well as the running game at the three-technique.
While the Trojans have pumped up the pace in practice, Williams admits that the change in tempo has also benefitted the defense, giving them more chances to face Pac-12 offenses that have run rampant over the past few years. Williams told me that he was a tad bit nervous heading into Pac-12 Media Day, being his first big event and all, but he was quite confident about his teams ability to overcome ASU and UCLA this time around.
"I like being the underdog and coming from the bottom," Williams said about hearing the Trojans were ranked second in the Pac-12 South Preseason Media Poll. "We're ready to come out and play anyone."
Cody Kessler meanwhile may not be the most prolific quarterback in attendance at Pac-12 Media Day, but the exciting competition to stand among the best is something he looks forward to on a daily, weekly and by-rep basis. "My main goal is to establish myself as an elite QB not just in the conference but throughout the country," said Kessler.
In the conversation with many elite players, Kessler recognizes that wins and losses will ultimately paint the picture of which quarterbacks are the best. Kessler hinted at the fact that even amongst this talented fraternity, the newfound respect he's been able to command with his team could help his overall development to surpass these players.
"It was tough to establish myself as a leader last year," said Kessler. But now emerging as the team's starting quarterback right away, Kessler feels more confident about his ability to command this Trojans offense.
Sarkisian praised his signal caller, going on to say that: "He's won a lot of games and I think that shows in his play. He's ultra-competitive. He has great leadership. He's got extremely quick hands, which in our offense is critical for the quarterback's success. He throws an accurate ball, and he's got a year of experience under his belt of being the starting quarterback, which is always very helpful."
If the Trojans want to ultimately succeed, USC will need other players (outside of Nelson Agholor) to emerge on the outside. The names Darreus Rogers, Steven Mitchell and even George Farmer, who Sarkisian sounded very optimistic about heading into Fall Camp, could lighten the load as slot and outside threats in this fast-paced attack.
Sarkisian was also quick to praise the relationship he was building with this team, mentioning that even the first few months of Spring Practice have fortified a level of trust that he hasn't felt in quite a long time.
Sark says he feels more connected with these USC players, already, than he ever did with the Washington program.— Evan Budrovich (@evanbud) July 23, 2014
While Sark was quick to praise the teams efforts, both on and off the field, he cautioned that his team has to avoid losing track of the process. "My concern is that these guys embrace the journey, embrace the experiences, enjoy the experiences that are going to last them a lifetime. The record and the scores, that is the byproduct of all of that."
That said, coach Sarkisian seemed rather encouraged by the shape of this program. He feels wiser, and more experienced --especially with the diversity and strength of his coaching staff-- against whatever challenges come about during the year.
USC's relatively young but nevertheless game-tested roster will continue to improve with strong recruiting classes in future years, but Sarkisian likes what he has at the moment. "We have a really talented roster, about 65 scholarship players. That's not ideal. That's OK. We're still really good."
RT @DanGreenspan: Pac-12 media days has sno-cone station. *media immediately retracts all previous tweets slamming format and venue issues*— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) July 23, 2014
Sark said last words from Pete Carroll after their last game together (09 Rose Bowl) were: "Go be you."— Michael Lev (@MichaelJLev) July 23, 2014
Cody Kessler on future USC v Bama game: "A lot of the younger guys are excited. I told them, 'calm down...'"— Lisa Horne (@LisaHorne) July 23, 2014