When Randall Telfer elected to return for his final season, electing not to follow in the footsteps of other draft-eligible teammates, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound tight end recognized the challenges ahead.
Entering the season as the savvy veteran amongst the scholarship-limited tight end group, Telfer has taken an entirely new role in USC's locker room during camp.
"It's a weird feeling being the vet on the team, especially in the tight end room," Telfer said. "But it keeps me moving forward. It's like guys pushing me to get better and like stay up there. That’s why I try to bring guys up there with me."
That change has also translated over to the football field, where scholarship freshman Bryce Dixon and suspended option Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick join a group of hard working walk-on tight ends in Chris Willson and Connor Spears.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian has demanded more production out of the tight end position, and Telfer is the one guy who has fully seen the revival come to form.
"It's a little bit of a different feeling this year because of that reason," explained Telfer. "In the previous years, the tight ends have been more of the run-blocking guys, and just to see the ball in my hands has been kind of exciting."
The Trojans want to flex out their tight ends this season, something that excites Telfer. That still doesn't mean USC will completely forget the pass-blocking technique that was so heavily utilized last season.
"I told Cody (Kessler), I’ll die before anyone tackles you or sacks you," the confident pass-blocking option assured the media.
In order to capitalize on that opportunity, Telfer and his teammates have worked diligently catching passes after practice to ensure their success down the road. That transformation has taken place, in part, with the mentality tight end coach Marques Tuiasosopo has brought down to Southern California by way of Washington.
"Coach Tui is a really good coach," Telfer said, adding, "He played quarterback so he’s really an attention to detail type of guy and I feel like that’s something I’ll have to carry on in the next level, even in life after football."
But for someone who has seen a great deal unfold over the course of his career, Telfer took some time this offseason to talk with his friend and former Trojan tight end mate Xavier Grimble. The former Trojans' journey into a productive pass-catching threat for the New York Giants has inspired Telfer to strive for more, in his last and final chapter at USC.
What type of lessons can Randall Telfer provide to his peers? Besides 22 starts of experience under his belt, amassing 44 catches for 451 yards (10.3 avg.) with 10 TDs in his career, Telfer brings a wealth of perspective for his impressionable teammates.
"There’s so much stuff, but the biggest one is just stay focused," Telfer said, describing the lessons he's already been able to instill in freshman Bryce Dixon, who has been rather impressive to this point in his collegiate career.
"It’s a different ballgame. A lot of guys will get lost in the social life and school, football can be overwhelming with the coaches, but I think he (Dixon) is taking it very well."
While many focus on the Trojans' depth at running back, wide receiver and the big bodies at fullback, the tight end position may now have an opportunity to raise their hand and join the pass-catching party.
"Naturally the receiver in me wants to do that," Telfer said. "But I know the quarterbacks gonna get us the ball, whenever its proper."
Holding firm to that bright light of hope for what lies ahead, the battle-tested tight end wants what is best for his team and would love to bring guys around him up to the level of one day being the best in the business.