Given what we know about USC's scholarship reductions along with the manner in which the coaching staff conducts practice with such pace and competition, plenty of contributors on the depth chart have been given more and more opportunities to make a name for themselves over on Howard Jones Field.
Snatching an interception on defense, getting up in an opponent's grill following a pass deflection, or lowering that shoulder and delivering fundamental tackles, walk-on safety Matt Lopes plays with a noticeable intensity during practice.
"I’m not the biggest guy or the fastest guy so I gotta make it up some way," the 5-foot-11, 180-pound redshirt freshman pointed out.
Through hard work and shear determination, Lopes has translated a fierce passion for the position into well-earned reps on both the scout team, and now second-team defense.
"We don’t have that many bodies, and right now I have that opportunity," Matt Lopes said, following one of his healthiest and most productive months ever. "Now I am really comfortable with this defense and I feel great right now."
Even though Matt's father, Steve Lopes, is USC's senior associate athletic director and chief operating officer, Matt isn't on the field because of nepotism. Earning 2012 Max-Preps All-State Division II Honors and All-CIF Northern Division Offensive Player of the Year during his senior season at Palos Verdes HS, Lopes rushed for 1,651 yards with 25 touchdowns and recorded 25 tackles plus three interceptions on defense.
All that experience, especially on the defensive side of the ball for both Palos Verdes and a full year on USC's scout-team squad, has made the transition to this free-flowing and aggressive scheme both swift and enjoyable.
"I’ve started to get a rhythm and from (Spring practice) I’ve just been in the playbook, knowing everything and it's just been coming together a lot better for me," Lopes said, before strongly adding, "I feel confident at safety, it's easy out there."
Learning from one of his true mentors, senior safety Gerald Bowman, the hard-hitting safety continues to make plays all over the field -- and he'll let you know about it as well.
"I’m a competitive guy," Lopes said. "Sometimes on the field we get into things, but off the field, we are all friends. A lot of time it's joke and fun, but yea, it is very competitive."
Along with fellow high school teammate Robby Kolanz, the Sea Kings have taken pride in the fact they continue to prove people wrong at the next level. They sure haven't been overlooked by position coaches Tee Martin and Keith Heyward, who both rave over the contributions each of the former Palos Verdes stars bring to the table for this program.
Kolanz appeared in eight games last season, and Lopes is putting in the hard work awaiting the moment when USC's defensive No. 37 gets on the field for an actual game, although he'd be remise not to appreciate the opportunity already been given.
"If they need me, I’m ready," Lopes said. "I know everything, this is exciting."