This week marked the start of spring practice for USC football, and fans could not be more excited. Hopes are high for the 2017 season after the team’s triumph in the Rose Bowl this past January. So far, it looks like USC is off to a good start. Star linebacker Cameron Smith encapsulated the mood perfectly by stating, “It was awesome. It feels so good to be out here. It was a great day one.”
The name of the game this season is leadership. It’s no secret that USC lost its four captains from last year: Max Browne (QB) transferred to Pitt, Michael Hutchings (LB) and Zach Banner (OT) graduated, and Adoree Jackson (CB) left early for the NFL draft. In his press conference, coach Clay Helton said that the focus would be on “developing leadership” and that he will be looking for younger players to step up and take on that role.
Primed for the position is QB Sam Darnold. Helton mentioned Darnold’s increased vocal presence this year and that not only does “he lead by example,” but that “he is the definition of what a Trojan should be.” Darnold has spent a lot of time in the offseason getting to know the younger receivers that will replace JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers, and will be looking to develop the chemistry that coach Helton is pushing for this season. Darnold was hesitant to name any one player as his main target, instead saying that he wants to be able to “trust anyone on every single play” (although did mention that Deontay Burnett, Michael Pittman Jr., and Tyler Vaughns are all looking great).
Burnett, who is currently favored to take Smith-Schuster’s place as the Trojan’s top receiver, followed that up by saying, “everybody is going to get their opportunity. We’re going to need everybody to win a national championship.”
The Trojans know they cannot rely solely on their talent if they want to grab that national title. Helton says the team will be focusing on “re-creating the middle of the defense, understanding faults from last year, and learning how to start fast, rather than just be a closing team.” Specifically younger players will be training to line up properly and play at a fast tempo with the no huddle offense. He also mentioned that since 9 out of 10 coaches are returning this season, the team is “so much farther ahead than we were at the beginning of last season.” This continuity will enable players to focus on perfecting details rather than learning new systems.
The USC Trojans are back and seem to have an extra spring in their step. Helton sent a clear message to the entire team and fan base by declaring, “we’re here to win championships.” He went on to say that as thrilled as he is with the Rose Bowl win, “the challenge will be to have the discipline to move on, to not live in the past, but focus on the future.” For the last few years, the Trojans were seemingly stuck in the past, still reliving the glory days of the Pete Carroll era. Coach Helton’s dedication to creating a new era is a breath of fresh air, and fans cannot wait to see what the 2017 season has in store. Stay tuned for more updates.
It is worth noting that several players will not be taking the field this spring as they are still recovering from injury: C Toa Lobendahn (ACL), DB Jonathan Lockett (hip surgery), WR Steven Mitchell Jr. (ACL), WR Trevon Sidney (hip surgery), OT Nathan Smith (ACL). Additionally, the following players will be limited during spring practice: DT Kenny Bigelow (ACL), DT Jacob Daniel (hamstring), LB Porter Gustin (hand surgery), C Nico Falah (back), OG Viane Talamaivao (hamstring) and RB Dominic Davis (concussion symptoms).