USC Begins Spring Practice
March 20, 2001
LOS ANGELES - As the USC football team begins spring practice--which runs 15 sessions from this Sunday (March 25 through April 21)--it's a time of change for the Trojan program in 2001.
And, in this case, it appears change is good.
A new head coach. A new staff. Some new players. A new attitude.
Under first-year head coach Pete Carrollöwho in his brief time on the job already has assembled a proven coaching staff, recruited a Top 10 class and established a sense of camaraderie among his players that has the Trojans feeling confident and optimisticömany believe the Trojans now are headed in the right direction.
'My expectations are to play good football from the word go,' said Carroll, the former head coach of the New England Patriots and New York Jets. 'I'm confident about our abilities and our willingness to meet challenges. But I'm cautiously optimistic until we get on the field and find out. That's why I'm looking forward to the start of spring football. That's where the talking stops and the pads are strapped on.'
Already, signs of Carroll's impact at turning the program around and building a solid foundation have been spotted. For instance, the Trojans have posted impressive numbers in the off-season weight room program and in the classroom. They have quickly embraced Carroll's 'team-first' mentality. And, to a man, they are excited about the opportunity to be tutored by one of the nation's finest coaching staffs.
'It is obvious to me that our players have worked hard and that they understand that it's all about ï¿½team,'' said Carroll, who has 26 years of NFL and college experience. 'Their sights are set high on doing something special and restoring USC's winning tradition. And I know we have a great, proven staff. So, now, we'll see how good we are. We'll see if this team comes together like I think it will.'
USC welcomes back starters at 16 positions (8 on offense and 6 on defense, plus both kickers) from a squad which last season was 5-7 overall and tied for eighth place in the Pac-10 at 2-6 for Troy's first-ever last place conference finish. Although the Trojans began the year 3-0 while rising to No. 8 in the nation and later in the season beat crosstown foe UCLA for the second year in a row, 5 consecutive mid-season losses did them in.
In all, 78 squadmen return from 2000, including 46 who saw playing time (42 were lettermen and 31 were on the season-ending 2-deep). Some 21 Trojans have started at least once in their career.
Joining them will be 3 newcomers who are already enrolled at USC and will participate in spring drills, plus 17 new scholarship players (10 were prep and junior college All-Americans) who'll begin in the fall.
These won't be the only fresh faces around Troy, as most of the coaching staff is new.
'I've been able to assemble what I feel is a dream-team staff,' said Carroll, who will serve as the team's defensive coordinator. 'Our new coaches left very good jobs to come here. We're all here to do something special. The key, of course, was getting Norm Chow. He is arguably the best offensive coordinator in the history of college football, certainly in terms of championships and wins and people he has coached. He is not only a great attraction for us in recruiting and a great asset as a coach, but he allows me to do what I want to do, which is to focus on the defense.'
On the field, the 2001 Trojans will be asked to focus on one thing: the football.
'Our overall philosophy is very simple,' said Carroll, who signed a 5-year contract when he replaced the fired Paul Hackett. 'It's all about the football. When we're on offense, we've got to hold onto it and control it. And when we're on defense, we've got to go get it. It's really as simple as that.'
That would be a turnaround from 2000, when USC finished next to last in the nation in turnover margin. The Trojans lost the ball 36 times and had only 17 takeaways.
USC's offense features 3 of the country's premier skill position players: tailback Sultan McCullough, quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Kareem Kelly. McCullough, the fastest Trojan footballer ever (10.17 in the 100 meters), ran for 1,163 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2000. It was the most yards by a Trojan since 1990. He had 7 games with 100-plus yards. Palmer is already fifth on USC's all-time passing and total offense lists, and is on pace to break the school's career completions, passing yardage and total offense yardage records. Last year, his completions (228) and yardage (2,914) were the second most in USC history, but he also tied a school season mark with 18 interceptions. Kelly, who has caught a pass in all 23 games he has played at USC, is already ninth on Troy's career reception list and is on target to eclipse that record (and the receiving yardage mark). He led USC in receptions (55) and receiving yardage (796 yards) in 2000.
Three offensive line starters from 2000öguards Zach Wilson and Faaesea Mailo and center Lenny Vandermadeöare back. Wilson is a 2-year starter, Mailo will slide down from tackle in 2001 and Vandermade won Freshman All-American first team honors last fall.
Starters also return at fullback (Charlie Landrigan) and at the other wide receiver spot, where Marcell Allmond and Keary Colbert shared time. Last year, Allmond averaged 15.2 yards per catch before breaking his leg in mid-season and Colbert was second on USC in receptions with 33 as just a freshman.
Several other key offensive performers return, including tailback Malaefou MacKenzie (765 rushing yards and 37 catches in his career), wide receiver Steve Stevenson (21 career receptions) and fullback Chad Pierson (133 rushing yards and 147 receiving yards in 2000).
Among USC's offensive losses were 4-year starting tight end Antoine Harris (61 career catches, 7 TDs), 3-year starting tackle Brent McCaffrey, 2000 starting guard Trevor Roberts, quarterback Mike Van Raaphorst (ninth on Troy's career passing list with 15 starts and owner of USC's game passing yardage record), tailback Petros Papadakis (a short-yardage specialist with 621 career yards and 16 scores), wide receiver Matt Nickels (32 catches in 2000) and center Eric Denmon (17 career starts).
USC was hit harder with losses on defense, primarily in the front 7. But the entire starting secondary is back, led by returning tackle leader Troy Polamalu at strong safety (83 tackles and 2 interceptions last fall) and 2-year starting cornerback Kris Richard (6 interceptions and 77 tackles in his career), who was also the Trojans' top punt returner last season. The other secondary spots feature returning co-starters: Darrell Rideaux (also a track sprinter) and Chris Cash (2 picks in 2000) at corner and Frank Strong (USC's top kickoff returner in 2000) and DeShaun Hill (2 interceptions in 2000) at free safety.
Other top defensive players back are end Lonnie Ford (16 tackles for losses and 15 starts in his career), linebackers Aaron Graham (26 tackles with 4 starts last year), Chris Prosser (2 starts in 2000) and Darryl Knight (2 career starts) and cornerbacks Kevin Arbet (4 career starts) and Antuan Simmons, who sat out last fall with a serious illness but previously had 175 tackles, 7 interceptions and 6 blocked kicks as a 3-year starter.
On defense, USC lost 2 premier linebackers in 3-year starter Zeke Moreno (285 tackles, 33 for losses, 5 picks, 4 TDs in his career), Troy's tackle leader the past 2 seasons, and 2-year starter Markus Steele (152 tackles, 29 for losses in his career), plus 3-year starting tackle Ennis Davis (146 tackles, 36 for losses, 15 sacks in his career). Also gone from last year's starting defense are ends Sultan Abdul-Malik (22.5 career sacks), a 3-year starter, and Matt Childers, a 2-year starter. Other top defenders lost are safety Ifeanyi Ohalete (168 tackles and 5 interceptions in 21 career starts) and end-tackle Shamsud-Din Abdul-Shaheed (74 tackles in 14 career starts).
Mike MacGillivray (39.4 career average) is back for his fourth year as the punter. Two of last season's placekickersöDavid Newbury (15-of-29 in career field goals) and John Wall (5 short field goals without a miss and 9-of-14 on PATs in 2000)öreturn in 2001 (although Wall might miss the season with a knee injury). They took turns at the job last year, as did the graduated David Bell, primarily USC's kickoff man the past 4 years but who will long be remembered for his game-winning field goal with 9 seconds to go at UCLA last fall.
USC's 11-game schedule is challenging, featuring 6 teams that played in bowls last season and 5 that were ranked in AP's final Top 15. Troy opens its 2001 slate at home on Sept. 1 against San Jose State, also visiting the Coliseum are last year's No. 4 Oregon State, No. 9 Kansas State, Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA. On the road, USC goes to No. 3 Washington, No. 7 Oregon, No. 15 Notre Dame, Arizona and California.
'I'm not going to make any bold predictions,' said Carroll, 'except to say we'll be very competitive and very aggressive.
'We're in the process of putting this team together. We'll be good. The strength of this club will come from its team attitude and willingness to play together and to play hard. That will give us the best chance to reach our potential. I've already seen that in the good work ethic this group has developed in the off-season. The players took to our approach and made sacrifices for the team.'