Trojan Football Begins 2002 Spring Practice Saturday
March 19, 2002
LOS ANGELES - When 2002 spring practice begins for the USC football team-drills run for 15 sessions from this Saturday (March 23) through April 20-another step will be taken in the reconstruction of the Trojan program toward a return to championship football.
'Our goal is to win the Pac-10 championship and win the Rose Bowl,' said second-year head coach Pete Carroll, formerly the head coach of the New England Patriots and New York Jets. 'That's our goal this year and every year. In 2002, we must pick up where we left off last year, continuing to develop a winning attitude and style of play. Spring practice is an important part of that.'
There were signs last season that Carroll had the Trojans moving in the right direction. After Troy started slowly at 1-4 in his debut season, Carroll stayed the course and got his troops to rally by winning 5 of their last 7 games (including the final 4 regular season contests) to finish at 6-6 overall. USC, which won its last 5 Pac-10 games after beginning league play at 0-3, placed fifth in the conference at 5-3 and earned a berth into the Sega Sports Las Vegas Bowl. Putting an exclamation point on the regular season was a 27-0 blanking of No. 20 UCLA, USC's first shutout in the crosstown rivalry since 1947 and the series' biggest margin of victory since 1979.
The momentum from that end-of-the-regular season run could continue in 2002 with the help of the 14 starters (8 on offense and 5 on defense, plus the placekicker) who are back from last year's team. In all, 75 squadmen return, including 50 who saw playing time (43 were lettermen and 29 were on the season-ending 2-deep). Some 29 Trojans have started at least once in their career.
Joining them will be 3 newcomers who already are enrolled at USC and will participate in spring drills, plus 19 new scholarship players (13 were prep and junior college All-Americans in 2001) who'll begin in the fall.
'We signed outstanding players from premier programs and we were able to cover all positions with an incredible level of talent,' said Carroll, whose class was ranked in the national Top 10 by many recruiting services. 'This is a big step in building the championship football program that all Trojans desire.
'You build championship teams by surrounding yourself with great competitors. Competition will be high for all positions. We're looking for the young players to compete immediately for playing time and we're counting on the returning players to battle to hold onto their spots.
Carroll says the formula needed for USC to experience success in 2002 is simple.
'We want to play great defense, be aggressive and efficient on offense and always count on our special teams to be a factor,' he said. 'That's the classic blueprint of a successful team. Last season, our strengths were on defense and in the kicking game, and we won the turnover battle. If we can do that again and run the football this year, we can be a factor in the Rose Bowl race.'
The Trojan offense, which lost very few contributors from 2001, features some veteran skill position players and has experience across the front line.
Quarterback Carson Palmer, third on USC's career passing (618 completions) and total offense (7,801 yards) charts and on pace to own those records, and wide receiver Kareem Kelly, fifth on Troy's all-time receiving list (158 catches) and on track to set that record, figure to start for their fourth seasons in 2002. Palmer was the Pac-10's most accurate passer in 2001 at 58.6% (221-of-377) as he threw for 2,717 yards and 13 touchdowns. His 419 yards of total offense at Oregon last fall was a school record. Kelly, who has caught a pass in all 35 games he has played as a Trojan, caught 49 passes in 2001.
The tailback spot-manned last year for the first 6 games by 2-year starter Sultan McCullough, a 1,000-yard runner in 2000 who had 410 yards in 2001 before going out with an abdominal injury (he is 14th on USC's career rushing ladder), and then by converted fullback Sunny Byrd, who responded with 336 yards while starting the final 6 outings-should be loaded. McCullough and Byrd are back (although Byrd will return to fullback), as are 3 others with experience in Malaefou MacKenzie (765 rushing yards, 37 catches, 4 starts in his career), who missed 2001 with an injury, Justin Fargas (he redshirted in 2001 after transferring from Michigan) and Darryl Poston.
Keary Colbert, who had 34 catches in 2001 and has 67 in his career, returns as a starting wide receiver. Several others with 2001 experience-Devin Pitts (18 catches in 2001), Grant Mattos (10) and D. Hale (7)-will bolster the receiving corps.
Nearly the entire offensive line remains intact from a year ago, with tackles Jacob Rogers and Eric Torres, guard Zach Wilson, center Lenny Vandermade and utility man Norm Katnik. Wilson could be starting for his fourth year and Vandermade for his third.
All-American safety Troy Polamalu, a leading candidate for the Thorpe Award, headlines a defense that will call upon many experienced performers. Polamalu, USC's first All-American safety since Mark Carrier in 1989, is a big play waiting to happen. Not only did he make a team-best 118 tackles in 2001, including 13 for losses, but he returned 2 of his 3 interceptions for touchdowns, blocked 3 punts and recovered a fumble. In his career, he has run back 3 of his 5 picks for scores and blocked 4 punts. He'll start for his third year.
The rest of the secondary will be new, but not untested, with players like safety DeShaun Hill (83 tackles, 4 interceptions in his career) and cornerbacks Kevin Arbet (69 tackles, 4 interceptions in his career), Darrell Rideaux (60 career stops) and converted 2000 starting wide receiver Marcell Allmond (30 career catches) all having started some games in the past. Arbet won All-Pac-10 first team honors last fall as a special teams player.
Two promising young players will anchor the defensive line: tackle-end Shaun Cody (39 tackles, 5 sacks in 2001), a Freshman All-American first teamer last fall, and end Kenechi Udeze (35 tackles, 4 sacks in 2001), a Freshman All-American second teamer last year. They'll be joined by tackle Bernard Riley (26 tackles in 2001), who started USC's first 5 games of 2001 before injuring his knee (he also started in 2000).
Mike Pollard, who was second on USC in tackles last fall with 81, returns as a starting linebacker, as does Matt Grootegoed (32 tackles in 2001). A pair of players with 5 career starts each-Chris Prosser (20 tackles in 2001) and Aaron Graham-also are available there.
The defensive starters gone are 4-year starting safety-cornerback Antuan Simmons, who overcame a life-threatening illness in 2000 to star in 2001, cornerbacks Kris Richard (a 3-year starter) and Chris Cash (a 2-year starter), 2-year starting end Lonnie Ford, 3-year starting tackle Ryan Nielsen and linebacker Frank Strong, who also was used at safety, tailback and as a returner at Troy.
David Davis, the Pac-10's most accurate field goal kicker in 2001 at 83.3% (15-of-18), returns. He had a string of 12 consecutive successful field goals last fall after transferring from a junior college and he also was good on 31-of-34 PATs. But 4-year starting punter Mike MacGillivray, who owns USC records for career punts and punt yardage, must be replaced.
USC will embark upon its quest for success while playing, as usual, one of the nation's most difficult 12-game schedules. Seven opponents played in bowls last season and 5 were ranked in the final AP Top 20 (3 were in the Top 10). The Trojans open up 2002 on Labor Day evening against Auburn, the other non-conference games include early road contests at No. 9 Colorado and Kansas State and the regular season finale at home with Notre Dame. In Pac-10 games, USC hosts No. 19 Washington, Arizona State, Oregon State and California, and goes to No. 2 Oregon, No. 10 Washington State, No. 16 Stanford and UCLA.
'It's an extraordinary schedule,' said Carroll. 'It starts with a great Monday Night Football opener and picks up from there, finishing with both of our traditional rivals. With the caliber of non-conference opponents we'll face, we'll certainly be game ready when we get to the Pac-10 part of the schedule.'
RETURNING STARTERS (14)
(Note: Byrd's 2001 starts were at TB)
SPECIAL TEAMS (1)
PK David Davis
OTHERS WITH CAREER STARTS
DT Bernard Riley (11)
S DeShaun Hill (8)
CB Darrell Rideaux (6)
CB Marcell Allmond (6)
LB Aaron Graham (5)
LB Chris Prosser (5)
CB Kevin Arbet (4)
TB Malaefou MacKenzie (4)
FB Chad Pierson (1)
WR Devin Pitts (1)
WR D. Hale (1)
WR Grant Mattos (1)
FB Scott Huber (1)
(6-6 overall, 5-3 for 5th in Pac-10)
|21||San Jose State||10|
|16||at Notre Dame||27|
|16||Oregon State (OT)||13|
|6||vs. Utah (Las Vegas Bowl)||10|
Sept. 2 Auburn
Sept. 14 at Colorado
Sept. 21 at Kansas State
Sept. 28 Oregon State
Oct. 5 at Washington State
Oct. 12 California
Oct. 19 Washington
Oct. 26 at Oregon
Nov. 9 at Stanford
Nov. 16 Arizona State
Nov. 23 at UCLA
Nov. 30 Notre Dame
DATES OF SPRING PRACTICE: March 23-24-26-28-April 2-4-5-6-9-11-12-14-16-18-20
(Tentative practice times: weekdays at 4 p.m., weekends at 11 a.m.)
'TROJAN HUDDLE' scrimmage and barbeque: April 6, 11 a.m., L.A. Coliseum
PETE CARROLL END-OF-SPRING MEDIA LUNCH: Friday, April 19, Noon, Heritage Hall Lounge