June 30, 2008

Words are the base of program philosophies

Sometimes a single word or phrase can define a team just like the Los Angeles Lakers will always be linked to "showtime." The Chicago White Sox were "grinders." The St. Louis Rams were "the fastest show on turf."

The word or words becomes the team's identity.

The USC football program is no different, and the Trojan football team has some words defining their success.

They're nothing all that unique, and in some circles, these words could be considered cliché.

But the Trojan players and coaches have bought in to the philosophies behind the words, and if you look at what the players are saying, you can tell they've been programmed correctly.


Easily, this is the most thrown around word on college football fields. Coaches everywhere try to call on their players competitiveness as a driving force for success on the practice field and in games.

At most places, asking players to compete is simply asking them to do their best.

At USC, it's different.

With the Trojans, the internal competition is so strong between individuals and units, it fuels the team towards its greatest heights.

There are positional battles that go unresolved, as there are plenty of capable players at any particular position. This forces players to practice with great intensity and concentration.

They know a bad day could mean a spot on the bench - no matter who they are.

"We know where everyone stands. We all know one mistake cane cost us our spot," senior Rey Maualuga said. "We can never look back. We have to always move forward and find ways to get better every day."

Running back C.J. Gable said an injury or bad practice habits can push you to the back of the line, and it takes a lot of hard work to re-earn your spot.

"It's kind of hard for us to slack off. There's more than one person as good as you waiting for an opportunity," Gable said. "I just have to take advantage of every time I'm on the field in anything we do because I know there's someone right there behind me trying to get my spot."

Few other schools can rival the Trojans' deep and talented roster - and that's by design.


For a long time, being dynamic wasn't something that could be taught. It was a rare combination of athleticism, speed and strength that allowed a player to make a game-changing play.

Strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle has it figured out, though.

Carlisle and his staff have been putting the players through numerous flexibility and quickness drills to improve this intangible skill.

While it's difficult to measure, the results can be seen on the field.

Being dynamic is a jaw-dropping Joe McKnight juke. It's Ronald Johnson cutting through defenders on a return.

"This summer I'm trying to get even more explosive," McKnight said. "I already feel more explosive. I feel faster."

And, it's not just on offense.

Defenders like safeties Kevin Ellison and Taylor Mays are lurking, ready to explode on an opponent. Just ask Cal's DeSean Jackson and Craig Stevens - if they remember.

"We've been working on a lot of flexibility stuff and a lot of range-of-motion exercises," Mays said. "We do a dynamic warm up to help us be faster and more agile out there on the field.

"Hopefully, I'll be even more explosive"


Another trait that cannot be measured, leadership is everywhere around the Trojan practice fields this summer.

It's players pushing each other in the weight room. It's guys going to the front of the line in drills, to properly demonstrate technique in a particular exercise.

And, it's guys like quarterback Mark Sanchez organizing the team during passing workouts and seven-on-seven drills.

He's making sure everyone gets out there. He's done a great job setting up the drills," quarterback Aaron Corp said. "(Mitch Mustain) and I just try and follow him. We're getting the work in what we need."

Sanchez said he's trying his best to push his teammates in the right directions by applauding their positive efforts and working with them on their shortcomings.

"It's my job to lead by example," Sanchez said. "When I see something I can help them with I need to be the right kind of leader and speak up."

And on a defense with plenty of experience, the Trojans aren't short on guys ready and willing to step up.

"You have to bring leadership out here. We lost a lot of that," defensive end Kyle Moore said. "The seniors really have to step up and show the younger guys how we play and what it takes to work out here.

"When I came up, guys taught me. Now, it's my turn."

Simple words like compete, dynamic and leadership have been the cornerstones of the USC football team under head coach Pete Carroll. Those simple concepts have all helped point things in an even simpler end result - wins.

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