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September 5, 2008
New Tailback Traditions
With five Heisman Trophy winning tailbacks, the University of Southern California more than earned its moniker of "Tailback U."
From Mike Garrett in 1965 to Reggie Bush 40 years later, talented tailbacks have repeatedly made their way to Los Angeles to play for the Trojans.
Customarily, the USC backfield has resembled a monarchy, with a solitary tailback holding court and several potential usurpers to the crown biding their time as understudies.
The king would receive most of the carries while the rival backs, no matter how talented, would watch from the sidelines or even switch positions.
In 1979 tailback Charles White ran for 2,050 yards and 19 touchdowns on 332 carries, easily winning the Heisman Trophy. His blocking fullback, Marcus Allen, moved to tailback upon White's departure and won a Heisman of his own two years later.
Now, the days of a single tailback appear to be over.
With year after year of tremendous recruiting classes, it was only a matter of time before the cupboard full of superstar running backs began to overflow for USC.
Last season, Pete Carroll had nine tailbacks on scholarship. This year he is down to six, but five were ranked as five-star prospects coming out of high school by Rivals.com.
The rules have changed over the years in college football, but there is still only one ball to hand off. Carroll's solution to his 'problem' has been a new approach, running tailback-by-committee for his offense.
Carroll even went as far to say that none of his backs would be considered a starter.
"We're not doing that," Carroll said. "With our guys, they're all starters to us. They'll all play, and they're all important to us."
This philosophy was criticized at times last season, but so far in 2008 'The Stable,' as this group of backs likes to be called, has been a resounding success.
Five different backs scored touchdowns against Virginia and as a group they rushed for over 200 yards.
"The Stable was galloping," running backs coach Todd McNair said. "They had it working on all four cylinders."
McNair gets a big smile on his face whenever the topic of The Stable comes up. He feels that USC can continue to be Tailback U, even with an offense that distributes the carries between several guys.
"Tailback U is in a different manifestation and in abundance," McNair said. "We got a lot of guys who are capable; it's just finding ways of getting them out there. It worked out for us in the first game."
At the sound of the three horns indicating the end of practice, all of the USC position coaches spread out across the practice field to meet with their respective players.
Last year McNair would have his group meet on the 5-yard line of Howard Jones Field, in honor of the No. 5 worn by the aforementioned Reggie Bush.
He started that tradition back in 2006, the year after Bush won the Heisman and then left early for the NFL.
Following the Rose Bowl, The Stable approached McNair about moving their post-practice meeting.
"We had to change it up for the New Year," tailback Allen Bradford said.
Now they gather at the 23-yard line in tribute to No. 23 Chauncey Washington, the team's leading rusher in 2007.
"T-Mac is just making sure that we don't forget who paved the way for us," tailback Stafon Johnson said. "He just makes sure that we remember them."
Washington, a 5th-year senior, was somehow able to hold off the young backs long enough to rush for 992-yards on 195 carries. His grit and determination served as inspiration for the underclassmen.
"He was the oldest, a senior, and to honor Chauncey, that's their tribute to him," McNair said.