5 Things We Learned About USC During Pac-12 Media Days
During last week's Pac-12 Media Days, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, quarterback Cody Kessler and defensive lineman Leonard Williams went in front of the press to talk Trojan football. All three spoke to how they are looking forward to the rapidly approaching season and that they are anticipating great things from their team. Besides the usual optimistic forecast and preseason confidence, here are five things we learned about USC during Pac-12 Media Days:
1. Because of the turbulence of last year’s staff, the players turned to each other to get through it.“We could have either let the season ride off the way it was,” said Kessler, “or we could come together as a team and make history.” Coming together as a team to overcome challenges is a pretty typical theme you hear when college players talk to the media, but I think Kessler may have meant it more than most. “At the end of the day, we know it’s a business,” he went on, “and you are never guaranteed a coach.” Could he perhaps be alluding to the fact that sometimes football programs do things that are best for the program and not exactly best for the players? Could Kessler have been thinking about last year’s interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who stepped up after Lane Kiffin’s firing and resuscitated the Trojans with a 6-2 finish and a huge upset win over Stanford, only to be passed up for the permanent position? Who, after leaving, had players openly crying and likening his departure to a dad leaving his family? No, Kessler was much too diplomatic for that, but when speaking about how the Trojans are a team focused on playing their best, he did mention that they would stay that way “no matter who is coaching us.” Almost as if he is still, even if only a little bit, of the mindset that a coach could be distracting instead of...well, the leader and cornerstone of a team.
2. Kessler’s like-it-or-not coach is a savant for names. It turns out Sarkisian is not a “those guys” or “these players” type of person. He is a champion-of-the-name-game type of person. During one of his Media Days interviews, he mentioned 12 different players’ names within just one minute, and that’s taking into account the fact that the interviewers ate up around 20 seconds to ask the question. Sarkisian has his roster down, and he wants everyone else to know it. He probably also wants his players to know it too. As we’ve already established, Sarkisian most likely was not welcomed by the players with open arms and warm, adoring smiles. He came into a tough situation and now he has to prove to his players that he is a good leader, that he can make smart decisions, and that he cares about them as people. A good way to start is not just referring to his football team by groups, but by the specific people who are working hard to make that group go.
3. Leonard Williams is 305 pounds, even though his coach insists that he is 310. In his interview with Pac-12 Network analysts, Sarkisian was almost gushing with excitement about his All-American defensive lineman. One got the feeling from Sarkisian’s tone that he could not believe his own stroke of good fortune to have Williams be a part of the team he inherited. Instead of discussing Williams’s athletic ability, Sarkisian first talked about how astounding it was to see Williams in some nice slacks with a shirt tucked in. Then Sarkisian repeated twice, “He’s 310 pounds!” He should have just said, “Just look at him! Isn’t he the best? He’s going to win me some games!”
All coach's praises aside, Williams will most certainly be a solid 305-pound force to be reckoned with. In his interview, Williams revealed that he is healthy, plans to “come out 10 times harder,” and that all of the defensive coaching changes over the years will ultimately be a strength instead of a weakness. “It’s been an advantage to be able to play under so many different schemes and it made me versatile,” Williams said. All signs point to Williams making positive impacts, literally and figuratively, this season in a huge way.
4. Although NCAA sanctions are done, they still may have lasting effects on the depth of USC’s team. Sarkisian is looking to bring an up-tempo, explosive offense to the Trojans, but questions linger about whether this is actually feasible. The Trojans will be at an automatic disadvantage because they start camp with fewer players than all of the other Pac-12 teams. However, Sarkisian is not looking at that as a bad thing. “We’re probably going to get done sooner than everybody else. We’re going to have a few more days off than everybody else,” said Sarkisian. That time will be used to allow players’ bodies to recover, which Sarkisian thinks is scientifically proven to be beneficial. But don’t take that to mean he plans to go easy. When it’s game time, Sarkisian promises that “we’re going to go hard, that’s not going to change.”
5. Kessler will be the starting quarterback this season, at least for now. With the Trojans getting a new coach, some thought that his job would be in question. Indeed Kessler did not escape Media Days without being asked about his past quarterback battles, and how that affected him both mentally and on the field. However, his interviewers were quick to add at the end of the interview that he was in fact the starting quarterback for the Trojans this season, as if they did not want there to be any confusion on the matter. Sarkisian also spoke several times about Kessler being his quarterback. Could Kessler’s position be in jeopardy later in the season? That's always a possibility, but for now, Kessler’s a go and his experience should serve the Trojans well.