Mays and Trojans are talking potential

first_imgHe’s back · Senior safety Taylor Mays returns to lead the Trojans on another championship run and maybe even make his case for the Heisman. – Dieuwertje Kast | Daily Trojan It would be fair to say that when USC coach Pete Carroll entered stage right at Pac-10 Media Day last month, he was in the spotlight.Journalists packed the lobby at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel. Photographers pulled out their big lenses. Even new Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott’s ears seemed to perk up a bit from his post on the side of the platform.But it would also be fair to say that Carroll was sharing the glare with his partner on the stage, senior safety Taylor Mays.Entering his fourth year at USC, Mays has never been one to shy away from the bright lights, and this season shouldn’t be any different. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound son of an ex-NFL player chose to return to USC for his senior year despite nearly unanimous projections that placed him in the first round of the draft. He says he wants to be the leader of the 2009 Trojans. Carroll said he can do just that.“He is a guy in our program that is the epitome of maximizing his experience at USC,” said Carroll, who reportedly played a large role in convincing Mays to return. “He had a chance to go out last year but he wanted to graduate. He wanted to see what it was like to be a senior and have a chance to be a leader of this team.”The Trojans will certainly need a leader this season, especially on defense.Mays will team up with sixth-year senior Josh Pinkard to form a formidable force in the secondary, but apart from that, the defense that trounced Penn State in the Rose Bowl last January bears little resemblance to the team likely to suit up for the 2009 opener Sept. 5 against San Jose State.Gone are eight defensive starters, including longtime linebacker position anchors Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga.In their place is a revamped linebacker unit, anchored by redshirt sophomore Chris Galippo in the middle, junior Malcolm Smith on the weakside and redshirt junior Michael Morgan on the strongside.The only sure thing on the defensive line is junior Everson Griffen at one defensive end spot. Junior Christian Tupou will have to fight off sophomore Jurrell Casey at nose tackle. The other spots will be filled by a number of players, including sophomore Armond Armstead and redshirt senior Averell Spicer.“We know what we can do,” Mays said. “What we really have to do right now is find where our work ethic is and find out what it takes to get to the point where the younger guys understand.”Mays said he would do whatever it takes to set a good example for the underclassmen. The 21-year-old even went as far as saying that he would sit in front of a wall all night instead of attending a party if that’s what it took for his team to win.“I’m trying to show them sacrifice and do everything right, because they’re looking to me now,” Mays said. “I’m willing to do it because I want to win.”On offense, all five starting linemen will be back, including junior center Kristofer O’Dowd and sixth-year senior left guard Jeff Byers — both first-team preseason All-Americans. Redshirt junior Damian Williams and junior Ronald Johnson return at the receiver spots, but former quarterback Mark Sanchez — the No. 5 overall pick to the New York Jets — and split end Patrick Turner have moved on.Some of USC’s coaches from last season have also moved on, namely offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian who is now the head coach at Washington. Replacing Sarkisian at the coordinator spot is receiver coach John Morton. Carroll also hired Jeremy Bates away from the Denver Broncos to coach quarterbacks.“This offense was a little new as far as terminology,” Bates said. “But it’s like dating somebody for seven years and her name’s Laurie and dating someone else and her name’s Kim ­— you got to get used to calling her Kim.”Bates is one of three new coaches on the USC staff, along with special teams coordinator Brian Schneider and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, although Franklin had a previous stint at USC in 2005.Carroll and his staff named redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp the first-string quarterback heading into the spring game in April, but freshman Matt Barkley has been hot on his tail in fall camp.Corp suffered a cracked upper fibula on the third day of camp, sidelining him one to two weeks and leaving the door wide open for Barkley to make his case to be starter. USC has never started a true freshman at signal-caller under Carroll, but Carroll has repeatedly said that Barkley is unlike any freshman quarterback he’s had in his system.Sixteen incoming freshmen and transfers on scholarship are practicing with the team in fall camp. A number of them will likely redshirt, but junior transfers from Mt. San Antonio College Jacob Harfman, a kicker/punter, and defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo could see meaningful time in the fall.The SEC should be the nation’s power conference for the foreseeable future, but there are those who see the Pac-10 as a credible competitor. USA Today’s preseason poll puts four Pac-10 teams in its Top 25, compared to six for the SEC.“What’s so obvious to me is that is our conference is so challenging for us, year in and year out,” Carroll said. “Without question, our most difficult games come right from our conference opponents.”USC will play three nonconference games this season: at Ohio State and Notre Dame and at home against San Jose State. Last September, the Trojans trounced the then No. 5-ranked Buckeyes 35-3, only to fall to Pac-10 afterthought Oregon State in their next game.USC’s penchant for losing one or two conference games a season, particularly to lower-ranked teams, is well publicized. The Trojans haven’t lost a nonconference regular season game since September of 2002. Last year, it was the Thursday night clunker to the Beavers in Corvallis, Ore. In 2007 it was an October home game against Stanford.This year?Well, the Trojans face No. 12 Cal in Berkeley in early October and will travel to No. 14 Oregon on Halloween.Many blame the puzzling losses on a so-called lack of focus midseason for Pete Carroll’s Trojans.“That’s the number one issue for us,” Carroll said back in July. “Can we practice great, day in and day out? Can we make these guys compete and find their best day after day so that we can perform to our potential?”last_img

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