Legacy and tradition.
These are two things that have always defined USC and Trojan football.
Perhaps no part of the team better epitomizes these terms than the linebackers, who for years have been regarded as the heart of Trojan football. Last season the Trojans boasted the triple threat of Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Kaluka Maiava.
This season, that entire unit has moved on to the NFL. Some would regard this as a rebuilding year for the Trojan defense, but with a program like USC, which has long history of formidable defenses, there is no such thing as a rebuilding year.
“We don’t rebuild, we reload,” said redshirt junior Michael Morgan.
Coach Pete Carroll knows and acknowledges that Trojan fans everywhere will have their eyes on the linebacker unit to see if they can step up and fill the shoes of three Trojan greats.
Waiting to do just that are junior Malcolm Smith, redshirt sophomore Chris Galippo and Morgan.
“These guys have been chomping at the bit and you can see it in the linebackers,” Carroll said. “They feel like there’s something to prove and they know they’re in a situation where there’s a lot of people watching for what’s going to happen.”
Smith, who was one of the spring’s top performers, will fill in at the weakside linebacker position. Smith recognizes that while he and the other linebackers have been held in the wings the past few seasons, they’re being called upon now for good reason.
“It’s the same thing: work hard every day, the coach is good, they recruited us for a reason because they expected us to play one day,” Smith said.
Smith expects to show the nation that the linebackers are as strong and determined as ever.
“Most definitely, that’s the tone we’re trying to set out here, let everybody know that’s where the passion is at, our position,” he said.
Smith is also confident in his teammates’ abilities to fill in for him if need be.
“We have Jordan [Campbell], Shane [Horton] and Marquis [Simmons], so we have a nice depth at my position,” he said.
Campbell, a redshirt sophomore, will compete with Smith for the position throughout the season. Senior Dan Deckas and freshman Simmons will also compete for playing time.
Galippo will play middle linebacker. Much of the focus around Galippo recently has been about his drop in weight. This may help increase his speed on the field, which is an advantange the linebackers as unit should enjoy this season.
Galippo feels that the unit will be strong this season especially since they test their abilities against the Trojan offense every day.
“It’s good for us because we’re going against the number one offense in the nation every single day and by the time we get out of the camp and go strap up in the Coliseum, we’re ready,” he said.
Carroll recognizes that Galippo is a real leader amongst the unit and this season may be his season to shine.
“This is the best he’s been, he’s in the best shape and he’s really mentally on it and he’s ready to have a really solid camp and lead us into the season,” Carroll said. “He’s really running the show out there, we’re lucky to have him.”
Carroll also acknowledged that Galippo has something last season’s linebackers lacked.
“He’s a better communicator than any of the guys last year,” he said. “Rey, Cush, all those guys were not in as much command as he is.”
Competing for playing time at the middle linebacker position will be sophomore Uona Kavienga and freshman Jarvis Jones. Jones in particular has been a standout at camp thus far, according to Carroll.
“He came out here and played outside backer today and that’s a tremendous accomplishment for only three days of camp,” Carroll said of Jones. “He’s already played the two spots and looked good at both of them.”
At strongside linebacker, Morgan will take the field. He brings a lot of speed to the position, running a 4.3 40-yard-dash.
“I think we’re a lot faster than those guys were, so we’re going to use that to our advantage,” Morgan said. Morgan started one game last season, while appearing in 12. Morgan has redshirt senior Luthur Brown, redshirt senior Nick Garratt and freshman Kevin Greene backing him up.
The linebackers believe that they are still the heart of Trojan football.
“We’re always going to be the heart. This is LBU as we all say here at this great university,” Morgan said.
“I’m just ready for that first kickoff, ready to go down there, make some plays and just ball out. It’s going to be a great season and I can’t wait.”