USC football practice went on as scheduled Tuesday, but it wasn’t the atmosphere the Trojans are used to at Howard Jones Field.
With senior running back Stafon Johnson still in intensive care after shattering his larynx in a tragic weight room accident on Monday, spirits were low.
“Everybody’s a little down,” junior linebacker Michael Morgan said Tuesday. “When one of your guys goes down, we’re down, but we’re gonna play our best for him.”
Morgan was in the weight room when the accident happened. He called it “scary.”
Other teammates reacted with a universal message.
“We just gotta step up and play through him,” running back Curtis McNeal said after practice. “We’re gonna miss him because he was a big part of this team.”
Junior receiver Travon Patterson said the injury hit him particularly hard — he’s Johnson’s cousin.
“It would be emotional for anybody on this team, since we’re all close, we’re all family, but that’s my little cousin,” Patterson said. “The whole family’s praying for him and we’ve got confidence that he’s gonna be alright.”
The underlying message seemed to be that a win Saturday against No. 24 Cal would be the preferred way to honor Johnson.
“It’s a terrible loss because he’s such a great asset to our team,” freshman quarterback Matt Barkley said. “I think it’s motivating us a little bit, and we know that he wants us to do well on Saturday, so we’ll be playing for him.”
Patterson said Johnson will expect a victory from the Trojans.
“The best way to react is to go out there and play our ass off,” Patterson said. “We gotta just go out there and act as if he’s still here. I’m sure he’s gonna be watching come Saturday and if he sees us doing our job and going out to win I think he’s gonna be happy. “
USC coach Pete Carroll visited Johnson at California Hospital Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon.
He said the mood was on the upswing in Johnson’s room, especially for his mom, who was working as a nurse at the hospital when she found out about her son’s injury.
“He was in good spirits,” Carroll said. “He lifted me up, the way he was.
“His mom seemed much better today. To see him awake and alert and able to communicate and all that has really uplifted her.”
Carroll said the reaction to the injury was overwhelming.
“We heard from hundreds of people in letters and calls and messages that have come through just giving their support from all over the country,” Carroll said. “It’s been really obvious that a lot of people know about the story and have stepped up to help out in some way.”
Back on the field, the Trojans continue to be nagged by several injuries on their defensive squad.
Redshirt freshman defensive end Nick Perry, the Pac-10 leader in sacks with six, sat out of practice with a bruised knee.
He originally suffered the injury last week, but it healed enough for him to play against the Cougars.
“He got hit on his kneecap so he’s really stiff today,” Carroll said. “His knee’s real stable but it’s a bruise that’s really bothering him even more than when he first did it.”
Perry’s status for the Cal game is unknown.
Junior defensive tackle Hebron “Loni” Fangupo visited practice Tuesday for the first time since he broke his left fibula in the Washington State game.
As he was carted off the field, Fangupo made the “Fight On” sign to rousing applause from the Coliseum crowd.
“I just felt like I had to do it,” Fangupo said Tuesday. “It was emotional. It felt great, uplifting. I knew it was something worth fighting for.”
Barkley’s bone bruise in his right shoulder continues to progress.
The injury, suffered in the Ohio State game Sept. 12, has admittedly limited him in practice at times, but the 19-year-old insists he’s improving.
“It’s fine. It’s not going to affect me,” Barkley said. “It’s a little pain, but this is football.”
Barkley is set to make just his fourth career start Saturday against Cal.
Cal boasts an offense led by Heisman candidate Jahvid Best, who leads the nation in rushing touchdowns with eight.
“Jahvid Best is a fantastic player,” Carroll said. “Their scheme and everything about them is just frontline, championship style.”
The 5-foot-8 McNeal has been emulating the shifty Best in scout team play this week. Morgan said the Trojans have been focusing on more than just Best, though.
“Just like any other week we’re taking it one play at a time,” Morgan said. He’s a great running back and we’ve got a great game plan for him, but they also have other runners and we have other defenders to focus in on him.”