Given the opportunity to leave, USC seniors stayed
The final horn at USC football practices never marked the end of the day for senior fullback Rhett Ellison.
As his teammates trickled off of Howard Jones Field on their way to the showers, Ellison would reliably linger, tirelessly catching extra passes or hitting the blocking sled.
It was fitting, then, that Ellison was one of the last players off the Coliseum field on Saturday following USCâs season-ending 50-0 victory over UCLA. Savoring his final moments in a USC uniform, Ellison climbed up the ladder to lead the Trojan marching band and USC student section through a rendition of âConquestâ and acknowledged all of his fans and family in attendance before slowly jogging back to the locker room one last time.
âI have been a fan of USC my whole life,â Ellison said. âI just wanted to spend some more time on the field to absorb it all in.â
Ellison and the senior class proved their loyalty to the football program simply by remaining at USC, even after learning in 2010 that NCAA sanctions would render the Trojans ineligible for postseason competition in their final two collegiate seasons.
Further, the NCAA allowed juniors and seniors to transfer and play at their new schools immediately, giving players a free pass to compete at other universities without having to sit out for a season.
Some players, including running back D.J. Shoemate (Connecticut) and defensive lineman Malik Jackson (Tennessee), took advantage of the opportunity to transfer without penalty. Many of the players who remained, however, proved vital to the Trojansâ success this season.
âWe all stayed and battled,â said senior wide receiver Brandon Carswell. âThis is an awesome way to go out.â
USC will lose 23 seniors, including some redshirt juniors who do not plan on returning in 2012. The Trojans could also have to replace several juniors should they choose to enter the NFL draft.
In his final collegiate game, Ellison caught a three-yard pass from junior quarterback Matt Barkley in the second quarter. He finished the season with 133 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Senior tailback Marc Tyler recorded 595 rushing yards and four touchdowns this season, and Carswell added 153 receiving yards with a touchdown.
Defensively, senior linebacker Chris Galippo had 47 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one interception on the season. Senior defensive tackle DaJohn Harris had 22 tackles, including seven for a loss.
Ellison and senior defensive tackle Christian Tupou represented the Trojans as captains, along with juniors Barkley and safety T.J. McDonald.
âThe leadership from the seniors is unlike anything that we have had before,â Barkley said.
The seniors exit USC having gone 4-0 against UCLA; the redshirt seniors went 5-0 against their crosstown rivals.
âTo go out having never lost to UCLA is a big deal, something they will remember for the rest of their lives,â said USC coach Lane Kiffin.
The Bruins (6-6, 5-4) will advance to the first-ever Pac-12 Football Championship Game, representing the South division against Oregon on Dec. 2, but the Trojans finished the season with a better record (10-2, 7-2).
âWe may not get to play in the Pac-12 championship game, but I guarantee that people will say that we should have been there,â Harris said.
After the game against UCLA, the seniors spoke to their teammates in the locker room, recalling fond memories from their time at USC and passing along words of advice. They struggled to come to terms with the fact that their collegiate careers had ended.
âIt has not hit me yet,â Ellison said. âI am still expecting to have to go to meetings [on Sunday] and practice on Monday.â