Trojan success starts on the track

Speed kills. Just ask the rest of the Pac-12.

Over the years, the conference has been known for high flyers, the deep pass and lots and lots of points. Then, Chip Kelly came to Oregon and things changed.

Speed wasn’t the only attribute that mattered; raw athleticism combined with speed was the only way to stop the Ducks from putting up 50 on the scoreboard.

It took the Trojans a few years to catch up. Our defense was a little slow at the beginning, and the offense was not fast enough to score as many points as Oregon. That’s why, in 2010, when Oregon came to the Coliseum and won by three touchdowns, things weren’t looking so good.

But coach Lane Kiffin and his coaching staff had a plan. They were going to recruit not just football players, but athletes.

The Trojans needed some track stars on both sides of the ball. Those track athletes were going to put USC back on the map.

Fast-forward to 2011 when the Trojans went 10-2 and took out the Ducks at Autzen Stadium, and the track stars have abounded.

Sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee, who torched Oregon for more than 200 yards in the game, just won the long jump at the recent Trojan Invitational. In his senior year of high school, Lee had the second-best long jump in the country at 24 feet, 8 inches. He won the California Interscholastic Federation in the event and even came in second place in the 100-meter sprint.

Junior cornerback Nickell Robey, the first-team all-conference selection last season, was a long jump champion in his home state of Florida. In the triple jump, he once notched 46 feet.

Sophomore running back D.J. Morgan might be the fastest of the three in track. He was the California 110-meter high hurdling champion in 2009 and notched the fifth-best time ever in the event at the International Assoication of Atheltics Federation Youth World Championships.

Even senior guard Abe Markowitz is in the track mix. He competes in the shot put and came in seventh place at the Cal-Nevada Championships in 2010.

There are several other track athletes that compete on the USC football team, and they are all among the best in their respective competitions. Football players have always been able to transition into the track and field arena. No one can deny that.

But Kiffin’s athletes are truly special and that track athleticism certainly shows on the gridiron.

Lee’s grab against Oregon that scored the first touchdown of the game was a great display of athleticism: Lee waited for a slightly underthrown ball and leapt at the right moment to get his body into position to make a play. The result was one of the best plays of the season. It might not have been his long-jumping prowess alone that got him that touchdown, but the athleticism that he uses in track and field was certainly evident.

Robey’s interception for a touchdown against Stanford’s Andrew Luck? Yes, there was certainly instinct involved; That play was a joy to watch. But the athleticism he demonstrated in the long jump and the quick burst? You can’t say that his track athleticism did not have a part in making that sort of a play.

USC track and field director Ron Allice is lucky to have such talented track stars on his team, that is for certain. But Lane Kiffin is pretty lucky to have those same track stars too. Lee could be a track star and reach the same success that he has had on the football field, but he wouldn’t get the coverage. But it really isn’t a stretch to say that he is nearly as great on the track as he is on football field. And D.J. Morgan? He might actually be better on the track running the hurdles than he is when he’s rumbling through the line of scrimmage.

Dual-sport athletes are nothing new to these times, especially in the track/football realm. But at USC, those track skills show when they play football. And those same track stars have helped the Trojans back to the top of the football mountain once again. Without those track and field members, Oregon would still be a mountain for the Trojans to climb. Because they have those athletes, however, the Trojans reached the top of that mountain at Autzen.

Some coaches do not like their players running track in the offseason; for Kiffin, however, those track stars have been some of his best weapons.


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