The first football practice of the 2014 school year is over for USC as the Trojans inch closer to their first game of the season. The 15th-ranked Trojans are prepping for the unranked Fresno State Bulldogs, whom they defeated 45-20 in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl.
Call upon your captains
The Trojans made history this weekend by electing six co-captains for the 2014 season, the most the team has ever had.
Junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor, junior quarterback Cody Kessler, senior linebacker Hayes Pullard, senior cornerback/safety Josh Shaw, junior center Max Tuerk and junior defensive end Leonard Williams were voted as captains by their teammates.
Pullard, USC’s leading tackler in 2013, will serve as the only returning captain on a squad that has seen a great deal of turmoil in the past year. The Inglewood, California native was one of the most decorated Trojans during this preseason, earning nods to the watchlists for the Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player), the Bednarik Award (top defensive player), the Lott IMPACT Trophy (top defensive impact player), the Lombardi Award (top lineman or linebacker) and the Butkus Award (top linebacker).
Last season, Pullard was joined by wide receiver Marqise Lee, center Marcus Martin and linebacker Devon Kennard, all since selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, as the team captains. It was the first time since 2009 that a quarterback was not among the captains.
Kessler, entering his first full year as a starter in 2014, made sure that wasn’t the case this season.
Williams praised Kessler’s newfound confidence and leadership when the pair represented USC at Pac-12 Media Day this summer.
“He’s been a great leader so far,” Williams said. “He’s all in for it on the team and he’s ready to put his heart out there for it.”
Williams, who played the entire 2013 season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, will also serve as a team leader this year, a role he says he has had to grow into.
“I guess I could say I’m a natural leader, but I’m more by example, just working hard, showing people what to do the right way,” Williams said. “But I’m not much of a vocal leader, I don’t like to hawk on guys if they’re doing something wrong, I’d just rather they see me doing it right and follow my footsteps.”
Depth chart released
On Sunday, Sarkisian released his first official depth chart of the 2014 season.
If it holds, Saturday will mark the first time in USC’s history that two true freshman guards will start an opening game.
Toa Lobendahn and Damien Mama currently sit atop the depth chart at the left and right guard positions, respectively.
“They’re going to go out and play really good football for us,” Sarkisian said of the freshmen. “Are they perfect? No, they’re going to make some mistakes. But the goal is that they gradually get better as the season continues to go on and they play their best football in November.”
The offensive line has seen many changes in the last year, as redshirt sophomore Chad Wheeler is the only player anticipated to start the same position he played last year (left tackle). Tuerk started 13 games at left tackle last year and one at right tackle, but will now serve as the starting center following Martin’s departure.
Redshirt junior Zach Banner managed to fight his way into the starting spot at right tackle. Banner appeared in only two games last season before suffering a season-ending injury that required surgery on both hips.
Other than Lobendahn and Mama, the only freshman slated to start this weekend is wide receiver Ajene Harris. Harris, who prepped at Crenshaw High, will start across from Agholor at the wideout position. Sophomore Darreus Rogers was expected to start, but is listed behind Agholor on the depth chart.
Redshirt junior tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen, USC’s breakout star in 2013, is listed atop the running back ladder. Allen led the team with 785 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, noticeably improving under the tutelage of interim head coach Ed Orgeron.
Redshirt junior Tre Madden will likely be a game-time decision on Saturday after missing the last few practices with turf toe. Madden missed three games last year with a hamstring injury after missing the entire 2012 season with a knee injury. Despite only playing in 11 games last year, Madden led the Trojans in carries and put up 703 yards.
There were fewer surprises on the defensive side of the ball — the only real question was who would earn the starting outside linebacker spot following redshirt sophomore Jabari Ruffin’s season-ending injury in camp. Redshirt sophomore Scott Felix (formerly Scott Starr before legally changing his last name) earned that honor.
Redshirt junior Antwaun Woods earned the nod at nose tackle, which Williams said was a position up for grabs between the defensive linemen. Williams seems confident in Woods’ abilities.
“[He’s] a phenomenal player and guy,” Williams said. “He’s a great leader this year and he’s gonna step up big time.”
Sarkisian will hold practice at 8 a.m. throughout the season rather than in the afternoons like last year. Sarkisian believes that this schedule helps the student athletes be more productive both on and off the field.
USC Athletic Director Pat Haden was hospitalized this weekend and missed Saturday night’s Salute to Troy as a result. USC Athletics reported that Haden was feeling fine on Sunday.