The players were gregarious, the fans were all smiles and the sounds from the Spirit of Troy marching band were blaring in the vicinity.
This, however, was not the postgame celebration following the USC Trojans’ 48-14 rout of Cal inside the Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.
Rather, the setting for this intimate gathering marked a far different experience for the Cardinal and Gold than any conference win could provide: the team’s annual visit to the USC Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.
Just two days after the Trojans put on an aerial display against the Cal Golden Bears, 16 student-athletes from the football team, the USC Song Girls and members of the marching band made their way to the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center to take part in a day that was defined not by sacks and touchdown passes, but simply by giving back.
Decked out in their home uniforms, the players — which included senior quarterback Mitch Mustain, senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson, junior defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, senior tight end Jordan Cameron and reigning Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week senior kicker Joe Houston — were hands on from the moment they entered the door.
From playing Connect Four to racing fire trucks, to USC-themed arts and crafts, the Trojans’ annual visit to the center was more than a glorified photo-op — it was a chance to step away from the limelight on campus and into the reality that many of the hospital’s patients face every day.
“It’s always fun to see these kids, to see them light up,” Mustain said. “Being in a hospital is never fun, there is a reason why they are there, and issues they have to deal with everyday. A lot of it is serious stuff that they can’t even comprehend, so it’s nice to get them out of that element for a little while, and get them to do something else.”
What began as a day characterized by community outreach ended up as a unique bonding experience for the players outside the white lines of the playing field.
Although the initial intent of the visit was to raise the children’s spirits, hours later it was the players who said they left with a newfound appreciation that can’t be found in a jam-packed stadium or daily practices.
“I’ve done this a number of times, but it doesn’t get old to me,” Johnson said. “These kids would love to be in our position, so to come down and talk to them and give them encouragement, it feels great to me. It’s what we need to do as athletes.”
The team’s visit comes on the heels of a matchup with No. 1 Oregon on Oct. 30, giving the players a chance to represent the university off the field before they enter the biggest game they will face all season.
According to Prater, despite a showdown with the Ducks fast approaching, the importance of the visit was too high to forgo, noting that, in addition to helping the children, the trip to the hospital also benefits the USC players themselves.
“When you look back to when you were their age, kids are always looking up to somebody,” Prater said. “So to be in a position to be a model for these kids is inspiring for them and makes us look back and respect where we come from. It humbles us.”