Football teams are something special.
In few other places will you find a tighter-knit group of 60-70 young men, growing together, sharing victory and defeat and learning from one another.
Football teams are like good TV shows: They are driven by the characters. Every team, whether it is a championship contender or a bottom-feeder, is a fusion of personalities, each personality a distinct part of the whole.
The Trojans have a regular cast that is as entertaining as they come. And for a season that lacks a lot of real stakes for the Trojans, a group of appealing characters keeps the plot moving.
Here’s a look into the USC football team through the lens of a primetime TV series:
Coach Lane Kiffin, the new lead role
I wrote at the beginning of this season that Kiffin came off closed and defensive in interviews. He was the old supporting character from the cast, thrust back onto the scene to carry the show after the departure of the lead role. Naturally, it took him some time to get comfortable.
Kiffin has loosened up quite a bit since those first interviews. He jokes a lot more and seems to be able to handle criticism much better than his predecessor. His players have bought into his mentality.
He is a coach who accepts no nonsense and a father-figure that puts tough love into practice. But there is no question that he cares about his guys.
After senior kicker Joe Houston’s heroics last Saturday, the player was one of the players selected to talk to reporters at the press conference.
“I see times have changed around here,” Kiffin quipped as he sat down. “Joe goes 1-for-3, makes a 29-yard field goal and he gets to come up here in front of everybody.”
Even after losses, Kiffin has let some humor slip through.
After his team got pounded by Oregon but was called for only three penalties, a reporter asked Kiffin if he felt as if the Trojans had turned a corner in terms of drawing costly flags.
Kiffin responded, without malice: “You found something positive about today. I appreciate you.”
It might have taken him half the season, but Kiffin finally appears comfortable in his role as the leading character.
Senior cornerback Shareece Wright, the psychologist
Dr. Wright is the guy people would go to when they need advice. Wright seems to have the best handle on the pulse of the team. He’s a veteran and a natural leader.
Before the defense’s breakout performance against California, he was the one who gave the key motivational speech that whipped the defense in line.
What’s great about Wright is that he never dodges a question or a reporter’s eyes. And you’ll never hear an excuse come out of his mouth.
Wright was one of the only Trojans to admit that fatigue was a factor down the stretch against Oregon. When asked how Arizona State’s LeQuan Lewis escaped his grasp en route to a 100-yard kickoff return, Wright was straightforward.
“I don’t even know what happened, honestly,” he said.
Wright is a trustworthy and classy guy, and his role as a leader and guide has been indispensible to the Trojans in a season where viewership in the Coliseum has dwindled.
Senior placekicker Joe Houston, the comeback kid
Every good drama requires an up-and-down story of redemption. Houston, who missed two early field goals against the Sun Devils, would’ve probably been the scapegoat had USC not pulled off the win.
But lucky for him, he got the chance to redeem himself with a go-ahead field goal with three minutes remaining.
Some USC fans were calling for his head after his 40-yard try against Washington boinked off the upright, opening the door for the Huskies’ upset. All was good again for Houston because he finally came through when it mattered.
Houston still seemed nervous at the press conference, almost as if he still didn’t know what to make of it all.
But he surely made up for his past sins and will be seen in future episodes.
Freshman receiver Robert Woods, the future star
Woods has started all season as a true freshman and has already starred in a few episodes of his own.
What strikes you about him is how excited he seems to be there. The glamour of the big stage has not worn off.
Woods acts, well, like a freshman: energized about every future experience and aware of his role in the social hierarchy.
It’s only his performance on the field that is un-freshman-like.
No one smiles more in an interview than Woods. When asked after the Cal game why he doesn’t celebrate more after big plays, he said it is because God could take it away at any time.
“And plus, coach Kiffin doesn’t allow that,” he obediently added.
There you have it, the star-in-the-making deferring to the lead role.
USC’s season might lack any real drama because there will be no bowl game at the end of the tunnel, but the team’s characters will keep people tuned in week after week.
“Middle Ground” runs Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org.