Amir Carlisle isn’t an ordinary freshman.
Through nearly three full weeks of fall camp, the first-year tailback from Sunnyvale, Calif., has continued to impress coaches and teammates alike, namely USC coach Lane Kiffin, who has likened him to a pair of successful freshmen from last season.
“[His] maturity, preparation for the game are very similar to the two guys that had the great freshman years in [wide receiver] Robert Woods and [cornerback] Nickell Robey,” Kiffin said. “It’s so rare for a true freshman to make an impact regardless of how physically talented they are unless they are mentally prepared and driven and focused, because there are so many distractions as a freshman.”
Following senior tailback Marc Tyler’s suspension in late July, the Trojans have been without a proven tailback to start the year. Of the team’s four running backs competing to start the Sept. 3 season opener against Minnesota, only sophomore tailback Dillon Baxter appeared in a game for the Trojans in 2010.
Carlisle, as a result, remains fortunate to be in such a position.
“I just bring energy to it and determination,” Carlisle said. “The other backs are great backs. I’m just going to go out there and give it my all each and every play and leave the rest up to the coaches.”
With the opener little more than a week away, Kiffin confirmed that the race to replace Tyler had not been settled.
“No, we still haven’t figured it out,” Kiffin said of the competition.
Carlisle routinely broke through the line for big plays during snaps against the second team defense, and despite his small stature — 5-foot-10, 180 pounds — Carlisle believes his determination compensates for what he lacks in size.
“You know I’m a competitor,” Carlisle said. “I’m going to go out there and give it my all each and every play. I really pride myself on toughness.”
Yet Carlisle also admitted he still has plenty to learn.
“I try to learn the playbook as best I can. I’m new to it,” Carlisle said. “I have made mistakes, but I make it a point to get extra time in the playbook, really try to learn it.
For the first time this camp, Tyler made an appearance in pads at Wednesday’s practice, largely playing with the scout team, but Kiffin downplayed the event.
“It’s the next step in the process of [Tyler] hopefully coming back,” Kiffin said. “This isn’t a major step; he’s not cleared for the second game. It’s just something that we had in place as he goes through this process.”
Though the Trojans gained one player in Tyler on Wednesday, they lost others.
Kiffin announced that freshman fullback Charles Burks was injured earlier this week and will require knee surgery, forcing him to miss the entire season. Other injuries, however, were not as serious.
Junior guard Abe Markowitz left practice with a foot injury and was replaced by freshman Marcus Martin.
“Marcus has a great future here,” Kiffin said. “I think he’s a very talented athlete who really loves football.”
The team’s oldest eligible tailback, Curtis McNeal also sat out during Wednesday’s practice, complicating some of the team’s position battles.
During special teams drills, the punt return squad appeared confident in a variety of drills early, often pressuring freshman punter Kyle Albarado.
In the field goal and extra point drills, junior safety T.J. McDonald also blocked two attempts, while the kicking team converted the rest.