Scribbled in white paint across the entrance of the grass to Howard Jones Field, written in all capital letters for everyone to see, is this message: “No Distractions.”
With just six days left until the Trojans’ first game, that message is now louder and more important than ever.
“We treated today like game week,” junior quarterback Matt Barkley said after Sunday’s full-pad practice. “Full gameplan today, full scouting reports. It was basically an extra day of practice we wouldn’t normally get.”
With that opening game less than a week away, the Trojans named their four captains for the season before practice. Senior tight end Rhett Ellison, senior defensive tackle Christian Tupou, junior safety T.J. McDonald and Barkley were selected by their teammates.
“I kinda saw it coming,” Barkley said sheepishly. “But it’s an honor nonetheless. I’m proud to lead these guys into battle and to know that I have their respect.”
USC coach Lane Kiffin extended praise to all of his captains.
“I’m proud of those guys,” Kiffin said. “I’m happy for them to be leading the team this season.”
The practice started at 10:45 a.m., and ended with the midday sun blaring down on the field. But that wasn’t seen as a negative by the coaching staff.
“I’m glad that we were out here this time of day,” Kiffin said. “It was one of our warmer days. It’s more what it will be like six days from now [on gameday].”
Barkley wouldn’t complain, either.
“I definitely think we’re well conditioned for whatever team we play,” Barkley said.
Kiffin highlighted conditioning and depth as themes for the team. He highlighted the first two games of last year, when Hawaii and Virginia each scored on their final possession of the first half.
With the incoming recruiting class getting lots of repetitions in practice, the coaching staff believes it is a much deeper squad compared to last season.
“We want to [play more players] at a number of spots,” Kiffin said. “And that’s up to our backups, to make sure that we have confidence in them. Even if the first team guy is a little better he can’t be playing 70 snaps.”
Senior linebacker Chris Galippo echoed similar sentiments.
“The difference between playing 40 plays and playing 75 plays, when you’re in the two minute drill in the fourth quarter … it’s huge,” Galippo said.
Galippo practiced with the team for the first time after being sidelined with a right shoulder injury. But he looked impressive, knocking a pass away — with his right arm — from junior running back Curtis McNeal. Galippo said he wouldn’t have been able to make that play a week ago.
“I felt great,” Galippo said. “I was able to wrap a couple of tackles and finish out practice. So that felt good.”
Galippo’s status for the season opener, however, is still uncertain.
“I’m confident that I can get in the game,” he said. “As many full-contact reps as I’ve missed I’ve still stayed engaged mentally and stayed in shape. It’s about getting the contact side down this week and getting used to the hitting tempo.”
The team had a special surprise off-day Saturday. USC came out for what Barkley described as a “special teams walk-through” in shorts and tennis shoes — no pads.
They practiced downing punts inside the five, but junior punter Kyle Negrete kept kicking the ball too far. So far, in fact, that it cleared the fence and landed in the Lyon Center pool.
“Kiff just exploded and kicked us off the field,” Barkley said. “We leave and all the managers are there with towels and shorts for us, and we got to go swimming. So Negrete was in on it. I think he even flipped coach off for good measure.”
Kiffin said his team deserved the day off, but also offered a more practical reason than just plain fun.
“I don’t think we would have been physically able to practice,” Kiffin said. “That would have been five days in a row. And then to come out here today, I don’t think we could have physically done that and practiced well at all.”