Football’s Spring Showcase marks first appearance in front of fans since 2019

Tight end Erik Krommenhoek stiff-arming a UCLA defender in order to avoid a tackle.
Redshirt senior tight end Erik Krommenhoek has 2 touchdown receptions in his career at USC. (Daily Trojan file photo)

USC will return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, five months after its Pac-12 title game loss to Oregon, for its annual Spring Showcase. The showcase is open to 5,000 fans and family members of players and coaches, and it is the only USC Athletics event currently open to the general public.

The showcase will feature four 12-minute quarters with the roster divided into Cardinal and Gold teams. USC will come in with eight practices under its belt so far, and according to recently promoted tight end coach Seth Doege, the showcase will serve as an opportunity to see how players perform in game-like situations. 

“When the bullets fly, it’s a lot,” Doege said. “It’s a lot harder than it is drawing it on the whiteboard which they’ve been doing the last eight weeks before spring ball started, and so they’ll continue to make huge steps.”

Even with an exciting slate of newcomers, impressive enough to be ranked the No. 8 recruiting class in the country, the Trojans come into 2021 with an experienced group. Sixteen of last season’s 22 starters will take the field in Cardinal and Gold again, including a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, junior quarterback Kedon Slovis.

Slovis led the Trojans to the No. 11 passing offense in yards per game during their shortened 5-0 regular season in 2020. The quarterback has matured in the air-raid offense, now entering his third year in the system and under the leadership of offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. 

While Slovis led the Trojans down the field with impressive accuracy last season, the run game ultimately failed to produce. The lack of an established run game was a worrying trend that was only amplified in the Pac-12 Championship when the Trojans finished with only 38 rushing yards. Redshirt senior running backs Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr return, but the team’s attitude on their role in the offense has shifted according to Doege.

“[Head coach Clay Helton] changed some verbiage in the run game,” Doege said. “So we got to do a good job of being on the same page from a communication standpoint.”

On the defensive end, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando comes into this season after setting a new standard for USC’s defensive unit seldom seen over the past decade. The Trojans allowed only 369.7 total yards per game on the season, its second-fewest since 2009. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Nick Figueroa, who led the Trojans in tackles and sacks in 2020, will likely be out for Saturday’s showcase while recovering from shoulder surgery. 

Other defensive starters, including junior outside linebacker Drake Jackson and sophomore lineman Tuli Tuipulotu return as leaders and potential mentors to incoming freshman defensive lineman and No. 1 overall recruit Korey Foreman as well as freshman outside linebacker Raesjon Davis.

Saturday’s squad includes players who will graduate this spring, These players got a second chance to complete their playing careers under a NCAA rule extending eligibility to athletes affected by seasons cut short due to the coronavirus. Fourteen seniors in total will be classified as second-year seniors, including inside linebacker Kana’i Mauga and senior tight end Erik Krommenhoek.

“I know how special this place is,” Krommenhoek said. “I know how special the tradition is here. I know how special the town of kids we have here is and, just, this ceiling that we have that I know we want to reach, and I think we can, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

While Saturday’s showcase will be exciting for the fans who’ve been itching to see their team in action, Doege emphasized the team’s focus on skills growth over the course of spring workouts. 

“We do not care about immediate results,” Doege said. “We want to create habits that will sustain long term success when we come, when we play Notre Dame.” 

The Trojans’ Spring Showcase kicks off at 1 p.m Saturday. It will air on the Pac-12 Network.