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IMHO Sunday: Spring practice guarantees…to be or not to be, that is the question

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.

Guaranteed to be: Beginning this Tuesday afternoon, there will be five straight weeks of USC spring practice sessions (Tues., Thurs., Sat.) but closed to the public. The Trojans will have their “Coliseum Spring Showcase” on April 17 (1 p.m. PST/Pac-12 Networks) but public attendance is yet to be determined. And finally, spring practice will officially conclude on April 30. With all the aforementioned guarantees, you can also bet your season tickets (have you renewed?) that the ensuing guarantees will be or not to be and may or may not answer the questions during the upcoming 15 days of practice.

Guaranteed to be – Part 2: The biggest Tuesday question for those lucky enough to see the first day of spring practice will not be the arm strength of Kedon Slovis, but “Did you get your COVID shot, was it Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson, and did you have any side effects?”

Guaranteed to be – Part 3: A sharp-tongued, first-day witness will comment, “I’m actually surprised that Kedon Slovis looks completely healthy and throwing a really nice ball, but this is probably the healthiest Slovis will be in 2021 if his line doesn’t come through to protect him. Has anyone heard the rumor that Lloyd’s of London won’t even insure him.”

Will Trojans All-Pac-12 quarterback Kedon Slovis (photo above) stay healthy during spring and throughout the 2021 season? (Photo by Jose / MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

Guaranteed to be – Part 4: Looking from afar, a longtime spring practice visitor will comment that the grass on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields looks to be the best since the John McKay era. Moments later, the guest will ask if anybody has an extra spring numerical roster sheet.

Guaranteed to be – Part 5:
Comparisons will be made regarding incoming freshman QB Jaxson Dart looking like the next Sam Darnold while fellow true freshman QB team Miller Moss appears to be a clone of Cody Kessler.

Some say that true freshman quarterback Miller Moss reminds them of former Trojans standout quarterback Cody Kessler (photo above), who went on to the NFL.

Guaranteed to be – Part 6: Wide receiver Drake London will be compared to former Trojans All-America receiver Mike Williams, a rare combination of size, strength, and athleticism.  

Guaranteed to be – Part 7:
Although understandable that the media, which can only attend two practices a week, is not allowed to report on spring game strategy, formations, or plays, veteran eyes will train on the offensive line and the 11-on-11 competition to see if there are any newly detected running plays, and whether there is any hint that the porous and seemingly neglected running attack of 2020 is being addressed.

Guaranteed to be – Part 8: A knowledgeable onlooker will ask, “How can you have two consecutive seasons of first round offensive line draft picks (Austin Jackson in 2020 and Alijah Vera-Tucker likely in 2121) and have the 10th worst Pac-12 rushing attack in 2019? A snarky sideline patron will crack, “It could be worse, we could have had the worst rushing attack in 2020.” (Momentary pause), “Oh, that’s right, we did have the worst rushing attack in the Pac-12 last season. Anybody for the ‘Hat Trick’ in 2021…let’s hope not.” 

In 2019, the Trojans probably had two first-round draft picks on its offensive line, Austin Jackson (photo above), who was draft by Miami, and Alijah Vera-Tucker, who moved from guard to Jackson’s left tackle spot for 2020 and became a virtual No. 1 draft pick lock in next month’s draft.

Guaranteed to be – Part 9: Somebody will ask if anybody can see Alabama defensive tackle transfer Ishmael Sopsher but will quickly be informed that the big fella from Amite, Louisiana, underwent compartment syndrome surgery and is probably lost for spring ball. Within seconds, the questioner will inquire, “What exactly is compartmental syndrome?”

Guaranteed to be – Part 10: A question will be raised regarding the status of departed inside linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, once a “can’t miss” blue-chip prep All-America out of Las Vegas. A knowledgeable media member will remind his fellow journalist that Clay Helton said last Monday that Palaie is taking classes and is still in the transfer portal, but “the door is always open” for a return to USC. And to make matters more intriguing, what does it mean that Gaoteote is listed on the spring roster, and that is the question.

Although he has his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal but still attending USC classes, inside linebacker Palaie Gaoteote (photo above – No. 1) remains listed on the Trojans’ 2021 spring roster.

From the press box…

Guaranteed to be or not to be: Head coach Clay Helton will address his Tuesday morning Zoom media presser on the first day of practice by saying, “Hi every-body (half grinning while wearing a baseball cap), great to see y’all again. It’s great to be together again in-person after such a long time apart.

“First, I want to thank Dr. Folt and Coach (Mike) Bohn for making the commitment to put us in the best position possible to accomplish our goals of winning Pac-12 titles and national championships. As a thank you, I will be presenting each of them a football that Kedon (Slovis) throws for touchdowns during today’s first day of spring ball. Now I’ll entertain any questions y’all might have.”

Guaranteed to be or not to be – Part 2: Clay Helton will be asked how he thought Kedon Slovis has been looking leading up to spring practice, what was the extent of his injury after the Pac-12 title game, and what kind of medical treatment he received in the off-season? The coach will reply, “I think this is the best that Kedon has looked leading up to spring ball, but due to privacy rules, I can’t comment on the physical condition of his body or any medical treatment, but he sure has looked (chuckle) plenty healthy to me. Every night, I thank the good Lord that Kedon is with us at least one more season and maybe even more.”

Trojans head coach Clay Helton (photo above) is upbeat knowing that his quarterback Kedon Slovis is ready to perform in spring practice, which begins on Tuesday afternoon.

Guaranteed to be or not to be – Part 3:
The second question addressed to Clay Helton will be whether he has any plans during or after spring ball to find a portal transfer offensive left tackle? Helton will respond, “Mercy, this is just the first day of spring, but I appreciate your question, but we have no plans to go into the portal at this present time. We’re really happy with our offensive line personnel. They’ve really worked hard these past eight weeks, and their future is very very bright.” 

Guaranteed to be or not to be – Part 4: In a follow-up question, Gentleman Clay will be asked his assessment of the offensive line up to this point. The coach will reply, “Golly (chuckle), I really love this group. Their jaws are set, their hair is on fire. They are really a big, physical, talented group, and, Lordy, they work so gosh darn hard.

“I know one thing, I want them walking by my side down a dark alley. I think they can be one of the best lines in the country. We’re fortunate to have a great coach like Clay McGuire now mentoring them. I’ve been impressed with Clay’s work, and not because (chuckle) we both have the same first name.” 

Nobody will have more of an interest in the development of the Trojans offensive line than Clay Helton (photo above).

Guaranteed to be or not to be – Part 5:
The coach will be asked about the unexpected and quiet departure of social media whizzes Jacob Brown and Will Stout, who came to Troy with much ballyhoo from LSU. The coach will reply, “We wish Jacob and Will nothing but the best and appreciate what they did for the Trojan family. I can’t really comment on inner department issues, but I know that Jacob and Will will really be successful wherever their future takes them.”     

Guaranteed to be or not to be – Part 6: Clay Helton will be asked whether there be a depth chart released at the conclusion of spring ball. As Helton responds, a veteran media observer of the Helton era will mumble, “Sure there’ll be, but nearly every position name will be separated with “or”.

Will Clay Helton (photo above) release a more definitive depth chart at the end of spring than in the past?

Guaranteed to be or not to be – Part 7: Asked about the physical condition of his team, the Coach will gush“Our new Director of Football Performance, Robert Stiner, has made this team the best conditioned and strength conditioned team I’ve seen in my 12 seasons at USC. He is a very special person, and we’re lucky to have gotten him away from Notre Dame.”

Clay Helton is hopeful that new Director of Football Performance Robert Stiner (photo above) can bring some of that Notre Dame physicality to the Trojans.

Guaranteed to be or not to be – Part 8: Asked to comment on last season’s penalty issues and team discipline, Gentleman Clay will respond, “Penalties are part of the game, it’s just when they happen. As you know, I was in charge of discipline a couple of seasons ago, my choice, so I have some experience in that area. When it comes to discipline, remember, I am the son of an offensive line coach.

“Our staff has reviewed these past discipline issues, and we’re looking to shortly hire a Discipline Quality Control Analyst. That position (turning serious) will be critical to our success. For habitual violators, it could include taking away training table ice cream privileges or reduction in cell phone social media usage, or wearing the red scarlet letter “D” for discipline around campus, and potentially – only if absolutely necessary – some sort of tattoo removal or caning.”     

Guaranteed to be or not to be – Part 9: On the final question of Tuesday first morning’s Zoom conference, Coach Clay will be asked what his goals are by the time spring practice concludes. Helton will say, “This is my 12th year as a football coach at this university, and our goals are the goals this university always has, and that’s win the Pac-12 and a national championship.

“To be honest, we’re getting to that championship level; we’re really close, ever so close, as close as Texas smoked BBQ ribs are to a (chuckle) picnic table. USC has a tradition and legacy second to none, and we embrace those high expectations. We wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s why players and coaches come to USC…to be the best and win the Pac-12 and national championships! It’s in our DNA. It’s how coaches are judged. It’s an exciting time to be a Trojan.”

Under Pete Carroll (photo above), winning Pac-12 titles and winning or contending for national championships was a Trojans way of life. Even Clay Helton has repeatedly reiterated those expectations.

Guaranteed to be or not to be – Part 10: As Gentleman Clay wraps up the morning’s Zoom festivities, he pauses for a moment and says, “Good golly Miss Molly, excuse me, but one additional comment if I may. I want to once again thank Dr. Folt and Coach (Mike) Bohn for making the commitment for putting us in the best position possible to accomplish our Pac-12 and national title goals.

“In that context, I am also going to present Coach Folt a framed picture of Pete Carroll holding up the 2004 BCS Orange Bowl National Championship Trophy, our last one, and, man, it’s been way too long for this proud university. It reminds us all of the main goal of our storied program – national championships – just like Dr. Folt said in her original introductory press conference in the John McKay Center back in the day.

“Again, it’s an exciting time to be a Trojan. Y’all have a good day and we’ll see y’all later in the afternoon, although we know your viewing area isn’t where you’d like it to be. We have to error on the side of caution. We’re still happy to have ya and Fight On!”      

Would Dr. Carol Folt appreciate receiving a photo of Pete Carroll (photo above) hugging QB Matt Leinart while celebrating winning the 2004 BCS National Championship? The Trojans haven’t won a national title since that dominating Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma 16 years ago.

The post-game show…

Guaranteed to be : During a water break, somebody will ask, “Okay, trivia fans, can you name me the new Trojans Marching Band director who replaced Dr. Bartner?” Everybody will glance around with that inquisitive look but no answer.  

Can you name Dr. Bartner’s (photo above) successor to directing the Trojans Marching Band in 2021?

Guaranteed not to be– Part 2: Despite the obvious success of the men’s basketball team in the NCAA Tournament, somebody will crack, “Yeah, but USC is still a football school,” which will draw a few catcalls, groans, and some not-so-convincing rebuttals.

Guaranteed to be – Part 3:
Somebody will express aloud that wide receiver Drake London probably regrets not playing basketball this season. A bystander will sarcastically remark, “Sure he does, especially when he takes all that NFL draft money to the bank.”

Wide receiver Drake London (photo above – No. 15), who figures to head to the NFL after the 2021 season, also figures to cash in when it’s his time to head to the NFL and the draft. (Photo above by Jose Marin / MarinMedia Pool for USC Athletics)

Guaranteed to be – Part 4: Somebody will ask what former Trojans athletic directors Pat Haden and Lynn Swann are doing? A quipster will respond by saying, “Haden is counting his money in San Marino, and Swann is probably in Augusta (Georgia) awaiting The Masters while counting Benjamins as he signs autographs.” 

Guaranteed not to be – Part 5:
A young cardinal and gold fan will ask, “Were Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian really head coaches at USC?” After being told yes, the youngster will add, “What about Pete Carroll, is it true that he was also once the head football coach here, too?”

Was current Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin (photo above) really the USC head coach back in the day?

Guaranteed to be – Part 6: Trojans radio voice Pete Arbogast will drop by practice and at some point – probably during 11-on-11 team drills – start doing an out loud mock play-by-play broadcast of the proceedings. A concerned somebody will ask, “Is Arbo okay? Has he finally reached that age in life?”

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Katzman, were you surprised by the players that were on the cover of the 2021 USC Spring Prospectus guide?

Caller No. 1, No, I thought the selections by the Sports Information Department were fine choices. How could you argue with QB Kedon Slovis, CB Chris Steele, WR Drake London, SS Isaiah Pola- Mao, and OLB/DE Drake Jackson? I guess you could quibble about not having a running back like veteran Vavae Malepeai, but I don’t think that any of those players on the cover shouldn’t be there.

The cover of the 2021 USC Spring Prospecus (photo above), which features five probable future NFL players.

Caller No. 2: Greg, will men’s basketball ever remotely come close to football as it pertains to fan support?  

Caller No. 2, love your use of “remotely.” When basketball approaches 11 national champions, the basketball equivalent of Heisman Trophies, and enough successive NCAA tournament appearances perhaps – someday. There was once the school of thought that when the Galen Center was finally built, fans would come flocking to watch basketball.

Now, after the early years of curiosity regarding the building, the Galen Center needs a big, consistent championship program that accomplishes great success for years in succession. One big winning season and an NCAA deep dive needs more to captivate the cardinal and gold audience.    

Caller No. 3: Grego, you may have been asked this before, but what Trojan living or in the past would you like to sit down for a lunch hour?

Caller No. 3, for me, it would be John McKay. IMHO, McKay was USC royalty. I would like to know who was his biggest influence in coaching and at the time he coached, which coaching opponent did he have the most respect? I would ask the coach what he thinks it would take for the current Trojans program to get back into the national championship hunt.

What would Trojans Hall of Fame coaching legend John McKay (photo above) think of the current USC football program?

Caller No. 4: GK, when you return to watching games from the Coliseum in the fall, now protected from Covid, what will be your first thoughts?  

Caller No. 4, believe it or not – besides seeing all my media friends that also cover Trojan football – I think looking out onto the Coliseum field and then raising my eyes to look over the top of the Coli and once again seeing the beautiful Los Angeles skyline and then deeper in the background the beautiful mountains and hills. On a clear day, you can also see the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Park Planetarium in the distance. What a sight!  

There is nothing more beautiful that being in the Coliseum press box and looking over the top of the Coliseum and seeing the skyline of Los Angeles (photo above).

Caller No. 5: Coach, I hear your condo is a real man cave (USC, Dodgers, Rock and Roll, etc.) is that true?  

Caller No. 5, I live in a two-story condo (1,400 sq. ft.), and I am proud to say as a bachelor, I have my own version of a “man cave.” I can do anything I want in terms of decorating, and I don’t have somebody telling me what I can and can’t put up on my walls. Quite frankly, for me, it’s refreshing. On the first floor living room, I have a Dodgers and stadium wall. I love baseball stadiums. In the dining room area, it’s the USC football room. I guess I am a bit latent adolescent in some ways, but I love it.

Upstairs, I have my four-walled ballpark room, my Disneyland and Disney World room (still under construction, and, yes, I do have three miniature Disney monorails going around the floor, which travel by the EPCOT ball and through the Contemporary Hotel. In my bedroom, I have a bedroom that on one wall has a beach view of Maui and some of the other outer islands and on the other wall the skyline of New York City and Brooklyn Bridge.

Did I mention my Rock and Roll stairway, USC sports tree, and my most prized possession, my 75-inch HD TV with a five-speaker surround sound system? My companion, Sharon, says the TV and sound system must be a man thing. With few exceptions, I won’t go anywhere else to watch games on the tube. In an overall snapshot of me and my condo, my sister tells me I am like the Jimmy Fallon character in the baseball movie “Fever Pitch.” I took it as a compliment.      

My beloved 75-inch HD TV (photo above) with five speaker surround sound is a sports fans nirvana.
My living room (photo above), which is a true “man cave” for a true Dodger and baseball fan.
My dining room (photo above) is my USC room, which displays different types of artwork. Can you identify the photos?
My upstairs ballpark room (photo above). You’re just seeing just one of four sides of the ballpark room. Can you see the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl in the middle shelf? The green back seat (lower left) is from old Comiskey Park in Chicago before they tore that stadium down completely. FYI, those little round clear cylinders on the top shelf with white labels contain dirt from the various stadium I’ve visited.
My beloved Rock and Roll stairway (photo above) with the original albums in frames.
Here is my “Sports Tree” (photo above) with instead of all ornaments, those are USC and visitor football press passes of games I’ve covered home and away for WeAreSC. Yes, there are a few sports ornaments and some Disneyland and Disney World ride ornaments. In case you were wondering, that photo above the fireplace is a view of Wrigley Field with the skyline of Chicago in the background.
Still under heavy construction is my Disneyland/Disney World room (photo above), which features three working monorails, the EPCOT ball, attraction posters on the walls, and some fun things you can’t see.

The last word: When you wonder why so many college kids want to get to the NFL as soon as possible, just look at the recent news that former Trojans All-American CB Adoree’ Jackson signed a three-year, $39 million dollar deal. Still just 25-years-old, Adoree’ played in just two games in 2020 due to a knee injury. A knee injury and still signing a three-year, $39 million dollar contract? Now, that’s taking a negative and turning it into the ultimate positive.   

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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