In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
The walk: There are tons of reasons why a hotshot high school football player would want to play for the USC Trojans. Believe me, when it comes to recruiting and when things are right, nobody plays the recruiting game with all its natural resources better than the team that performs in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. You might be surprised to know that one of USC’s major recruiters can’t speak, can’t text, can’t walk, and doesn’t do much of anything but just exist.
The walk – Part 2: So, who or what is this stationary recruiter that has been instrumental for thousands of high school stars committing to be Trojans football players over generations? Well, just ask senior Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei quarterback Miller Moss, a Trojans recent verbal, who told recruiting guru Greg Biggins, “I thought about the school I could picture myself at, putting on that jersey and running out of the tunnel, it was always USC.”
The walk – Part 3: Do you get it? Do you see it? Did you hear it? It’s the legendary Coliseum tunnel, and once again it’s all about that tunnel, a special, mostly covered walkway that leads USC players from the locker room down onto the field. It’s not a short walk nor is it a long walk, but certainly an unforgettable walk if you’ve had the honor of having experienced it.
The walk – Part 4: During official visits or Trojans’ home games, USC recruits experience this gloriously covered dark runway, knowing they are literally walking in the footsteps of many of the greatest athletes in the history of sports. Oh sure, there are plenty more important reasons to commit to USC than a cement tunnel, but it’s inescapable not to credit the tunnel when so many commits mention it. The walk is like a dreamlike experience, and some would even say a sports religious experience.
The walk – Part 5: I am reminded in 2008 when the Ohio State Buckeyes came to LA to play a non-conference game against the Men of Troy. During pregame warmups, I was standing at the mouth of the tunnel next to the field. Before the Buckeyes players ran onto the field, an Ohio State administrator had just made the walk down the tunnel to where I was standing. She stopped next to me and said, “Oh my God, this place is intimidating. Walking down that tunnel, it’s so foreboding and then to see the whole inside suddenly appear, it’s overwhelming.” Of course, it didn’t hurt that Pete Carroll’s Trojans at the time were No. 1 in the country and eventually creamed Thee Ohio State, 35-3, in front of 93,607.
The walk – Part 6: I can’t remember the first time I walked down the Coliseum tunnel, whether it was an actual game or just a spring practice exercise, but it still continues to send chills down my spine and transports me into my own fantasy world of walking down the famed passageway wearing the cardinal and gold. It never gets old. Former players have told me they wish they could walk down that tunnel ramp just one more time in their uniform.
The walk – Part 7: The first time I saw the Coliseum tunnel was 1959 when the Dodgers were playing their home games in the great edifice. Although the tunnel was basically obscure due to the press box blocking the view of the open mouth of the tunnel, you could still watch the players appearing and disappearing like ants finding a crack in a wall. It was all kind of magical.
The walk – Part 8: The first time I saw USC players come out of the tunnel was 1962 when I saw my first Trojans home football game against the Duke Blue Devils. I vividly remember the Men of Troy suddenly appearing like Shoeless Joe Jackson coming out of that corn field in the motion picture Field of Dreams. Again, I hate to use the word “magical,” but it really was.
The walk – Part 9: And as exciting as it is to see the Trojans come out of the tunnel and onto the field before a kickoff, nothing beats the emotion after a game of walking with the Men of Troy back up the tunnel to the locker room and media area. When SC wins, most players will sprint back up the tunnel, but when they lose, it’s becomes a long, uphill stroll that is soaked in disappointment. Either way, the sounds sort of echo off the walls and tunnel ceiling.
From the press box…
Recruiting surprise: In an ESPN.com piece entitled “Surprise college football teams off to fast starts in 2021 recruiting,” writer Tom VanHaaren breaks down the surprise schools from each major college football conference, as it pertains to the recruiting Class of 2021. The Trojans were listed as the Pac-12’s most surprising, given the circumstances of the past two seasons under Clay Helton.
Recruiting surprise – Part 2: In VanHaaren’s piece on surprise recruiting classes, the ESPN journalist wrote, “It’s strange to see USC in this category, considering how well the Trojans have recruited in the past. But things got away from USC quickly in the past two classes, and that has landed it on this list.”
Recruiting surprise Part 3: “USC signed one ESPN 300 recruit from the state of California in the 2020 class, which is unheard of. Granted, it was a smaller class overall, but to land only one top-300 in-state recruit shows that something is wrong.”
Recruiting surprise – Part 4: “To fall from the fifth-best class in the country to the No. 5-ranked class in three seasons is difficult to do. But the Trojans have found their way again, if the current ranking is any indication of what will happen in the future.”
Recruiting surprise – Part 5: “Coach Clay Helton brought on new coaches, including defensive backs coach Donte Williams, who helped start the ‘Take Back the West’ movement for the Trojans. Currently back in the top five, the Trojans needed a boost of energy and revitalization on the recruiting trail.”
Recruiting surprise – Part 6: “New athletic director Mike Bohn has helped inject resources into the recruiting efforts, including increasing the size of the recruiting staff, which was essential. Helton has taken on a new mentality toward recruiting and has even bulked up the graphic design staff, hiring Will Stout, who was one of the main cogs in creating LSU’s widely popular hype videos last season.”
Recruiting surprise – Part 7: VanHarren concluded by adding, “The Trojans were off track for a few recruiting classes, but this 2021 cycle has helped get the program back on track, as long as it can finish strong all the way to February.”
The post-game show…
Sign of the times: While we all await how the Pac-12 is going to handle the upcoming coronavirus season in more detail – if there is actually going to be a season – the conference may want to see what the Patriot League is doing. In its statement, the seven-member FCS conference said, “Student-athletes will return to campus at the same time as the student body; the conference schedule will begin at the end of September and finish before Thanksgiving; and no Patriot League teams will fly to games, and with rare exceptions, regular-season overnight travel will be prohibited.”
Sign of the times – Part 2: The Pac-12 Conference is so spread out on the West Coast, it seems – other than close geographical rivalries – too difficult to have one-day road trips. As it is, Pac-12 teams normally arrive late Friday afternoon or early evening for road games and depart almost immediately after the next day’s game. For Friday night games, it’s in on Thursday and out Friday night after the game.
Remembering Max: Man, that was some shock to hear of the passing of former Trojans offensive line great Max Tuerk, 26, on Father’s Day no less, in the arms of his father, Greg, after taking a long hike in the Cleveland National Forest. Say it ain’t so! So young, so much to live for. Max was a great Trojan both of physical talent and in character. The good die much too young. Max, who had a brief NFL career, was just a joy to interview and was always polite, humble, and had such an infectious smile. Our thoughts go out to the Tuerk family.
Remembering Max – Part 2: In a wonderful Los Angeles Times story by longtime prep writer Eric Sondheimer, the scribe quotes Max’s former Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic coach, the legendary retired Harry Welsh. Sondheimer writes, “In 45 years of coaching, Welch said he had seen lots of outstanding linemen, including Randy Cross and Brent Parkinson, standouts at UCLA and USC, respectively. ‘Max Tuerk was the greatest high school offensive lineman I had ever been around.’”
Remembering Max – Part 3: In The Times article regarding the passing of Max Tuerk, Harry Welch added, “His work ethic, his intensity, his feet, his hands, his speed, his aggressiveness. He was second to none. We would design plays, and as we were designing them Marty (Spaulding- O-line coach) would come up with a blocking scheme. Marty and I would argue in the coaching office, ‘Who’s going to block this guy?’ Max is. ‘Then who’s going to block this guy?’ Max is. ‘Coach, Max would block both of them.’ I’ve never seen anything quite like it.’”
The call-in show…
Caller No. 1: Mr. Katz, tell it like it is, buddy. What’s your latest thoughts on will we have a season? Obviously, it’s a fluid situation, but that’s not what you want me to say. As of today, with the outbreak of coronavirus rising again to record numbers in California, I would always take the cue from the science and medical community and error on the side of caution. Right now, playing football in September is being driven by money and not by data. Of course, you could argue that the medical folks at USC must know what they’re doing in allowing plans to go forward. However, pardon me if I remain skeptical, and I don’t give a hoot what the SEC is doing. Look at their coronavirus data in that section of the country.
Caller No. 2: Greg, you still think that USC and Alabama won’t play? Well, if both sides are in agreement to play and have the same number of practices, they’ll play. I don’t think it’s a good idea and after all, it’s just a non-conference game, so is it worth the risk of travel, hotel, and social contact? I guess it is if you make money from TV.
Caller No. 3: GK, it seems the Trojans have hit a recruiting lull in commitments. What’s your take? I think that up to this point the recruiting has – in a positive sense – gone way past even the lowest of expectations. The staff has done a remarkable job given the circumstances. The one thing that will boost the prospects of landing some 5-star players is if there is a season and the Trojans come out and get off to a fast start.
Caller No. 4: Katzman, if you could pick any Trojan running back in history to score from an opponent’s 1 -yard line, whom would you pick? Finally, an easy question. No doubt, it would be Sam “Bam” Cunningham going over the top – totally unstoppable. Let’s have a little tougher question next time, but thanks for participating.
Caller No. 5: Gregger, indoor movie theaters or drive-in movies? Well, you don’t see many drive-in facilities like the old days. When I was a kid, a drive-in seemed so cool with the speaker attaching into the driver’s side window. Today, everything that has to do with sound goes through your car radio, even what’s left of drive-in movies. I don’t go to a lot of movies – none right now – but when I do, I prefer sitting in an air-conditioned Imax Theater with great Dolby sound. A drive-in complex can’t give me the same sense of enjoyment. Of course, you could argue that the snack areas in an up-to-date drive-in can rival the best of an indoor movie theater. Actually, I prefer to watch a Blu-ray DVD on my 70-inch TV and 5-point surround sound system.
The final word: If you’re a USC football season ticket holder, did you reply back to the ticket department as being “in’ or “out” of your 2020 season tickets?