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O/NSO: Light My Fire edition

The Obvious: One of rock and roll’s greatest groups in the late 1960s was The Doors (photo above), who unleashed the legendary hit “Light My Fire,” which included this verse: “The time to hesitate is through, no time to wallow in the mire.”

The Not So Obvious: For Clay Helton’s football team, program, and the Trojans’ fan base, there’s “no time to wallow in the mire.” With the expected yet disappointing news that WR Puka Nucua (Orem, Utah) – once a longtime USC commit – had signed with the Washington Huskies this past week, “the time to hesitate is through” for Clay Helton’s program to finally turn the page on last season and the recruiting Class of 2019 and transition aggressively towards brighter and more positive headwinds with spring practice commencing on March 4 and additional focus directed towards the promising recruiting Class of 2020.

The Obvious: It is said that hope springs eternal, especially when it pertains to spring practice months of March and April.

The Not So Obvious: And while things have been “wallowing in the mire” since the end of the 2018 season (5-7) and continued through an uncharacteristically underachieving recruiting Class of 2019, spring always represents rebirth, and Trojan fans are cautiously hoping this will be the case beginning with Spring Football Practice. Of course, the greatest springtime hope is that Clay Helton can begin to turn his program around and prove that he can do the job through next fall – thus “the time to hesitate is through.” Trojan fans have heard the coach’s repeated words and well worn phrases of optimism, and now Gentleman Clay has no choice but to begin to “prove it.”

The Obvious: By near media consensus, Clay Helton is No. 1 on hot seat lists for job security.

The Not So Obvious: Around the time that Trojans’ athletic director Lynn Swann decided to retain Helton as USC head football coach, Swannie also issued a litany of areas that needed to be addressed in the football program: culture, discipline, schemes, personnel and staff. Helton has addressed the offensive “scheme” and has made personnel and staff changes with a measured amount of coaching alterations, although there are voices that believed more should been undertaken.

The Obvious: Two areas of change that remain in question are culture and discipline.

The Not So Obvious: Why? Because we don’t know if enough was done to affect culture and discipline. Why? Because everything starts on the top, and Helton remains the head coach. Will he or can he become the discipline that he has proven not to be in previous seasons? Gentleman Clay says in his eyes discipline is about ball security, penalties, technique at each position. Well, discipline is much more than that, and it includes off-field events, as well. Assistant coaches have to instill that discipline within their position groups AND be supported by the head coach as the ultimate discipline role model. Many have questioned that in the past. It remains to be seen, and the sand in the hour glass is moving quickly.

The Obvious: Many have dissed the Trojans Recruiting Class of 2019 for being substandard and deficient of the accustomed 5-star recruits.

The Not So Obvious: One of the ways for the Recruiting Class of 2019 to prove the recruiting pundits wrong is for those early spring enrollees to make an impact in spring ball. For the record, the spring ball enrollees include DB Briton Allen, LB Raylen Goforth, OL/OLB Drake Jackson, DL/OL Gino Quinones, QB Kedon Slovis, LB Stanley Ta’ufo’ou, DB Max Williams, TE Jude Wolfe along with the junior college signees DL Nick Figueroa and Australian punter enrollee Ben Griffiths.

The Obvious: They say the last casualty of the Civil War was President Abraham Lincoln. In terms of the last casualty of the USC Trojans 2019 recruiting class, it was when wide receiver Puka Nucua signed with Washington.

The Not So Obvious: Washington’s signing of Nucua didn’t come out of the blue. There were strong indications that the kid from Utah had lost faith in the future of the Trojans football program. The damage of uncertainty regarding Clay Helton’s future was a lethal recruiting injection. Nucua wasn’t alone in his feelings, especially after the shocking turnaround by 5-star wide receiver Bru McCoy who attended classes at USC for just under three weeks and abruptly withdrew and headed to the University of Texas. But now, Nucua and McCoy are water under the bridge, and it’s time to move on. There is enough current receiver talent on hand to offset the recruiting losses for the present.  

The Obvious: There is little question that the upcoming spring practice sessions will be the most important in Clay Helton’s tenure as the USC Trojans’ head coach. 

The Not So Obvious: If you’re looking for optimism, one could point to the new offensive system that is currently being installed by first-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, which is intriguing in itself. How many times have you heard that with the Air Raid offense – or some form of it – combined with the Trojans’ array of skilled offensive talent, things could get mighty explosive offensively? The truth is, offensively speaking, anything had to be improvement over what we’ve seen in the post-Sam Darnold era. But let’s not kid ourselves, no matter the offense, it also gets down to the play caller and how much freedom he’ll really have with Clay Helton listening in his headset.   

The Obvious: With the hiring of Graham Harrell, Clay Helton has indicated that he will have little to do with offense in terms of game planning and play calling.

The Not So Obvious: Well, we’ll see about that. Helton’s biggest challenge personally will be not meddling in an offense that is not his own and giving up that offensive leadership role. Instead, Gentleman Clay says he will focus on the overall management of the program. However, it would be naïve to think that he won’t be inserting his opinions along the way when it comes to play calling during games and offensive personnel decisions. After all, he’s still the head coach. The question is how much can Gentleman Clay balance a “hands-off” approach and inserting his opinion? How comfortable will Graham Harrell be when it inevitably happens?

The Obvious: There continues to be a lot of noise regarding what’s happening with the renewals of season tickets.

The Not So Obvious: On the WeAreSC message boards, many fans have decided not to renew their season tickets because they don’t like the direction or the football product on the field. Others say that all things shall pass and believe that better days are ahead with or without Clay Helton as the head coach; the fun of tailgating and being with longtime friends supersedes any program frustration. From the longtime Trojan fans the O/NSO knows, the prevailing thought: “I am not going to pay money for a program that doesn’t seem to care about winning as much as I do.”

The Obvious: It was a heck of a turnout for the Garry P. Celebration of Life last Sunday at the Galen Center.

The Not So Obvious: It was a very impressive list of names that attended like former Trojans Mark Sanchez, Lawrence Jackson, Paul McDonald, Shaun Cody, coach Kennedy Polamalu, Jeremy Hogue, and Petros Papadakis. In addition, it was really heartwarming to see former WeAreSC contributors like the NFL Network’s Lindsey Rhodes, Natalie Klalibat – now at ABC-Richmond, Virginia – and broadcasters like ESPN radio’s Andy Kamenetzky, play-by-play voice of the Trojans Pete Arbogast – who was a speaker – and representatives from the various other websites that cover USC football. And let’s not leave out some mighty powerful and important boosters like Brian Kennedy who built one of the practice fields adjacent to Howard Jones Field.    

The Obvious: The Garry P Celebration of Life included a list of speakers and a video presentation. 

The Not So Obvious: A reminder,the entire Celebration of Life presentation is available for viewing here on the WeAreSC site. The O/NSO thinks if you haven’t seen it or are uncomfortable watching it, let me assure you that you’ll find it as uplifting a celebration of this kind as you’ll experience. In fact, there were many humorous moments, things you didn’t know about Garry, and, yes, some tears along the way, as well. We think if you watch it, you’ll come away glad you did.

The Obvious: As mentioned at the Celebration of Life for Garry, one of the great strengths of WeAreSC.com was Garry P.’s foresight and vision of the message boards.

The Not So Obvious: In keeping Garry’s memory alive on the WeAreSC Huddle message board, Garry’s successor, Erik McKinney, has renamed the Huddle message board the “Garry P’s Trojan Huddle.”   

The Obvious: And finally, the Paskwietz immediate family was very gracious, courageous, and appreciative of all the Trojans family albeit through WeAreSC.com, direct cards and letters, and personal contacts.

The Not So Obvious: The family made a brief statement on the podium through Garry’s wonderful younger sister Kambria. Perhaps the most touching moment, however, was the letter that Garry’s mother, Kathy, wrote about her son for the celebration program. We’d like to take the time to share it with all of you in its entirety below:

My Son Garry didn’t just get up one morning as an adult and decide to make a career of USC football. His was a journey of such determination that I don’t even understand it myself.

He was born on March 21, 1966, the first day of the zodiac, in Glendale, CA to Walt (Lockheed Skunk Works) and Kathy (preschool owner. His sister Kambria was born two years later, brother Clark the next year, and brother Ryan two years after that.

By the time he went to kindergarten, he could already read and write, but his teachers were up for the challenge. I wouldn’t let the principal promote him, so they waited till I dropped him off in the morning, and then whisked him over to a 1st & 2nd grade classroom for three hours.

The teacher there had him keeping a journal, and what a journal it was. The 5-year-old Garry’s entries stated almost daily that he was going to write bout Trojan football when he grew up. And starting then, he analyzed plays, recorded scores, and rated players. He was honing his skills even in 1971.

In the 6th grade, he received an invitation to join IHP – Individual Honors Program. Every year, kids with the 40 highest IQs in the Los Angeles school system are asked to commit to 6 years as part of a core group at Walter Reed Middle School, and then North Hollywood High. This was a big decision to make involving leaving his neighborhood friends, a long commute, and taking on a rigorous academic schedule. He asked for advice, and together we made a list of pros and cons. As soon as I mentioned that might help him get into USC one day, he made his decision. He would be an IHP student.

Later that school year, Garry gave the commencement speech at this 6th grade graduation, wearing a new suit for the occasion. The principal introduced him by saying he almost didn’t recognize Garry without one of his football jerseys. Yes, but don’t think he didn’t try.

In high school, a woman came to North Hollywood H.S. to speak to students about becoming USC Trojans. Garry asked when she would be back in the office after her recruiting tour. She gave him a date in the distant future. On that date, he sat in her office waiting for her to arrive. When she got there, he walked his application through that day himself, and on December 12, 1983, Garry committed to USC and USC committed to him. Even as a kid, he didn’t leave many details to chance.

So now you know about Garry’s lifetime desire to write about USC football and didn’t he end up doing exactly that? And didn’t he enjoy greater job satisfaction than anyone you know? And did we all benefit from that?

I’m so grateful for the 52 years we had together. One day we’ll be together again Garry. Till then, I miss you, my precious boy.

Good night, Sweet Prince.



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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