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O/NSO: Spring break tidbits edition

The Obvious: The 2019 USC Trojans’ football team took the week off from spring practice to enjoy academic spring vacation.

The Not So Obvious: Last week’s positive first three practices brought back some much-needed but cautious optimism, an elixir for a program searching for a return to its storied past. This past week’s spring vacation always allows for some interesting tidbits regarding the making of this coming season’s team and the program in general. Allow the O/NSO to give some “not so obvious” insight into some of the new and not-so-new.

The Obvious: Clancy Pendergast (photo above) is the Trojans’ defensive coordinator.

The Not So Obvious: Clancy also has added the new title of “assistant head coach.”

The Obvious: Chris Hawkins is a former Trojans team captain and secondary performer who is a 2019 graduate assistant working with the secondary.

The Not So Obvious: In case you’ve forgotten, Chris was one of four captains for the 2017 Pac-12 champion Trojans. The other captains included QB Sam Darnold, LB Uchenna Nwosu, and Cameron Smith.

The Obvious: Michael Hutchings was a starting linebacker for the 2016 Trojans.

The Not So Obvious: Michael returns to the Trojans for his second season as a grad assistant working with the linebackers. Hutch was a captain for the 2016 Trojans that beat Penn State in the wild and dramatic Rose Bowl victory. 

The Obvious: The Coliseum is undergoing seat replacements and other new aspects in its renovation project.

The Not So Obvious: If you check out some of the real time video on the Coli renovation, it’s actually quite fascinating. Besides the seat removals, the inside of the bowl seating now looks like it’s starting from scratch with dirt surrounding the various tunnel entrances. One overlooked renovation addition is a new Wi-Fi system, which should eliminate the frustration and aggravation of communicating on social media.

The Obvious: Most agree that the Trojans have a very challenging 2019 schedule, especially in the first six games.

The Not So Obvious: The schedule features nine teams (including the first six opponents) that played in bowl games, and five of those teams won their bowl games. Can you name them?

The Obvious: You could build a case and an argument that the Trojans have one of the toughest overall schedules in the country for 2019.

The Not So Obvious: Nine of the Trojans’ foes in 2019 won nine or more games. Can you name them?

The Obvious: True freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis (Desert Mountain High in Scottsdale, Az) is participating in spring practice.

The Not So Obvious: It’s possible that Slovis could be one the surprises of spring ball given the fact that he was not considered by many a “name” recruit. In the very early going, the Air Raid offense seems to fit nicely into a “system” quarterback like Kedon. Of course, his high school quarterback coach was NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, so you know that Kedon came to Troy well prepared to compete. 

The Obvious: Besides the secondary, there has been concern regarding the depth at running back.

The Not So Obvious: When depth is an issue at the various position groups, walk-on players are a huge part of the process, and some actually rise to significant playing status. So, don’t be shocked to hear some of the walk-on running backs mentioned in the remaining 13 practice days. FYI, those walk-on backs include juniors Quincy Jountti, who redshirted last year after transferring from Sacramento State, Chris Edmondson (he has yet to play), and sophomore Ben Easington, a special team’s performer last season before hurting his shoulder, which may slow his progress in the remaining spring practices.

The Obvious: The Trojans graduated both punters from last season (Reid Budrovich and Chris Tilbey).

The Not So Obvious: While special teams don’t always headline spring practice, this spring might be an anomaly. Case in point: The new Trojans punter will probably be redshirt freshman Ben Griffiths, a 27-year-old who played professionally for eight years in Australian Rules Football.

The Obvious: One of the true freshman spring enrollees is DB Briton Allen (IMG Academy/ Bradenton, Fla.).

The Not So Obvious: Briton’s nickname is “Bam.”

The Obvious: Clay Helton was impressed the first week of spring ball with junior tailback Stephen Carr.

The Not So Obvious: Helton said that Stephen looks to be back and was impressed with a run last week that the coach referred to as a “dirty run.” No, it wasn’t a cheap shot play; it’s that Stephen tried to smash through two defenders in a hole that wasn’t. Not surprising since Carr is a communications major and ramming your body through defensive players is certainly one way of communicating with the defense.

The Obvious: Sophomore quarterback JT Daniels took a lot of heat last season, but most agree that while he was scrutinized inside and out, he wasn’t the main cause the offense was lacking firepower.

The Not So Obvious: You have to admit, Daniels was under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform after all the hype coming out of Mater Dei High. So how did he handle it? Maybe it helped is a USC psychology major.

The Obvious: Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Liam Douglass is battling for playing time between the tackle and guard spots.

The Not So Obvious: Last season, Liam was awarded the USC’s Service Team Co-Offensive Player of the Year Award.

The Obvious: One player that may really benefit from the new offense is junior Josh Falo, who made quite a TD reception in last Saturday’s third practice.

The Not So Obvious: Football is definitely in the Falo family genes. His brother, N.J., was an outside linebacker at Colorado (2015-16), while brother, Nate, was a defensive tackle at San Jose State (2013-15). BTW, Josh was born in Hawaii.

The Obvious: The Trojans are hoping the move of sophomore linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV will allow Clancy Pendergast’s defense to really apply more pressure off the edge.

The Not So Obvious: A little background, Palaie spent his youth in American Samoa. His uncle is Ma’a Tanuvasa, who played defensive end at Hawaii (1990-92), then with the Denver Broncos (1995-2000), where he won Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII, San Diego Chargers (2001) and Atlanta Falcons (2002). His cousin, also named Ma’a Tanuvasa, was a safety at Boise State n 2017, while another cousin, Haskell Garrett, is a junior defensive tackle at Ohio State.

The Obvious: The Trojans are really hoping that sophomore DB Olaijah Griffin can step in and start at one of the open corner positions.

The Not So Obvious: Olaijah’s father is father is rapper and hip-hop producer Warren G., but the O/NSO probably guesses you already knew that.

The Obvious: Redshirt freshman linebacker Spencer Gilbert will battle for playing time during the spring.

The Not So Obvious: Spencer is an interesting prospect out of local St. John Bosco HS. He was recognized last season with USC’s Service Team Co- Defensive Player of the Year Award. He’s got some football genes in his family as his father his father, Greg Gilbert, is a senior director of development in the USC Athletic Department who played linebacker at Alabama (1985-88) and in the NFL with the Chicago Bears (1989), Indianapolis Colts (1990), Oakland Raiders (1990-91) and Philadelphia Eagles (1991) before playing in the World League of American Football with the San Antonio Riders (1991) and Barcelona Dragons (1991-92). And, BTW, Spencer’s mother, Caryl Smith Gilbert, is USC’s director of track and field (the Women of Troy won the 2018 NCAA outdoor title) after previously serving as Central Florida’s women’s head coach (2008-13) and a women’s assistant at Tennessee (2003-07), Alabama (2000-02) and Penn State (1998- 99) following an All-American sprinting career at UCLA. A

The Obvious: One of the favorites to win the starting center job is sophomore Brett Neilon.

The Not So Obvious: Talk about a cardinal and gold legacy, Brett’s father and brother attended USC and two of his aunts were on the USC golf team (Kim Saiki from 1985-88, who played on the LPGA Tour, and Laura Saiki from 1988-91).Brett grew up in Tokyo, Japan, home of his mother, where he participated in baseball, basketball, soccer and the martial art of aikido.

The Obvious: The Trojans are looking for more depth along the offensive line and hope that one of those that can help is junior Bernard Schirmer (6-6, 290).

The Not So Obvious: A lot of folks say Bernard really has the potential to eventually be a force at tackle. Like others, he, too, has the gene pool. His sister, Brooklyn, is a sophomore outside hitter on the USC women’s volleyball team, his cousin, Vavae Malepeai, a junior tailback for the Trojans and another cousin, Blake Sabol, a junior catcher for USC’s baseball team. His uncle, Titus Tuiasosopo, played offensive guard for the USC football team (1990-92), and another uncle, Matt Toeaina, played defensive tackle at Oregon (2003-06) and for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals (2007) and Chicago Bears (2007-12).

The Obvious: And finally, one of the offensive players that shined during last Saturday’s spring session was sophomore wide receiver Devon Williams, who had three TD receptions.

The Not So Obvious: A physical mismatch for most smaller cornerbacks, Devon (6-4, 205) reminds many of former Trojans’ all-star big receiver Mike Williams. Clay Helton says Devon has really picked up the offensive concepts, which should be no real surprise because the kid is carrying a 3.00 GPA after his freshman year. O

Greg Katz
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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