By Johnny Curren
Picking up where he left off in the spring, sophomore tight end Tyler Petite has been one of the real standouts of the player-run practices held on campus at USC this summer, providing plenty of reason to believe that he’s more than ready to take on a larger role for the Trojans this coming season.
Showcasing a more-chiseled 6-foot-5, 240-pound build, the Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo product has been catching passes all over the field – and even coming up with the occasional circus grab, such as the diving reception that he made last Tuesday that had the entire offense hooting and hollering.
And while the hard work that he’s put in out on the field and in the weight room this offseason has certainly contributed greatly to the strides that he’s made, according to Petite, it’s the experience that he now has under his belt that has really made all of the difference in world.
Having made a solid contribution for the Trojans as a freshman, participating in all 14 games with two starts, and hauling in 15 passes for 145 yards and one touchdown, he’s been able to play with a newfound level of comfort as a weapon in the offense this summer.
“I think people underestimate one year of college football,” Petite said. “It’s so big. Being able to play in every single game and to get significant snaps, it doesn’t give me overconfidence, but it just gives me confidence because I know I’ve earned my place on the team.”
That experience, combined with an outstanding showing in the spring, has also given the two members of the quarterback competition, Max Browne and Sam Darnold – Petite’s roommate – more confidence in his abilities as a receiving threat, and he’s started to develop some real chemistry with both signal-callers as a result.
“There’s been times throughout these PRP’s where, it’s not on purpose, but sometimes Darnold will be flustered or something, and he’ll see me and kind of just throw it up and know that I’m going to go up and make a play on it,” Petite said.
And Petite isn’t alone. He’s part of a talented tight end corps now under the command of John Baxter that returns last season’s primary starter, Taylor McNamara, and also adds Florida-transfer Daniel Imatorbhebhe – who redshirted last season – as well as highly touted freshman Cary Angeline. Expectations are starting to mount when it comes to their potential performance this coming season, not only because the group possesses greater depth than a year ago, but also because, by all indications, they’re going to receive greater opportunities to catch passes downfield.
There’s been a noticeable trend to feature the tight end more as a key component in the USC passing game ever since Clay Helton took hold of the program mid-way through last season. With the arrival of Helton’s brother, Tyson, as quarterback coach and passing game coordinator, that shift became even more pronounced this past spring as he added some wrinkles from the Western Kentucky playbook.
“There is definitely some new stuff in, which gives us an opportunity to make plays with our athleticism,” Petite said. “I think we’re a really athletic group of tight ends, and so he brought in some new stuff that lets us make some more decisions, and to use our athleticism to make plays, which I think is really good.”
Within the tight end group itself, there is an element of competition that pushes each player to be the best that they can be, but more significantly, there’s also a family atmosphere that exists, and it’s helped develop a sense of pride in the way that they attack their workout regimen each day.
“We’re always pushing each other, but at the end of the day, it’s just all about having each other’s backs,” Petite said. “I think that’s what makes our group so special, because of course we all know in the back of our mind we all want to start, but at the end of the day we also want to help each other, and we also want to get better as a group.”
Poised to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them, the 2016 season can’t come soon enough for each and every member of the unit, and that includes Petite, who just might be be on the verge of a breakout campaign.
“There were some good plays that I made last year, but I want to have more of those, because I know I can do it,” Petite said. “I have the confidence in myself to be able to make those plays. When the game is on the line, I want to be one of the guys that Sam or Max wants to go to. Like on a big third-down, they know that they can trust me. I’m super excited for what’s to come.”