Coming into the 2017 season there weren’t a whole lot of expectations around sophomore Christian Rector on the USC defensive line.
Rector (6-4, 275) had five tackles during his freshman year but was expected to serve as a back-up to Rasheem Green at defensive end with the potential to contribute in the pass rush.
“For me I was mostly put in there for passing situations until some guys got hurt and then I got a few starts,” Rector said.
It turned out those starts (5 total) included time lined up on the outside in place of Porter Gustin, two games (ASU and Arizona) missed due to a broken hand, 35 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 2 recovered fumbles and 2 caused fumbles (including one against Texas in the 2nd OT that led to the game-winning FG).
It resulted in Rector being named 2nd team All-Pac-12 and suddenly the sophomore with low expectations is now a junior with plenty of expectations on a Trojan defensive line that looks as strong as it has in recent years.
One of the reasons the line appears strong is the versatility shown last year by guys like Rector and Jordan Iosefa, a former inside linebacker who took over on the outside in the two games that Rector missed due to the broken hand and performed so well that Iosefa is now the projected starter at the OLB spot vacated by Uchenna Nwosu.
The Trojans also expect redshirt freshman Jay Tufele to play a versatile role at DE or NT, and Rector said the depth and talent at nose tackle is something that should also play a big part in the success of the line.
“We watch that Rose Bowl tape all the time and see how Stevie Tu’ikolovato just controlled the point of attack,” Rector said. “We can really mix it up with the guys we have. I think Jay (Tufele) really came a long way in the spring, he really developed. (Brandon) Pili has the size, that college-size, when he walked in the door here, and his athleticism is crazy. He needs to get his weight down a little to get where the coaches want him but if he just puts his head down and works hard he can be something special. Marlon (Tuipulotu) is coming back, but a back injury is nothing to play with. With his wrestling background he really knows how to use his body control and leverage.”
Rector said he has one personal goal for the upcoming season, and he knows the d-line, and the defense in general, will be looking to be more physical in their style of play.
“Personally I want to stay healthy,” Rector said. “Listen to my body, get my rehab when I need to. As a defense, stopping the run and playing gap sound defense. Everybody has a job on the defense and a role to play, if we do that in a physical style in the run game it will show. That can only happen when the pads come on. You can get bigger, stronger, faster in the summer but nothing is like camp when it first starts. It’s more a mindset than anything.”
Of course, Rector is well aware of what’s going on with the offense and QB competition that is expected to receive plenty of attention during fall camp, and one that he and his defensive teammates have already been watching this summer.
“We’re excited to see what happens,” Rector said. “On defense we’re an older group of guys so we’re enjoying the competition when you add a guy like JT, the Gatorade Player of the Year. His accuracy is kind of hard to teach, he just has that in him. He can spin it pretty well. It’s SC, we always have good quarterbacks so it will be a good competition.”