MULE': It's less crowded in USC's backfield

Emmanuel Moody apparently can see the future. When have you seen anything like this: one week after making the cover of Sports Illustrated, Moody, one of three Southern Cal Trojans pictured on the magazine's football preview's regional front, getting his release to go play somewhere elsewhere.

Moody, USC's second-leading rusher a year ago, may have had enough of what he was seeing, which was too much of Joe McKnight, the football expatriate from Louisiana – and the Trojans' latest Wonder Boy.


McKnight got away from LSU, and while there are a lot of bounces of the ball between now and wherever he ends up, but this has all the earmarks of a continuing story for the next few years. The Tigers have a stable of talented ball-carriers, more than enough rocket LSU to the top tier of college football. McKnight, however, may well turn out to be one of those individuals who may be an on-going story all by himself, talented enough to lift a talented team – just as did his idol, Reggie Bush, perhaps the biggest influence in getting McKnight to the backfield of his alma mater.


By all accounts on the Left Coast, McKnight has been absolutely tearing it up in preseason drills, making the USC coaches giddy with anticipation of what this freshman is capable of – and salivating at the very thought of him with the ball in his hands. Just like Bush, McKnight will be used as a combination runner/receiver/kick returner, anything to get the ball under his arm.


Of course, that kind of raw ability could also make a teammate, S-I cover or not, competing at the same position skittish – which is what seems to have happened with Moody.


Seeing is believing, and McKnight is making believers of USC observers like they haven't since, well, Bush.


"I see a lot of Reggie Bush in him," Trojan quarterback John David Booty, another Louisianian trying to fulfill the predictions of USC's preeminent poll position. Booty entered college at the same time of Bush and spent the summer working seven-on-seven drills with McKnight. He's impressed. "Joe has the same kind of potential to be a player like that,'' he states flatly. "With the ball in his hands, Joe has the same kind of skills."


Whew! That's saying a lot for an athlete who has yet to attend freshman orientation.


It also adds to the feverish thoughts of what McKnight might have meant to the Tigers, with whom he said he would have cast his lot had signing day been 24 hours earlier. 


What the excitement is all about jumped off the pages of Neal Thompson's recent book, Hurricane Season the story of how John Curtis Christian School, McKnight's alma mater, persevered in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to win its 20th state championship.


Thompson describes McKnight thusly: "Already he's being wooed by Miami, USC, Notre Dame and others whose coaches have gasped at highlight tapes showing Joe accelerating past tacklers on one after another rocket-fast, touchdown scoring punt or kick-return. Joe is a beautiful, graceful runner, but also a bruiser who can make split-second decisions look easy.''


McKnight, remember, was then a high school junior.


Another quote in the book had a rival coach saying McKnight, with still another prep season to play, was ready for the NFL "right now.''


We'll see if an emerging superstar who engenders that kind of hyperbole offsets the squadron of very talented but lesser-known runners in the Tiger backfield.


In the country's most intense rivalry for schools who haven't played since 1984, Joe McKnight is shaping up as one more of the superfluous squabbles, to go with the shared 2003 national championship, and their No. 1 and No. 2 preseason rankings, LSU has with USC.


Even Emmanuel Moody can see that. 




Marty Mule' can be reached at

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