Friday Practice: The Excitement Builds

With game week officially upon us, you could feel the energy on the sidelines as the Trojans began their final week of preparation before squaring off against the Penn State Nittany Lions on New Year's Day. Look inside for news on Stafon Johnson, Damian Williams and more.

It's Game Week!

The Trojans returned to the practice field on Friday with a new sense of urgency after the team's three-day Christmas break.

With game week officially upon us, you could feel the energy on the sidelines as the Trojans began their final week of preparation before squaring off against the Penn State Nittany Lions on New Year's Day.

"We are off and flying with a good start," Pete Carroll said. "The guys came back ready to go and mentally prepared to put together a great week.

"This is important that we take everyday one at a time and make it a great day of practice, and we got that done today."

After weeks of practices and answering questions about the big matchup, USC quarterback Mark Sanchez is thrilled that the game is now just days away.

"I just feel glad that we are back," Sanchez said. "I am excited that the week is finally here and we get a chance to get the game underway.

"Sitting around the last couple of days, seeing all the previews for it, and watching the other bowl games, all you see is that Rose Bowl commercial. It's cool. I am glad it is finally here."

Rey Maualuga added: "Now is the time to get our minds back to playing football."

The senior linebacker, who is playing in his final game as a Trojan, said the team has learned a great deal from their past trips to Pasadena.

"For the veterans we know what to expect," Maualuga said. "We all know what to expect so we aren't overly anxious about what is going to happen next."

With a savvy group of seniors leading the way, Pete Carroll is counting on a productive final week of preparation.

"This is the finish time. You can just tell that everybody was pumped up in the meetings and ready to get out here today on the practice field. There is a good energy about it."

"We are underway and excited by this opportunity."

Johnson, Williams Practice

Stafon Johnson and Damian Williams, two of USC's most important offensive players, returned to the practice on Friday.

Johnson suffered a knee injury earlier in the week but made it through practice on Friday and is expected to play in the Rose Bowl.

"The trainers think that he is totally freed up and released back to the team," Carroll said.

Wide receiver Damian Williams, who suffered a shoulder separation against UCLA, participated in the non-contact drills Friday.

"It's still sore and I imagine it's going to be pretty sore after today," Williams said. "We will see how it goes tomorrow and see if I can put the pads on."

Williams hasn't been cleared for contact but expects to be available for the Rose Bowl.

"The rehab went great," Carroll said. "We will try not to bang him too hard all the way until game time."

After practice, Pete Carroll said he is pleased by the progress of the injured players.

"We have had such good rest periods that the guys are really strong and their bodies feel good," Carroll said. "This is as healthy maybe as we have been all year. We are fortunate in that regard and hopefully we can use that to our advantage."

News and Notes

- Stanley Havili, Michael Reardon, Kevin Ellison and Martin Coleman were among the players that didn't participate in practice on Friday.

- Havili had travel issues on his way back to Los Angeles from Utah and didn't attend practice. Carroll said they were expecting the fullback to return Friday afternoon.

- Safety Kevin Ellison wasn't able to practice on Friday and his status for the Rose Bowl remains uncertain.

"He didn't feel great coming out of the break here. He couldn't go today," Carroll said. "We are just going to go one day at a time and see what happens.

"Right now, we are in the mode of getting Will (Harris) ready to play and expecting him to do real well, and if Kevin can make it back later in the week, then we will reassess it at the time."

- While the Trojans practiced at the track stadium, a helicopter flew into Howard Jones Field and hovered just above the grass in an effort to get the field dry for the rest of the week.

"I told the guys that when President Obama showed up that he wasn't going to have a chance to talk with them. He just wanted to see practice," Carroll joked when asked about the helicopter. "They are a little concerned that they didn't get their chance but what are you going to do."

- After practice, the players boarded buses and headed to Disneyland as part of the Rose Bowl festivities.

Mark Sanchez under center during Friday's practice. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions you can reach Kevin Carden at

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