The New Big 3?

Comparisons of USC's new linebacking core with the former core under Pete Carroll are mounting.

Rey, Keith, Clay, Brian. To any Trojan fan, these names are laced with vivid memories. Memories of awards, draft picks and incredible defensive feats. Perhaps most important, though, these names are emblematic of championships.

But that's old news. Those memories are fading. Murky at best. So why recall the bitterness of USC's former glory?

Because of Anthony, Lamar and Tre, USC's incoming set of linebackers that are touted as the Trojans' next defensive stars.

"I think it's a great feeling for people to already compare us to them and we're not on the USC campus yet," said USC's newest inside linebacker Lamar Dawson.

Rey Maualuga, current Cincinnati Bengals linebacker and one of those unforgettable defensive Trojans, agrees.

"You don't want to fill these guys' heads with things that'll make their heads even bigger. They haven't even played a down yet," Maualuga said.

Tre Madden is one of three Army All-American linebackers in USC's 2011 recruiting class.
Just like a letdown first-round draft pick, Sarao, Dawson and Madden could be ineffective at USC. But the young guns believe the experience of linebacker coach Joe Barry and assistant coach Monte Kiffin won't lead them astray.

"The coaching staff is there to help us, I believe," said incoming outside linebacker Tre Madden. "[Coach] Barry is one of the best in the nation, and Monte [Kiffin] too."

It's a lofty goal. Some might say it's crazy, or it will never happen. But this trifecta is working towards fathoming the impossible.

"I mean all three of us are very good players and could possibly be the next big three," said Dawson, a Scout 4-star recruit and Kentucky's 2010 Mr. Football.

Whether the comparison holds water is to be determined in the next four (or five) years. In the meantime, some similar foundations exist between the two cores.

Of the incoming three, one is from the South (Dawson: Kentucky), one from the East (Sarao: New Jersey) and one from the West (Madden: California).

Of the former four, one is from the South (Rivers: Florida), one from the East (Cushing: New Jersey) and two are from the West (Maualuga/Matthews: California).

"We have the tools to become what they were," Madden said.

Do they? Madden has great discipline and a strong work ethic, which might be likened to Matthews. Sarao has great vision and instinct, á la Rivers. And Dawson's 6-2, 230 frame is smaller than Maualuga (6-2, 255) but their aggressiveness is comparable.

Both trios' shared like beginnings. In 2004, Rivers was selected to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. A year later, Maualuga and Cushing were chosen. This year, Sarao, Dawson and Madden all played in the prestigious event.

"It's in the back of my head, makes me have a bit of a chip on my shoulder," Anthony Sarao said.

If this trio wants to be anything like USC's former linebacking core, that ‘chip' needs to be monstrous.

Dreaming big and motivational clichés aside, how does each new Trojan plan to get there?

"I think we can do it as long as we stay focused," Sarao said. "No stupid mistakes. They are so many people that are so good but they party and end up messing up."

"It's going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of coaching and watching film and execution on the field," Dawson said.

There aren't any wins, yet. Right now, we're comparing inches to kilometers.

Until opponents are stuffed on third downs and imprints of pads in the Coliseum turf become a regularity, it's all just folklore.

"I'm excited to see them develop and hope they live up to the standard that has been set and is expected of USC linebackers," Keith Rivers said.

High standards to live up to. But if these three can meet Trojans' expectations, Tre, Lamar and Anthony won't just be ordinary names. They'll be names embossed on the walls of Heritage Hall, forever decorated in cardinal and gold.

Anthony Sarao could make an immediate impact in 2011. (Mark Brennan Photo)

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