Marshall Jones had Two Trojan Experiences

Marshall Jones, the Oaks Christian product, is finally feeling comfortable under USC's new coaching staff.

Transitions get confusing. They tend to mess with our heads. They're great at making us overthink, worry or set expectations.

Marshall Jones, a USC safety and redshirt senior, is familiar with the anxiety that comes with transition.

When former Trojan head coach Pete Carroll left for the NFL to coach the Seattle Seahawks and was replaced by current head coach Lane Kiffin, Jones started to panic a bit.

This staff didn't recruit me. These guys don't even know me.

What's going to happen?

Will I play?

Should I transfer?

After a neck injury sidelined Jones his junior year, he worried that the incoming coaching staff hadn't enough footage or time to get to know him.

"They knew the freshman, but they didn't even know who I was at first. That set me back. I was humbled a lot," Jones said.

Modesty isn't easy when you attend a private high school like Jones' Oaks Christian out of Westlake Village, Calif. Some say the school is a spitting image of USC, albeit on a smaller scale. Carolina Panthers' quarterback Jimmy Clausen and fellow Trojan Marc Tyler were also Lions.

"I knew I was in the spotlight [before USC] and I knew I had to show everybody what I had when I came here," he said.

And he had the chance to show everybody his skills right away, under Carroll. He played in four games his freshman year, as a backup safety. His relationship with secondary coach Rocky Seto was beginning to build.

The next year, in 2008, Jones trusted Seto incredibly, saying he learned "poise and composure" from him. That year Jones played in all 13 games behind starter and current San Francisco 49er Taylor Mays.

"What I've learned is, the really good college players, football is everything to them," he said. "They treat that higher than school, they watch film 24-7 and work out 24-7. Brian Cushing, Taylor Mays were always in Heritage Hall. They were here all day. I've realized how much that helps."

Comfortable with the coaches and learning from veteran players, Jones was enjoying his increasing role at USC. It all seemed like it was going his way.

But just four games into his junior season Jones got hurt. He spent nine games on the sidelines, more than two-thirds of a season playing spectator rather than playing.

At the worst, it was more time to bond with his team.

Or so it seemed.

Most major transitions aren't expected. Their timing is almost always bad. When Carroll et al departed for the rainy city, Jones' closest acquaintances soon became total strangers.

Recalling the story, he sinks his head in his wrists. His left reads the name of his sister, the right his mother. It was his family who told him to stick out this transition, to stay at USC.

"[The staff] obviously knew I could play football well I just never really got a chance to," he recalls. "So when Jawanza [Starling] got hurt they said ‘Marshall this is your shot, this is what we're giving you.'"

Predicting a lucky break is like forecasting the weather in Los Angeles. It rarely happens.

So when Jones saw an opportunity to show these strangers who he was, he took it.

"I made it a goal. I said ‘yeah, these coaches have to know me, I just have to keep working hard and watching film all the time and they will,'" he said.

Last season, he started the final four games at strong safety, where he recorded 12 tackles and an interception.

Each game day, he pretended like it was natural, ordinary. He didn't want to emote to these outsiders, didn't want them to see anything but deflections, hits and a steadfast composure.

But internally, he was thrilled.

"I just went by like it was any other day, but deep down I was excited I was like ‘yeah I'm starting finally.'"

Finally, the transition was over.

It's summer of 2011, and Jones feels as comfortable with this team as he did when he first enrolled as a Trojan.

He said the defense was out of sync last season, despite vocalizing confidence. Now, he believes their abilities and cohesiveness are stronger than when Kiffin first took the helm.

"We're passed that, we're accustomed to them. It's hard for me to say and for people to understand but I feel like we're ready," he said.

For Jones, there are no more introductions, no more feeling people out. The transitory jitters have disappeared.

"You can feel it, this team is going to be good," he said.


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