Even before he arrived in Thibodeaux, La., for the Manning Passing Academy last weekend, Cody Kessler figured he was already way ahead of the game.
"Archie Manning called me," he said of his invitation from the patriarch of the Manning family to come to the camp as a counselor to the 1,200 young QB wannabees. And also as a competitor at times and and a camp-mate with the 40 or so top college quarterbacks who made their way to the Nicholls State campus.
"It was awesome," Kessler said Friday after USC's final player-run throwing session on Cromwell Field. But that was just the start.
There was both competition and camaraderie with and against the likes of Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Florida State's Jameis Winston and Oregon State's Sean Mannion. "Everyone exchanged phone numbers," Kessler said. "It'll be fun to keep up with them."
But for a half-hour after Friday's practice, Kessler exercised the Manning family's quarterback mantra delivered by Peyton Manning for Cody and Nelson Agholor. "He said to work on the routes you know you're going to run so you can throw them with your eyes closed," . . . literally almost. And so they did. Over and over and over.
"Just watching Peyton go about his business," and realizing how much sense it makes and knowing you think the same way, Kessler said. "It really does make sense."
And the sold-out "Air It Out" QB competition, gave Cody a chance to show off his stronger arm, thanks to the way he's built up his legs and core, he says, as he finished as a final four semifinalist out of 40 quarterbacks in a contest throwing the ball at moving golf carts farther and farther down the field. Oregon State's Mannion beat out South Alabama's Brandon Bridge in the finals.
"It was cool," Kessler said of the crowd that showed up, not to mention the result. "I had a lot of people coming up and complimenting me," noting how ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, a fan of Steve Sarkisian, said that "Sark and me were going to do great."
But getting to work with lots of the young campers may have been the best part of this," Kessler said. "A lot of them haven't ever been out to California and were asking me about what it's like."
From Louisiana to LA, Kessler transitioned to how this summer has been going for the rest of the Trojans. "The guys aren't standing around -- or messing around."
And that's as much a comment on the new uptempo offense and the new staff as it is on the turnaround this USC team made last fall when the team was, in effect, turned over to them when Ed Orgeron took over and said "It's your team."
It still is, Kessler said. "A lot of stuff happened to bring this team close. We're a family. Look at Nelson. He can be one of the best if not the best receiver ever to play here and he's out there playing the part and throwing with me for 30 extra minutes."
Another thing that excites Kessler right now is "seeing the freshmen transition' from going in shorts to the day they put on pads. "There's a big difference in full pads" and having Leonard Williams, Hayes Pullard or Su'a Cravens level you.
The transition of Buck Allen "has been so much fun to watch," Kessler says of his often-time outlet receiver he likes to dump the ball off to and watch him go.
"It just shows one of the things we always say, he makes it realistic, not just catching it and going 10 yards, he takes it all the way," Kessler said, and does so every time.
Last year this time, no one knew who the USC quarterback was going to be in the Kessler-Max Wittek head-to-head that lasted well into the season. This year, it's on Cody. And he likes it that way.
"I love it . . . I feel I do better that way," he says of the pressure now.
And he proves it with an answer to a question about what this team's goal is right now. Pete Carroll's teams always said it was the Rose Bowl. What about the 2014 Trojans?
The goal right now? "Right now? Fresno State," Kessler says of USC's opening opponent in a replay of the season-ending Las Vegas Bowl.
And of course, you can think "like everybody about winning the conference and playing for a national championship," Kessler said quietly.
But getting through this weekend off and getting back to campus Monday to start working out again is where his head is.
With fall practice not starting until Aug 4 and that Fresno game Aug. 30, that's too much time away from football, Kessler says. So he'll make up for it in throwing sessions with roommates Agholor and Max Tuerk.