HOLLYWOOD -- It's days like this when you realize Steve Sarkisian is all grown up.
Sure, the new USC coach may be, at the age of 40, the eighth-youngest head coach in Division I football. But you can tell he's been here before.
Five times, to be exact. And now he's back home and here for the first time as the Trojans' guy.
Not Pete Carroll's guy. Or Ed Orgeron's successor. Just plain old, or young, Sark.
Carroll gave him the best advice his last night at USC before heading off to Washington after USC beat up on Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
"Go be you," Carroll told Sark as they walked out of the Rose Bowl that night.
And so he has.
"We are definitely different people and that won't change here," Sark said of comparisons with the last person to elevate USC football to the heights. "You have to be yourself. I think I can be and by doing it the right way, I think we'll be successful."
He's gotten off to the right start by not having to have it be about him. You hear it from the other end of the Paramount Theater lobby where the Pac-12 Media Days interviews are taking place Wednesday and Cody Kessler is talking about "One team, one heartbeat, like Coach O said," he says.
There's a continuity here that Sark recognizes. "I really like this football team. It's a credit to the previous staff and the job they did in recruiting really fine young men that have been closer together to me than probably any team I've been around. These guys are a very tight-knit group. There is tremendous leadership on this team, and there is a lot of talent."
It took him, Sark said, until the middle of spring before he realized just how much.
"I didn't know about the makeup. I didn't know about maybe where some of the depth issues could be. As we got going into spring ball and watched the development of some of the players that red-shirted, and I'm thinking about like Chris Hawkins, I'm thinking about an Antwaun Woods who played 20 snaps a game a year ago, I'm thinking about Toa Lobendahn, some of the new faces. Then I thought okay, couple that with Josh Shaw, couple that with Kevon Seymour, we have a chance.
"Now we still have plenty of work to do. Believe me, we're not out of the woods. We have a lot of work to do. But if we can do it the right way and manage them the right way, I really think we have a chance.
"So it probably took to the middle of spring ball or so to get an idea of that to really see Leon McQuay play free safety in the run around. To see Gerald Bowman take the field. So there are new faces of guys that maybe haven't played a whole lot, but really talented players. I think they have a chance to be good for us."
They think so too. "The sky's the limit," Kessler says. And not just because of the talent but the way Sark has let them be the team that came together last fall. But there's also the talent.
"We have so many guys people haven't seen," Kessler says, which gets us to one place Sark said was going to be different.
Last year, thanks to careful monitoring and making sure of players' recovery times, his Washington team had just one season-ending injury despite an uptempo, nearly 90 plays-a-game offense. USC meanwhile, going much slower, had an incredible 19.
But more than that, says Williams, there's this: "This is the closest team I've ever been on . . . maybe it was because of what we had to go through last year . . that was crazy . . . now we'll go to the beach and run in the sand with our (50-pound) weight vests on . . . or go hiking . . . just five or six guys . . . never the same . . . there are no cliques on this team."
But there is this. As Kessler said, echoing and maybe going past his coach here in talking about the USC tradition.
"You expect to win . . . you expect to be in the national championship discussion," Kessler said.
And as Sark said, you expect, or at least hope, to be healthy.
"If we're a healthy football team from the start of the season and we're a healthy football team come late November," Sark said, "if we can do that, I think we have a chance to do something pretty special this year. I'm excited about it."
He's not the only one.