Trying to stay focused on Fresno

Steve Sarkisian is trying to get his football team ready for Saturday's Fresno State game and trying not to let the Josh Shaw story take the focus away. It's not the easy road to take right now as Wednesday's media turnout makes clear.

As much as Steve Sarkisian may want it to go away and as much as his USC team is trying to focus on Saturday's Fresno State opener (4:30 p.m. at the Coliseum on Fox), the fallout from the Josh Shaw "hero" story the school sent out Monday is not going away.

Not even a little bit. The horde of media, close to three times the number on a typical Wednesday, made that obvious. Did they watch practice. Many of them could care less. They wanted a sound bite from Sark and B-roll for today's "Is Josh Shaw, or is he not, a hero?" chapter.

But the plotline has changed from the football star jumping off a balcony to save his drowning nephew but spraining his ankles and knocking himself out of the big opening game to . . . maybe not.

"It’s pretty clear there’s quite a few conflicting stories out there," Sark said. "Any information that we’ve been provided up to this point we’ve pushed along to campus authorities. We’re really going to let it play out in their hands. And quite honestly we’re in somewhat of a holding pattern so that’s where we’re at."

Now that's a confident guy, hopeful that the academic bureaucrats above him will clear this all up in time so that it doesn't take away from his team's focus on Fresno State. Because as the hudldling up of team leaders after practice made clear, the focus of that get-together was not exactly Fresno State but the media who would get to talk to only Leonard Williams and Hayes Pullard, preselected by USC on this day. Which has not been the norm, of course.

And good job by the players. neither of whom has talked to Shaw, especially Williams who noted how "We've had to deal with this kind of thing last year . . . it's not really going to affect us."

But it has, as Williams made clear: “All the players were just running into each other just asking what’s going on with the story, if it's real or not, that’s all we really know. We were pretty shocked because Josh Shaw is a pretty loyal guy since he's been here. I would never expect him to make up a story or something like that. So if it's real or not . . . I would never expect him as a captain to be in that situation.”

Here's how Hayes picked up on the story: "[Shaw] and Sark had a meeting together and you know I haven’t seen him since that day. We’re just leaving it to Coach Sark. He’s the head man and that’s who we answer to. Josh has been a great guy. He has a great character and I've never known him to be able to lie about anything, so coming from what I know, Josh is 100 percent."

As for Sark and how he sees the story, and all the attention to it, damaging the team's focus, he said he didn't think it has -- or would.

"We haven’t spent much time on [the story] at all, quite honestly, we’ve put in too much work over the last nine months to let an hour or two of social media and Internet reports distract us from being a great football team. If it does, then that’s not a great sign for us moving forward. We have to be strong enough to handle adversity whether it's on the football field or off the field and continue to hang together and be together and go out and play great football."

And yet, it can't possibly not be distracting, if for no one else but Sark, who has clearly had to take time away from his other duties this week to deal with it. To talk to Josh. To get the calls. To pass them on. He also had to give the quote for the original USC story that started all of this.

What will determine how this plays out, of course, is how his players play. Do they step up as they so often did a year ago and play through it? They surely know how this works. But should they have to?

And should Josh Shaw have to swing in the wind here as this unfolds through the USC "authorities" for who knows how long?


"A great Wednesday," Sark called the shorts, helmets and shoulder pads workout, "an awesome Wednesday practice." . . . Said he thought there was "great competition" even though the tenor of practice, with many of the third-team guys now on the Service team a time of "transition" and "a great challenge" to a football team coming off three weeks of all-out competition . . . Sark also talked of how Khaliel Rodgers was back in pads for his first work since his knee injury 10 days ago and would be a game-day "emergency" guy possibly . . . Tre Madden, still in a boot for turf toe, almost surely is out as they try to get him back to health for the rest of the season . . . Jordan Simmons, running second-team left guard next to Aundrey Walker, still hasn't been cleared fully but probably will be for next week, Sark said . . . Thursday's practice will be closed and Sark only available to the media afterward.

For a complete wrapup of Wednesday morning's practice, check out WEDNESDAY MORNING GHOST NOTES.

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