Coming out of high school, Damien Mama was a badly wanted man.
The USC true freshman held over 20 scholarship offers and coaches were relentless in their recruitment of him. One of those schools that badly wanted the huge offensive lineman was Notre Dame. Mama officially visited South Bend and although the Fighting Irish didn’t make his top three, he still had plenty of interest in the school. Due to the Irish’s heavy interest him and some other contributing factors, Saturday’s win was huge for Mama.
“Well it means a lot to me,” Mama said. “It’s a rivalry. It’s a cross the country rivalry. Coaches were really preaching the ’88 game. They were telling us how back in the day how they’d have to take a train to South Bend, Indiana. It’s just a blessing just to play in this game and all the players that have played in it, all the coaches that have coached. It’s just a blessing.”
Both USC and Notre Dame headed into Saturday’s game unranked and having experienced tumultuous seasons. The Irish found themselves in the top 10 at one point and USC, well just ask Trojan fans how up and down the season was. Add in the fact that it was a rivalry game and many fans just didn’t know what to expect.
“Just like what I said earlier, expect the unexpected,” Mama said. “Going into every game, just doing our job. Coaches love to preach that. Just doing our jobs and competing at the highest level. We just came out and did our jobs.”
Senior day was more like passing of the torch day for the offensive line as three true freshman started up front for the Trojans. However, the young group was still playing for the seniors.
“Yeah, definitely in a way it felt like that,” Mama said. “We have two in our room. Nathan Guertler and Gio (Di Poalo). So, just doing it for them and fighting our tails off, that’s what we knew we had to do. And T-Bone, we consider him as a big guy, Randall Telfer. Just playing our hearts out for the seniors and competing.”
Despite how experienced the young Trojans are on the offensive line, the seniors had plenty of words of advice for the crew. They’ve been through a crazy four to five years and have seen many things that the current group of lineman will never see in their time at USC. More than anything, the seniors wanted to let the group know that the young group has what it takes to succeed.
“Yeah, definitely,” Mama said. “At the beginning of every game they’ll tell us we’re not freshman anymore. We’ve been through the summer, we’ve been through camps competing at the highest level that we could and we’re not freshman anymore. So just going with that mindset into every game and just battling it out.”
The Uce crew — something you may not know even existed on this USC team — is made up of five true freshman. It was surprising that the crew even came together though as the five talented young players had offers from all around the country. In the end, Mama was happy the five ended up at the same college.
“It’s just a blessing,” Mama said. “A blessing in disguise. I was never expecting all five of us to be here and just contributing early. Just me, Viane (Talamaivao), Toa (Lobendahn), Olajuwon Tucker ‘Buddah’, and JuJu (Smith). It’s been a lot of fun.”
The Trojans haven’t elected to run the ball a ton in the past couple of weeks, but it was definitely a goal heading into Saturday’s matchup against Notre Dame. Mama feels like they accomplished what they set out to do.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Mama said. “Just going throughout the week and watching how they are on defense on film, we knew tempo could be a factor in this game. So definitely taking advantage of that and finishing… We’ll get on the sideline and say, ‘Coach, stop passing the ball.’ Coaches don’t like to hear that, but we tell them lets run the ball. That’s what we’re here for.”
There’s no question Mama is a big boy. He was the biggest notable offensive lineman in the nation in the 2014 class — in regards to his weight — and it was hard to miss him on the field. He came to campus weighing close to 400-pounds, but his hard work has slimmed him down quite a bit.
“I came in during the summer at 397,” Mama said. “As of right now, I’m at 365. We did a body fat comped in and all the numbers are good, looking good. Looking forward to next week, starting the offseason and getting better. Getting ready for the bowl game and just want to get a lot more leaner, lose a lot more weight. Just see where my body is.”
So what’s the big man’s goal for his weight and can he get there?
“As of right now, 350,” Mama said. “That’s my goal weight with our nutritionists. Just get down there and see what happens from there.”