Last year at this time, Marques Tuiasosopo was in a period of transition. Steve Sarkisian had accepted the USC head coaching job earlier in the week and Tuiasosopo found himself unsure of his future. He had just been named the interim head coach for the Huskies’ bowl game, but past that, there was no guarantee of what the future of his coaching career would hold.
As the offseason went on, so did the coaching carousel and Tuiasosopo soon found himself as the tight ends coach at USC. It’s not a position he played in the past, but he did coach tight ends while at UCLA. Now back to preparing for a bowl game as an assistant coach, Tuiasosopo is ready to teach up his group of guys.
“It’s just kind of going back to day one basics, technique and really just creating a standard,” Tuiasosopo said. “You got to get the rust off a little bit. They got finals and a week off from the whole season, but just get our standard back to operating at a high level. If we got to down block, we got to make sure we’re making our blocks so the ball can get around the edge. If we’re being targeted with a pass, you got to catch it, tuck it and finish. I’m really looking to see their effort there and their attention to detail.”
Heading into the season, USC had three scholarship tight ends on the roster. When Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick was ruled academically ineligible, the depth took a hit and only left Bryce Dixon and Randall Telfer as the two scholarship tight ends. Coaches don’t like to use lack of depth as an excuse though and Tuiasosopo was pleased with the group’s performance this year.
“Well we were very fortunate to stay healthy,” Tuiasosopo said. “Those guys battled. Obviously there are things we would have liked to have done better and there are things that they did really well. The one thing I’m proud of them about is that they fought and they battled and they played hard. The effort was always there.”
One of the lone senior contributors on offense this year was Randall Telfer. The tight end hauled in two touchdowns and was the only senior to record a touchdown for the Trojans. Tuiasosospo contributes that to one main theme: Hard work.
“He’s a workhorse,” Tuiasosopo said. “He’s a team guy. He’s a great example of what we need to be as a team member for us to continue to move on up and work to a National Championship. Man, he’s hungry. He plays that way and he laid it on the line for his brothers and you could see that.”
It’s no secret that USC tight ends weren’t targeted a ton this year and haven’t been in the past. Between Cody Kessler and Max Browne, 295 passes were completed. A tight end was on the other side of those completions only 29 times this year. Despite the lack of targets, Tuiasosopo feels like the tight ends still did their jobs.
“We were always in the mix,” Tuiasosopo said. “You got to go through progressions and sometimes they are there and sometimes they are not. Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you get pressure and you got to survive and not make a negative play. I think the one thing we talked about is that we can only control what we can control. We got to be where we’re supposed to be when we’re supposed to be there and we got to play hard. That’s a credit to him and that’s why he was able to snag a couple of touchdowns late. Everybody was fired up for him because they knew that’s who he was and that’s what he was working for.”
The other main tight end on USC’s roster this year was Bryce Dixon. The true freshman caught 10 passes for 154 yards and 3 touchdowns. Though he’s a young player, Tuiasosopo sees a bright future.
“I’m pleased with his progression and we’re pushing him hard,” Tuiasosopo said. “We really are asking a lot of him to continue to raise the bar on a daily basis and he’s responded. He’s worked through a lot of things and I’m really excited with where he’s at. I’m really excited to continue pushing his ceiling even higher because he’s got the ability and he’s got the want-to.”
USC’s lack of tight ends could be a blessing in disguise. It probably isn’t on the football field, but on the recruiting trail, it might give the Trojans a hand up on the competition. Tuiasosopo is aware of this advantage and he plans to take full advantage of it as the coaches round out the 2015 recruiting class in the next few months.
“Absolutely. Kids want to play and they want to play early,” Tuiasosopo said. “They’re looking at depth charts and they see that we’ll have one scholarship tight end next year and so it’s exciting. There’s a buzz out there with the Trojans right now, especially with the tight ends, so I’m excited with the guys that are interested in being a student athlete here and it should be fun down the stretch.”Note: Tight end Jalen-Cope Fitzpatrick was academically ineligible in 2014 but could return and play for the Trojans next season. He did not take part in bowl practices to focus on academics.