He's the best single story from the first two days of spring practice and Lamar Dawson is looking forward to his first day in pads in more than 16 months today.
"I like it," he says of his return to full health after knee surgery midway through the 2013 season. "I'm focused, I'm 100 percent and I'm not worried about the knee."
That was obvious especially to Steve Sarkisian and his staff who had no experience with a healthy No. 55, except for coaching against him. This was not the same player who mostly one-legged it in his comeback attempt last fall. He just wasn't ready.
"When we get the pads on," he says, "I'll know more about it."
With returning starter Anthony Sarao out for the spring with a small crack in a bone in his foot, Dawson was able to step right in. "I feel like the coaches are putting me in to make plays," he says. "I'm doing what I love to do."
And doing it without that heavy knee brace. A decision Dawson says, was both his own and the medical people who cleared him. He really didn't want to be reminded of his time away from football. And he doesn't need it. So it's gone.
And there's that smile again and a shake of the head. The kid from Kentucky, only the second Trojan (after Kurt Barber) is back and he knows it.
"It was hard staying focused," he said as a fourth-year sideline guy who felt more like a grad assistant when he was unable to play. Especially for a USC team that seemed to run out of playmakers at game's end when they most needed them in the fall. "I tried to encourage guys," he says, and maybe do some coaching.
But now he's doing something else. "I like turning heads," he says, as he reminds people of why USC linebackers coach Joe Barry was so excited at getting him out of SEC country and then getting the honor of No. 55 as a freshman.
While Lamar is back up to speed, "the game is a little slower for me now," he says. He's back making the calls in the middle, something he did as a true freshman for those mostly ill-conceived Monte Kiffin defenses that had him covering 35 yards downfield.
Now he's in the middle of a defense, early as it is for this 2015 team and in just two sessions without pads, that seems so much more active, much less standaround than we remember from the fall.
"It's just confidence," junior corner Kevon Seymour says of this new-look defense. "We were struggling, no doubt," he says of the corners, especially. "But that's an easy fix."
Looking for leadership, and finding it, is the way forward. As mentioned, a healthy, veteran Lamar Dawson is a part of that. And a new-look Leon McQuay III in the back line is another big part of it.
"He''s just transformed," Seymour says of his partner at safety. "He's so much more talkative back there. Coach (Keith Heyward) had a talk with him that that's what they need."
As to Seymour, who started out sick and skinny last fall with a problem that affected his eating, he's up to 184 now and hoping to play at 187 as a just-under 6-footer and that will work fine for him. He's even become one of the guys nutritionist Becci Twombley says is leading the way here.
But he's still the quiet guy in the secondary. "I lead by example," Seymour says.
As does Adoree Jackson, who will put on his white defensive jersey today for the second time in three practices. USC plans to give him three full practices on offense and three on defense before the spring break and see where they go from there with the two-way sophomore-to-be. "That's what spring is for," Steve Sarkisian says.
He's also going to pick up his outdoor track season after spring football, Sark said, noting Adoree was a little bit disappointed with his indoor season. Although he says "I'm in good shape . . . I'm running the 400."
"We don't want to sacrifice his defense," Sark said. But then there's this as an offensive-minded coach: "I want to give No. 2 the ball . . . we all hold our breath when he has it."
But Adoree wants to be on the field "not just for a pass to me," he says, when everybody sees him out there "and knows I'm going to get the ball. I want to be on the field to block . . . I'm just having fun."
But there is this. Like everybody, "I like offense . . . I like hearing the band play," he says reminding you of that famous quote of Washington State football coach Bill Doba about what happens when a team ended up with a linebacker on Reggie Bush: The next thing you here is their band playing "Fight On."
Just an easy 55
While Lamar Dawson wears the number 55, blueshirt kicker Matt Boermeester uses it as a measuring post, as he did with his easy field goal from that distance Thursday to end the kicking portion of practice.
"I'm feeling really great," he said after practice now that he's stepping up into the spot left behind by four-year kinker Andre Heidari. "I'm feeling like 55 is my normal limit . . . I'm just so much stronger after working on my legs, doing a lot of squats and cleans and lots of legwork. Now I don't have to overkick it from there, just my regular kick."
With a big left-legged swing, Boermeester reminds you a bit of a Bubba Watson drive. he can hit it a long way but with a long, easy swing.
But he says it's not just him. It's holder Conner Sullivan ("Sully's the best," he says) and holdover snapper Zach Smith, back for a second season as the feature guy and one would think in line for a scholarship with Peter McBride leaving the team.
Anthony Sarao's cracked bone in his foot is nothing to be concerned about, Sark said of his missing spring ball, just a case of making sure he's ready to go this summer . . . one bit of good news was that potential sixth-year tight end Chris Willson was still in the mix to return now with the status of Bryce Dixon so up in the air. Willson, who missed last season with a broken foot, has applied for a medical redshirt with the NCAA that would let him play at USC, although if he gets it, as a graduate, he could transfer and play somewhere else . . . Playing somewhere else will be fifth-year defensive end Charles Burks, who as a graduate may transfer and play immediately which the Huntington Beach guy will be doing.CHECK THIS OUT: More details on Tuesday's workout at THURSDAY SPRING DAY 2 GHOST NOTES.
You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at email@example.com.