USC camp 'skills it' Saturday

Really a nice day for USC football -- and 450 campers -- Saturday.

Not a bad effort all around at Saturday's Skills Camp at USC. First, there were the 450 young footballers -- eighth grade through seniors and from as far away as Georgia -- up some 80 from a year ago.

And enough parents, friends and family to fill up Loker Stadium for the early testing and warmups to make it look like a USC-UCLA dual meet.

Good day for parking and concessions now that USC has opened these to the public -- and as a result, the media. Although the ground rules for coverage were still being worked out Friday before a late email said we could not only cover it, we could photo and video it.

Now that's progress. Sure, we still couldn't talk to the players -- not on campus anyway -- since they could be considered prospects. But we could talk to everybody else and tell about what's really a good story for USC football, even if all we need to do is look at the snazzy new graphics telling that story on Brian Kennedy/Howard Jones Fields where the players moved over from Cromwell Field soon after 10 a.m. for what looked to be a typical USC practice.

The only difference. Although the entire USC coaching staff was here, the guys doing a big part of the hands-on coaching, in their USC shirts with both name and number, were actual Trojan football players.

"That's the really cool thing, said assistant AD Jeff Fucci, who pretty much oversees the eight "Coach Sark Camps" every June. "The players are allowed to be here now and work the camps. It used to be they couldn't since there were prospects here."

Leading the drills and having fun doing it with their own coaches watching on were Sua Cravens, Adoree Jackson, Cody Kessler, Max Browne, Anthony Sarao, Juju Smith, Steven Mitchell, Jabari Ruffin, Justin Davis, John Plattenburgh, Kevon Seymour, Scott Felix and Chris Hawkins. Anthony even gave the noontime peptalk to the entire group.

No offensive or defensive linemen here today. They had their own camp so this was about moving through space, catching, throwing and defending.

The stars will come Wednesday and Thursday with the Rising Stars Camp. But 6-foot-3, 210-pound safety Lamar Jackson was here from Elk Grove and he's an impressive guy. So was his trip to get here.

He left Northern California at midnight, drove down with a friend, got here at 4:45, napped for a couple of hours in the car and was ready to go. Impressive all the way around. Not many Taylor Mays-type safeties around any more.

But the guy Jackson was introduced to as he left wasn't a bad DB himself, although on this day, NFL Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, now coaching with the Raiders, was just a dad, here to watch his son work out.

As were former USC players and broadcasters Paul McDonald, whose son Matthew is a well-regarded Mater Dei junior QB. And John Jackson, whose son, also John, is a sophomore-to-be QB at Mater Dei -- and showed well throwing the ball against the older guys.

They weren't the only family groups. The Cravens clan was here to watch Su'a and his brother and the youngest Cravens son, Savai'i, a long-limbed speedy wide receiver.

With the wide diversity of age groups, you could notice the wrist bands -- cardinal, bright green/yellow and white for the different classes.

Which is what had Steve Sarkisian smiling. "These are the young guys," Sark said when asked about the 450 campers, called "an insane number" by head manager Anthony Machado thinking of the workload for his manager corps of five, part of the 40 or so USC staffers here.

They included equipment boss Todd Hewitt and strength and conditioning director Ivan Lewis and his assistant Kenechi Udeze with the entire coaching staff that had O-line coach Bob Connelly picking up the tight ends.

And with fans at times eight deep along the Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy near sidelines, the place never looked better. The new black monogrammed swatch of artificial turf as you come through the gate is exactly in line with the seven-foot-high SC across the field.

And to each side -- in black and white are larger-than-life historic football Trojans from Carson Palmer, Ronnie Lott and John McKay among others on one side to Troy Polamalu, Anthony Munoz, original All-American Brice Taylor and Pete Carroll.

In between, the current and recent crop of Trojans in color -- from Leonard Williams, Marqise Lee and Hayes Pullard to Cody, Ryan Kalil and Nelson Agholor.

In the middle of it all, it says simply: WE ARE SC.

And for SC, it was a good day.

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