Senior Frank Strong has been all over the field during his Trojan career. Literally.
The 6-1, 220-pounder from St. Mary's High in Stockton came to USC in 1998 as a bruising tailback with a style that some compared to former Cal great Chuck Muncie.
In just his fourth game, the green-behind-the-ears freshman tore through the vaunted Florida State defense on a 73-yard jaunt. It was the longest run by a Trojan in 1998 in what seems like, oh, so many years ago.
In 2000, Strong spent his time as a free safety and had a 67-yard interception return against Arizona State. It was the longest interception return by a Trojan in 2000.
Strong also returns kickoffs and punts. Last season, he had a 36-yard kickoff return against UCLA and a 17-yard punt return against the Sun Devils.
This season, you can find Strong roaming the field as an outside linebacker. He made the switch from the secondary (along with strong safety Matt Grootegoed) during fall camp and the move has really paid off for the Trojan defense.
"We've taken two of the most aggressive guys from the secondary and put them at linebacker," said Strong. "I think it has really given the linebackers a boost. I'm just willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field. It's going to be a great opportunity."
Strong, who had a team-high 7 tackles and 2 deflections in the San Jose State opener last week, uses his running back speed to fly to the ball and his safety skills to play the pass.
"I can cover down (on receivers)," said Strong. "You don't see too many linebackers who can do that. It's a great chance to showcase my talents."
For a while, his talents rested on the offensive side of the ball, where Strong had dreams of being the next great USC tailback. But in mid-1999, with Chad Morton getting most of the carries in the backfield, he requested a move to safety. It wasn't long before he was tested on his first defensive series against Stanford.
"I got cut by the backside wide receiver on the play before and messed my ankle up," recalled Strong. "The very next play they ran wide and I dove at his (Stanford running back Brian Allen's) legs. I had no push. I might as well have just fallen on my face. He went for 60 or 70 yards."
Strong improved rapidly after that and by spring of 2000 was battling for the free safety job with Ife Ohalete.
"That was when I really started feeling comfortable back there (in the secondary)," said Strong. "I'd been on defense for half a season. Just knowing I was competing for the starting job showed they had confidence in me."
Strong closed the book for good on his offensive days this past spring when new head coach Pete Carroll asked him to move back over to tailback for a few practices. Strong made the move and even looked good carrying the ball, but his mindset just couldn't shift back over to offense. He had finally become a defensive-minded football player, which made it much easier when he eventually switched to linebacker.
"I still tease them to let me do short yardage work on offense," said Strong. "But I'm a defensive guy now. When they asked me to move to offense in the spring, I really didn't want to do it.
Strong has taken to the linebacker position with a passion. Usually a quiet presence, he is now one of the more vocal and exuberant players on the field for the Trojans. The switch to linebacker seems to have liberated emotions inside him that were long dormant.
"When you play linebacker, you have to be like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," said Strong. "Off the field you can be calm and sociable and hang with your friends, but when you get on the field, you turn in to a terror. When I look at the past and all the great linebackers, that's how I see them."
Off the field, Strong actually is calm and sociable. When he's not playing basketball or studying (he's on schedule to graduate this spring with a degree in public policy and management), he likes to hang out with his girlfriend, USC track star Angela Williams.
"She is great and she supports me all the time," said Strong of Williams, who has won an unprecedented three straight NCAA 100-meter titles. "We met during our freshman years and have been going strong ever since."
Not too many boyfriends try to race their girlfriends, but Strong admits to instigating Williams, who is one of the fastest women in the world, to an informal contest.
"We raced once and I won," said Strong. "I've never raced her since and I'm not going to. I'll retire undefeated. We went about thirty yards. I got to say ‘go,' so I pretty much had a head start."
With plenty of speed to burn, Strong knows he has to hone his game in other areas.
"I have to learn how to use my hands and get stronger," he said. "Other than that, the speed and toughness are there. When a big lineman comes at me, I'll have to run through them or around them. I can't sit there and wrestle with them, because they will win. I'm not going to show them that I am scared of them. I'll just hit them head on."
No doubt about it, Strong is ready for a big senior season.
"My main thought is the team," he said. "I want to take care of what the team wants me to take care of. I want to be ready to play every play, each and every game, and hopefully go out with a bang my senior year."
If he can go out the way he came in, he'll make quite an impact for the Trojans in 2001.
interview from usctrojans.com