Max and Connor, 2 Trojan leaders

Different paths have Tuerk and Spears out front at USC this year.

Max Tuerk can't believe it's gone by this fast.

Connor Spears can't believe it's going this well.

Between them, the senior All-American soon-to-be-four-year-starter at center from Orange County and the redshirt sophomore tight end transfer from Columbia out of South Dakota, share one thing.

They're leaders. They know it. And they work at it.

For the 6-6, 295-pound Tuerk, considered by some the top NFL center prospect, it doesn't come by just wishing for it.

"I work at it," he says. "Honestly, I try to inspire my guys by my work ethic, by keeping the O-line together doing things, by bringing the other guys with me, like getting them into the ice tubs after practice, stuff like that."

Those are things he's learned along the way, Tuerk says of his three seasons and four positions played.

"It's gone by in the blink of an eye . . . it went fast, really quick," he says of his life as a young, if tallish freshman, who at 6-6 towered over most of his teammates on the field "Maybe not Kevin Graf," he says.

But now? "These guys are big," he says thankful that his sub-300-pound frame is surrounded by the likes of a 350-pound Damien Mama on one side and 330-pound Viane Talamaivao on the other.

But it's not just the heft, or even the height of USC's O-line guys out on the field now. It's the numbers.

"This is the first year we've had more than 10 guys," he says of the 13-deep Trojans O-line (not counting walkons). "And a couple of the freshmen are really good."

But those numbers, and that relative youth (Max is the lone senior) make the goal "to just be around each other more," he says. That they're in the second year of the offense helps here.

"Last year, we were putting in the offense," Max says. "Now we know all the plays and can go so much faster."

As to his own situation, with so much attention this summer, "I try not to listen to that stuff," he says. It's something he and longtime roommate Cody Kessler can work on together.

"He's a great friend," Max says. "We're able to do a lot together."

It's a theme. Although not so easy for the tight ends at a position of all sorts of coming and going, tough times for some, and numbers that don't stay the same from day to day even.

Oklahoma transfer Taylor McNamara will be a grad student blueshirt and has yet to arrive and officially join the roster. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who missed Friday, has had academic and personal issues to handle. Bryce Dixon has the student conduct expulsion and an uncertain future. Cyrus Hobbi is the ex-center trimmed down 40 pounds as he also heads to grad school while learning the position. And Tyler Petite and Caleb Wilson are freshmen, as talented as they may be.

And then there's Connor, "the leader of the tight ends," Max Browne called him the other day. An Ivy League transfer without a scholarship [until January when USC can award him one after being here two years].

"We don't really talk about it," Connor says of all the unpredictable drama. "It's been a really wild year for the tight ends."

And amidst it all is this 6-foot-6, 255-pound hopeful who had "always wanted to play for USC," he says. So despite the probability of a solid future at Columbia, he took a shot at it.

"I've come a long way since Columbia," he says thinking of his summer before college when he weighed a mere 210 pounds. "But it's helped me. At Columbia, there are a lot of distractions. Here, you can be dedicated to football."

That's something Connor, who not only catches everything thrown his way but seems to know every pattern and formation as he tutors the younger players, was talking about with his dad.

"Obviously I walked into a great situation," he was saying, "really, has there ever been a better situation for a tight end to walk into?

"A wild situation, really," he says. "You have to feel for Bryce and Jalen," with Cope-Fitzpatrick someone who "has had to deal with some personal stuff. I want to give him some space. There's more to life than football."

And there's more to football than just making plays. Max and Connor understand that.

FRIDAY QUICK TAKES: Another early start right after the 6 a.m. team run but much different from Tuesday when the back-to-back sessions seemed to take it out of the Trojans . . . Not so Friday . . . Lots of laughs, lots of energy, lots of big plays . . . and 16 players, mostly the young QBs and WRs and TE's stayed late to work on routes, timing and the Juggs machine . . . first summer appearance for Soma Vainuku . . . Blueshirt Deontay Burnett keeps coming on his own before enrolling in class for the fall session Aug. 24 although he will be checking in with the team for the first workout Aug. 8 and getting his scholarship the next day . . . He just keeps making plays and catching the ball although he's not allowed yet for the organized team run work . . . Doing the weight numbers -- Damien Mama holding at 350 and may go lower but it doesn't look bad on him . . . Big plays today from receivers DeQuan Hampton and Isaac Whitney on deep ball catches from Max Browne, taking over for the second straight day for Cody Kessler, who is heading from the Elite 11 in Oregon to the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana . . . might have been the most throwing we've seen from freshman QBs Sam Darnold, Ricky Town and Michael Bowman. . . . They're getting progressively more work it seems and you can see it paying off . . . not as many balls up for grabs . . . Hard to say who had the most impressive quick move today -- Dominic Davis on a power sweep, Justin Davis on a plant and cut against the grain or Su'a Cravens on a blitz against one of those sweeps. All three moves had the players "oohing" and "ahhing."

CHECK THIS OUT: For more details and play-by-play on Tueday's workout, check out FRIDAY JULY THROWING SESSION 2 GHOST NOTES.

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