Sarao’s words travel 100 miles per hour. Put him in front of a camera and you might have to ask Sarao to take a breath.
But on the field, the 6-foot, 235-pound Sarao has previously been hesitant to talk. That’s no longer the case.
“I’m not the type to step on people’s toes,” Sarao said. “I play my role and this year the team is looking at me. They are letting you know that it’s your time to be a vocal leader and do what you’ve got to do.”
With Hayes Pullard gone and Lamar Dawson coming off an injury that cost him the entirety of the 2014 season, Sarao, a redshirt senior, is the experienced veteran in the middle of the linebackers corps. He is the leader the younger guys are turning to for advice and assistance.
“First off, it means a lot because the team is looking at you. There’s no hidden games. You’ve got to control the defense. You’ve got to take care of it and it’s on your shoulders. There’s nothing to hide about. It’s fun. That’s what I like to do. I like to be in front and do things to get everybody right.”
And this is no shabby group that Sarao is the frontman for. College football writer Phil Steele, who puts out the most comprehensive college preview magazine, said that the Trojans have the best linebackers group in the nation.
Along with Sarao and Dawson, Su’a Cravens and Scott Felix return as former starters. Jabari Ruffin will be pushing Felix for his rush end spot. Michael Hutchings has been a key backup while Uchenna Nwosu and Olajuwon Tucker both saw time, particularly on special teams, as freshmen last year.
Oh yeah, Steve Sarkisian, Peter Sirmon and company also brought in the best group of freshmen linebackers in the country. Cameron Smith, Osa Masina, John Houston and Porter Gustin all look the part with their 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-5 statures and muscles bulging from their necks. Someone has to be in the forefront as the young bucks get acclimated and Sarao is perfectly comfortable with taking on that role. He feels like it’s his time to return the favor.
“That’s the fun thing about being a freshman — getting introduced to all of this. I’m just looking at it from when T.J. [McDonald], [Christian] Tupou, Rhett Ellison, Nickell Robey and them guys was leading me. I’m just trying to push it on to [the freshmen] now.”
“I like it,” Sarao said of his mentor role. “Even if they are playing different positions, it’s linebacker, so I’ve got to know all the positions on the field anyways. They still come to me asking questions. It’s good. The young guys are doing good too.”
After seeing the young guys during summer workouts, does Sarao agree with Phil Steele’s assessment of the USC having the best linebackers?
“I feel we do. I think any coach in America would take our linebacking corps over their linebacking corps regardless if you want to go SEC, Pac-12, Big 10, anywhere,” Sarao said. “I feel as though their coaches would pick us. I feel like we got the most versatility. We’ve got guys that can do everything and I think it is the best.”