Last spring, Tre Madden was a breakout candidate that looked poised for a big senior season competing with Buck Allen for the starting running back spot.
Instead, he didn't play a single down in 2014.
An early bout with what was believed to be turf toe turned into a midseason surgery to reattach the sesamoid bone in his right foot. Madden missed his second season in three years. After playing sparingly as a linebacker his freshman year, this season holds a lot of pressure of unfulfilled talent. As a redshirt senior, Madden is trying to put his injury history behind him and leave an indelible mark this year.
"I'm ready to get out here and start fall camp," Madden said. "It's awesome to be able to do stuff knowing that I'm going to be able to contribute to the team this year."
The former Mission Viejo (Calif.) star is trying to get back to the form he showed in 2013 in his only extended action during his USC career. Returning from a torn ACL injury that cost him the entire 2012 season, Madden won the starting running back role and became the first Trojan with three straight 100-yard games since No. 5 did it.
Madden averaged 116.6 yards on the ground for the first five games and rushed for three scores. He was the team's offensive star while Cody Kessler and Max Wittek battled for the starting quarterback role. But he was again set back by injury, pulling his hamstring and then reaggravating it later in the year. He averaged just 20 yards rushing in his final six appearances of the season.
But that's all a distant memory. Madden claims he is 100 percent now and that his foot is feeling good. He's looked good in the player-run practices he has participated in, showing a burst when he gets outside and the ability to run routes at full speed.
He's also playing for a different coach. Head coach Steve Sarkisian might be known for his offenses tossing the ball around, but everything starts with the rushing attack for the Trojans.
"He likes, obviously, instilling the run in the game and then playing the pass off the run," Madden said. "Being able to receive as a running back is a key to help the offense out and have another asset out on the field like Buck could do. He did everything last year."
That fits Madden's game well as he showcased his receiving skills when he was a starter. To go with the rushing scores, he also caught four touchdown passes in 2013. He had 13 catches for 198 yards before the hamstring injuries.
Madden is antsy for Aug. 8 when the Trojans take the field to start practice where he'll get his first real shot at some contact since last spring. Until then, the training during player-run practices in the summer months has been more mental than physical for Madden.
"It's hard to really get our timing because not everyone is going full speed and we don't have pads on," he said. "It's just getting a feel on the field for where people are going to line up and knowing the spots where the defense is going to be coming."
As much as Madden is focused on his own reps, he also is teaching the three young bucks as the Trojans will feature a trio of true freshman running backs this year.
"We're helping the freshmen, our younger guys, get the protections and all the play calls down, so they can come to camp and help us out with with numbers."
The added numbers should help keep Madden and co-starter Justin Davis fresh and away from the disabled list. Then maybe Madden will be able to fulfill his talents.
"I've been having the itch to get on the field for a long time, so I'm looking forward to it."