Over the past few years as the USC football program was suffering under harsh NCAA scholarship sanctions, walk-ons played key roles on the team. Now that the sanctions are over and the overall number of scholarship players are up, don't expect walk-on contributions to fall off.
Redshirt sophomore safety Matt Lopes saw action in five games last season, including replacing an injured Su'a Cravens for the entire second half against Washington State. Over the summer Lopes was one of the stand outs at player-run practices, making plays continually against scholarship players.
Saturday, Lopes was the team's top walk-on performer.
To help out in the secondary USC brought in the top recruiting class in the country, including two highly ranked cornerbacks and two highly ranked safeties.
"They all look good," Lopes said after practice. "At safety and corner these guys were ranked No. 1 or something and you can tell they can really play. They just need to learn right now, but as far as talent goes, you can tell they'll be good."
Despite the new infusion of talent, Lopes is still getting reps on the first and second team defenses. And during Saturday's workout Lopes made another one of his signature plays, intercepting a pass during the team-run portion of practice. The play started with a Sam Darnold pass that was tipped by tight end Cyrus Hobbi, flipped into the air and then picked off by Lopes.
"It was just like an over route," Lopes said. "I was in the post and I had a good break on it. I was going to go hit the guy but he dropped it and it tipped up so I was in full stride and just ran with it."
When Lopes first arrived on campus he was mostly known as the son of Steve Lopes, USC's Senior Associate Athletic Director and Chief Operations Officer. But it didn't take long for the junior Lopes to forge his own path and establish his own identity.
"It definitely helped, but I started at the bottom just like everyone else, and I have been working my ass off," he said. "I think I have earned it just as much as everyone else."
Lopes certainly has earned the respect of his teammates. From all he does at practice to filling in for the most dynamic player on the defense in a game, Lopes has done everything asked of him and more. He has consistently been a contributor in numerous ways for the USC secondary and despite the new additions, look for him to continue to play a significant role for the Trojans in 2015.
- Top Play Saturday: Jalen Green
"Jalen has made plays every day at wide receiver, mostly the tough catches outside with a defender on him thanks to his athleticism, good hands and toughness. But today, he got the chance to go deep on a ball 45 yards in the air that John Plattenburg was eyeing as he ran step for step with Jalen. But Jalen was able to concentrate, relax, locate the ball through Plattenburg and go to the ground softly with a two-handed grab coming back to the ball that was as good as you could ask for from a lifelong wide receiver, much less a quarterback just a couple of months ago. Looks like Jalen may have arrived at his new position."
- Top Newcomer Saturday: Aca'Cedric Ware
"Johnny Nansen said Wednesday that Ware was the closest thing they have on the roster to Buck Allen, in that he does a little bit of everything well. Saturday was his day to get first rotation reps behind Tre Madden, and while he didn't have any spectacular runs, he still rushed for more yards than any of the other freshmen.
"Right now, he is following his blocks better than the other freshmen tailbacks and is definitely the best pass blocker. I also think he probably has the best hands as well. He popped a good 20-yard run off the right side dipping laterally against the defense's rush. He sets up the cutback lane real well."
Ware was known as a powerful runner in high school, and since the pads have come on he has looked like a different player.
- Top Lineman Saturday: Chuma Edoga
Five-star offensive lineman Chuma Edoga earned valuable experience this spring as an early enrollee. Now in the fall Edoga has been getting significant reps at right tackle playing behind Zach Banner. On Saturday during the one-on-one linemen drills Edoga stood out, winning every one of his reps against the defense from both tackle positions.
His first rep was a pancake block that fired up the entire group of offensive linemen. He also stood up and stoned defensive end Malik Dorton and walk-on Wyatt Vinci.
With offensive line coach Bob Connelly saying this week that USC could use a rotation with the front five, Edoga has a chance to earn some playing time as a true freshman.
- Top Skill Player Saturday: Darreus Rogers
Junior receiver Darreus Rogers has stepped up his game this fall, making spectacular catches seemingly every practice. On Saturday Rogers added a couple more nice grabs to his highlight reel. His first was sideline catch that Rogers appeared to be out of position for, but he readjusted as he was falling to the ground and kept his eyes on the ball. He hauled in the pass and ended up on his back. This one could have been a case of making an easier play look hard, but we will give Rogers the benefit of the doubt.
Rogers' other highlight grab was a deep ball over the middle where he leaped high in the air and stretched out all of his 6-foot-1 frame to high point the pass and bring it down to earth with him.