The USC football team returns to Howard Jones Field tomorrow for the first time in nearly a week. The Trojans are fully focused on their Saturday matchup with the Red Wolves of Arkansas State. Distractions have been put in the past and the players are ready to get out on the field to try to prove their mettle.
We’re just a few days away from the beginning of what will hopefully be an epic campaign and we continue to tick away the “30 Key Trojans” for the 2015 season. Which players’ success is key for the Trojans’ season to be a success? If this or that player is successful, how much will that propel USC’s team success?
This countdown features the 30 USC players most important to the Trojans’ success this season. This list is not the 30 most talented players or the 30 players that will put up the best stats, but instead the guys that could propel USC to a successful season.
6. Toa Lobendahn - Sophomore
On an offensive line that returns seven players that saw significant starting time last season, there are a handful of standouts. Right tackle Zach Banner stands out for his massive size at 6-foot-9. Damien Mama stands out for the 50 pounds he’s lost since stepping foot onto campus last year. Max Tuerk stands out for his potential All-American status and his dislike for talking to the media.
But when watching a couple of days of practice, it’s hard not to notice Toa Lobendahn as much as, if not more than, any of those guys. Every time you focus on the first-team offensive line, you notice that Lobendahn is in a different spot. He can play every spot on the line and got reps at all five during fall camp.
His versatility makes him a unique weapon on the offensive line. While Lobendahn is expected to be a mainstay in the starting lineup this season, where in the starting lineup is the question. He’s the only offensive two-position starter on the initial depth chart, slated to start at left tackle or right guard.
As a true freshman last season, Lobendahn started at the left guard spot for the first eight games, but then when Chad Wheeler tore his anterior cruciate ligament, Lobendahn moved over to left tackle and took hold of the position for the final five games. Under new offensive line coach Bob Connelly, Lobendahn was the primary left tackle throughout the spring, but he also moved around to a couple of different spots.
That plan of action has only been accelerated this fall. Lobendahn has been the primary left tackle with Wheeler working his way back to 100 percent from the knee injury and just recently getting cleared by the medical staff for full contact. Lobendahn has also spent time at right guard with fellow true sophomore Viane Talamaivao sidelined for a portion of camp with a hamstring injury.
But Lobendahn didn’t stop there. When Mama injured his right elbow and had to miss a couple of practices, there was Lobendahn filling in. How about when Connelly wanted to motivated Banner with the threat of losing playing time? He moved Lobendahn there for a couple of days to get some pep in Banner’s step. And should Tuerk ever be sidelined for any reason, Lobendahn has spent time at center and is more than capable of filling in. In fact, a lot of people believe center might eventually be his best position once Tuerk leaves for the NFL after his senior season.
“It’s been a blessing,” Lobendahn said. “All glory to God on just being able to keep going in my career and just being able to get better every day out here, working at center, working at tackle, wherever they put me at I just try to focus on that day and get better at that position.”
A high school All-American at La Habra (Calif.), Lobendahn followed that up with freshman All-American accolades last season and a All-Pac-12 honorable mention. The next step is adding his name to the All-American walk in the next two seasons before he is eligible to leave for the NFL. But the question will be which position to put on the plaque. It’d probably be safe just to go with an “OL” designation rather than an individual spot because of Lobendahn’s ability to move around so easily, opening up more possibilities for other linemen to be put in the best position for the team.
“Personally I think we’re getting a lot more guys knowledgable so I think that makes us stronger as a group,” Lobendahn said. “We have guys that would usually be a two working with the ones a lot. They’re getting that experience and the knowledge of the plays down.
“It’s making us stronger. We’re only going to be as strong as our weakest link. So when we’re getting everybody in there, and they’re getting the plays and experience, and they know what to do, it’s just going to make us go that much faster.”
“Toa is very capable of playing all five positions and will play all.” — USC offensive line coach Bob Connelly
“It's almost unreal how Toa doesn't look, act, talk or play like a guy with just one year's experience. He's the quiet, calm veteran who just seems to know what to do and when to do it.
While we can't say where he's going to be Saturday for certain, we can for certain say he will be playing somewhere. As we can say right now for the rest of his career here -- Toa the Trojan has been and will be a fixture from Day 1." — Dan Weber, USCfootball.com
|6||Toa Lobendahn||132 pts||5 (Shotgun Spratling)||12 (Austin Geller)|
|7||Kevon Seymour||131 pts||5 (Gerard Martinez)||14 (Twice)|
|8||Antwaun Woods||125 pts||7 (Ryan Abraham)||17 (Dan Weber)|
|9||Justin Davis||124 pts||6 (Austin Geller)||16 (Shotgun Spratling)|
|10||Lamar Dawson||121 pts||2 (Shotgun Spratling)||17 (Keely Eure)|
|11||Steven Mitchell Jr.||120 pts||8 (Shotgun Spratling)||13 (Dan & Ryan)|
|12||Claude Pelon||109 pts||9 (Dan Weber)||17 (Austin Geller)|
|13||Tre Madden||98 pts||6 (Dan Weber)||Not listed (Shotgun Spratling)|
|14||Chad Wheeler||92 pts||6 (Keely Eure)||Not listed (Shotgun Spratling)|
|15||Iman Marshall||86 pts||11 (Ryan Abraham)||25 (Shotgun Spratling)|
|16||Delvon Simmons||84 pts||1 (Shotgun Spratling)||28 (Gerard Martinez)|
|17||Jabari Ruffin||79 pts||12 (Dan Weber)||25 (Ryan Abraham)|
|18||Anthony Sarao||77 pts||13 (Keely Eure)||26 (Austin Geller)|
|19||Zach Banner||72 pts||12 (Shotgun Sprating)||Not listed (Austin Geller)|
|20||John Plattenburg||68 pts||15 (Keely Eure)||29 (Austin Geller)|
|21||Damien Mama||49 pts||18 (Gerard Martinez)||27 (DanWeber)|
|22||Connor Spears||44 pts||13 (Austin Geller)||Not listed (Twice)|
|23||Max Browne||43 pts||19 (Twice)||Not listed (Shotgun Spratling)|
|24||Leon McQuay III||40 pts||17 (Ryan Abraham)||Not listed (Twice)|
|25||Osa Masina||39 pts||15 (Gerard Martinez)||Not listed (Keely Eure)|
|26||Darreus Rogers||36 pts||19 (Shotgun Spratling)||Not listed (Dan Weber)|
|27||Matt Boermeester||35 pts||18 (Dan Weber)||Not listed (Twice)|
|28||Chris Hawkins||34 pts||21 (Twice)||Not listed (Twice)|
|29||Viane Talamaivao||23 pts||22 (Keely Eure)||Not listed (Three times)|
|30||Ykili Ross||21 pts||22 (Austin Geller)||Not listed (Twice)|