It’s an obscure term football coaches use, particularly Southern coaches to describe the game’s maulers.
USC linebackers coach Peter Sirmon recently introduced his unit to the phrase and it caught the attention of at least one player.
“Coach Sirmon brought up the term 'war daddy' and that’s just like being a bad dude on the edge,” redshirt junior rush end Scott Felix said. “I’ve kind of embraced that. That’s what I want to be known on the edge.”
War daddies refuse to be stopped. They go the extra distance and are unafraid of making sacrifices others may not. Combined with ability is always an inherent toughness. Teammates know they can count on a war daddy even if outside viewers don’t see the hard work and effort put in.
It isn’t the recognition of fans, but of the opposition that helps delineate a war daddy. When the game is over, does the man across the line feel like he’s been through hell. Has he experienced a 60-minute battle against a warrior?
Felix already has the mentality with a chip firmly placed atop his shoulder this season. With Jabari Ruffin returning from a knee injury and moving to the rush end position and five-star Porter Gustin coming in, some assumed Felix would be pushed aside despite being the experienced vet of the position. But he had no intentions of going anywhere. After Felix played in all 13 games last season and started five of those, he had already made the determination that the job was going to be his.
“My goal wasn’t really to be the starter. I already had that settled in my mind that that was going to happen,” Felix said. “A lot of people will share their opinion about me and say I may not start or whatever they say. I just don’t listen to that. I stick to my belief of what’s going to happen and it did.”
We’ve reported about the speed rush exploits of Gustin giving the second- and third-team offensive tackles fits and how explosive and physical Ruffin has looked at times, but it was Felix that earned the distinction of starter at the rush end position after fall camp ended. He’s been very good in the preseason practices, causing disruptions in the backfield and showing an adept ability to drop into coverage, which is what sets him apart.
Felix is helped by his background as a four-star interior linebacker at Norco (Calif.) and during his freshman season when the early enrollee appeared in the first three games of the season as a backup and on special teams. But prior to the Cal game, he suffered a neck injury that required a spinal fusion surgery, costing him the rest of the year.
Besides costing him a freshman season of reps and the possibility of rotating in more as the season progressed, the injury also sapped Felix of his strength. Because of the severity of any neck injury, recovery often limits any physical activity, including weight training. Unlike an ankle or shoulder injury, you can’t workout another part of your body. Players with neck injuries are almost completely shut down.
“It definitely stopped my growth as I was maturing. I was just at home not doing much. I was just sitting at home and watching my guys. My body was just like sulking out. I was losing all of my muscle.”
Felix admits it was a trying time. After coming into USC at 225 pounds and working his way up to a middle linebacker playing weight of 230, he lost more than 15 pounds, and says he “looked like a safety out there.”
He missed half of his redshirt freshman season and made just nine tackles in the final six games. Along with regaining his strength, Felix also had to learn a new position, switching to an outside linebacker spot in the Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 defense. A year later, he started anew once again when Justin Wilcox took over the defense and he was placed at the rush end position.
Backing up senior J.R. Tavai, Felix made 36 tackles last season, including five for losses with 1.5 sacks. He also had a pair of fumble recoveries and forced a fumble. But he didn’t have the familiarity that has come in his second year as a rush end. The Trojans also made a coaching philosophy change with the rush ends, having them work almost exclusively with Sirmon’s linebackers group rather than flip-flopping back and forth between there and with the defensive line. It has helped Felix mature at the position.
“Now I’ve got Coach Sirmon teaching me more on the overall linebacker position. Last year, I was focusing more on my rushes. Now I’m just learning more about the game. I feel like it’s more mental than anything and that’s been helping me so far.”
The now 248-pound Felix credits strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis for helping him enhance his core and be in better physical condition, but it has been the mental aspect that has been key.
“My mentality is what needed to be fixed,” Felix said. “I just had to lock myself away for a little bit to just think about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be remembered for. I just had to take some deep thought into that. I fixed it and have been more consistent.”
Offensive tackle Zach Banner, who happens to be Felix’s roommate and his daily opposition when Felix lines up on the right side, has noticed a change in demeanor.
“He’s a very hard worker,” Banner said. “His whole mindset is that he has a really really strong desire to be great. But he feels he has a long way to get there and I love that about him.”
“I knew that there was a plan for me and I knew that I had to stick to my beliefs of what I can do," Felix said. "I have just focused on that. You’ve got to wait on your time and now it is.”
Time to go earn war daddy status.