When Zach Banner talked about his goals this past season, we nodded and said how nice that was. Goals are great. And as always, Zach was just being Zach.
Too bad it'll never happen. Especially if he moves on after this season.
Zach wasn't, as he never is, shy. Or quiet. He put it out there.
"I want to be an All-American here," he told us one day in late August. "I want to win a national championship . . . I don't want to be a second- to sixth-round pick, I don't even want to be a first round. I want to be the No. 1 overall pick."
And it went without saying, he wanted to be first-team All-Pac-12 although even that was in doubt then. Max Tuerk would make it, of course, but Zach had a way to go, we thought.
And then All-American candidate Max tore his ACL and his Trojans career was through. He would be left to finish out as USC's "Most Inspirational Player" named that at Sunday's Football Awards Banquet.
And for Zach, it was indeed "next man up." Zach was that man. And he did finish up as All-Pac-12 first team after kicking it into high gear as the season moved along under a run-first, win-it-in-the-trenches-committed interim coach Clay Helton.
But for the rest of Zach's list -- All-American, national champion, first-round draft pick -- No. 1 overall not just a first-rounder -- and finally, one of the historic Trojans whose photo is on the fence at Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field, well, it's good to have big goals.
But . . . with the way Zach had finished this season, he could have easily taken his 6-foot-9, 360-pound body, and his USC degree, and move on to follow his dad, Lincoln Kennedy, to the NFL. Especially with the turnover and turmoil in the USC coaching ranks.
For right now, Zach is the most senior person in a USC O-line position group that will have its fifth coach for Zach and his mates sometime soon. So this isn't personal -- except for Helton and his teammates.
This is about USC. "I love this school," a frustrated Zach said after USC got whacked by Stanford in the Conference Championship Game nine days ago. And he loved something else.
Playing tough man football at USC. "I love it," Zach said of his strong finish. "Guys with the option that I have to leave or stay can get complacent. I didn't. I love that."
And one more thing. "I love this team . . . . and I feel like I've let this team down with the leadership role I have."
And now this from Sunday night, at the end of the time frame Zach said he needed to decide "what is best for me."
Zach's tweet made it official what that would be:
To the rest of the world. I have announced to my team and school that I have decided to come back for my senior year.
No press conference. no big deal. I'm coming back. You guys heard it first. Then everybody else.
I have goals, Zach has been telling us. And they're not just lip service. Coming back was the only way to give those goals a chance.
And even though there's no offensive line coach in place to jump up and down and high-five the house at the news, some day soon someone will look back on this past Sunday and say how lucky he was even if he didn't realize it at the time.
Zach Banner is coming back. He'll be a Trojan footballer for another year, helping decide his own, and his USC team's, immediate future. Because Zach will be the first one to tell you. He's got a way to go here. Get a little lighter, a little quicker on those basketball-trained feet, a little more precise in his get off. He knows that.
But don't tell him he has a long way to go, unless maybe on the scales where we'd love to see him south of 340. When someone commented recently that he'd been beaten only once in pass protection this past season, Zach responded that "I've only let up one sack at USC period. Not just this year!"
Zach keeps track of this stuff.
But for starters, this USC team wants to run the ball, as Zach talked about after a Stanford game when it could -- at times -- run the ball. And now it has someone to follow the way it did in finishing off UCLA.
"I have one more game for sure," Zach had said after Stanford. Now he has one more season.
And for a team playing two of the nation's toughest defensive fronts -- Wisconsin and Alabama -- the next two games, that's as good a news as could possibly come USC's way right now.
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