They deserved this one. After five years for some of these seniors, it was good to go out giddy Wednesday with a Senior Tunnel as much fun as those that came before Rose Bowls and national championship games.
And in some ways, with all they've had to go through here, these guys may have deserved it more. And with almost every single jersey switched for practice so numbers didn't matter, it was fun to see Cody Kessler in 340-pound Damien Mama's No. 51 while Mama had a very tightly stretched yellow No. 6 on. And Darreus Rogers' slim No. 1 pretty much disappeared on the 360-pound frame of Zach Banner.
Watching Juju Smith-Schuster go deep in the No. 60 of 325-pound Viane Talamaivao as it flapped in the wind made the 215-pound Juju look like a little guy as did the similarly sized Rogers in Banner's No. 73.
Freshman Jake Olson was in his no-contact yellow No. 61 to start but then switched it up with senior Kris Albarado's No. 17. There was a lot of that going on.
"Biggie [Marshall] came up and asked me if we could switch," 300-pound senior D-lineman Delvon Simmons said of the tight No. 8 he had on that would never have handled shoulder pads. "I told him I'd be honored. He's going to be a great player here."
Simmons, like the nearly two dozen other seniors, had just made it through the tunnel/gauntlet where the underclassmen give their elder buddies one last noogie -- or a half-dozen -- especially as they leaped to touch the Goux Gate while protecting their extended selves down below. It's pretty much not possible.
Nor was it possible for an injured Kevon Seymour to sneak out behind the double lines on his high ankle sprain that kept him from practicing. Adoree' Jackson had stationed himself as a safety, last in line, and caught him and lifted Seymour up and hauled him back in for the obligatory hazing.
Asked if he was thinking about his own possible exit a year from now, Adoree' said he wasn't. "What am I thinking about? I'm thinking I'm just sad. Kevon is like my big brother. I'm just sad. It's one of those feelings you don't want to face."
Junior Su'a Cravens is leaving for the NFL after three years but he said he didn't qualify to go through the tunnel either because that's just for seniors. And he might not have wanted to face the media, either.
"I have to catch a plane," Su'a said when asked to stop and talk. "Where are you going?" we asked him after he'd escaped the questioning. "My apartment," Su'a admitted. No plane awaited. This wasn't his day. This was for the seniors.
But it was a day -- at least for the final 45 minutes of the on-campus run-through -- that seemed to go off without a hitch. Just once did Clay Helton have to call for a do-over as the Trojans executed their playbooks -- offense, defense and special teams -- for the Dec. 30 Wisconsin game (7:30, ESPN).
The media isn't at the closed Thursday practices when they do these run-throughs normally but the quick-rep quality here looked like it went as well as Helton could have hoped.
"I thought it went very well," Helton said. "I didn't think we missed a beat . . . This was a great last day at Howard Jones. This team has laid a great foundation."
When it comes to handling everything that can be thrown a team's way, from unwarranted NCAA sanctions to no bowls and not enough players or too many head coaches (five), this team surely has.
"The definition of "Fight On," Helton said of the seniors' "utmost class . . . maturity" and ability to "fight through adversity . . . to be where they were at the lowest of lows and fight through" to a Pac-12 South title with an unbeaten 5-0 record in the division.
And yet, here comes a big, strong, tough 9-3 Wisconsin team that stands in the way of a happy final moment for these seniors.
"It makes you want to get up for the Holiday Bowl," Adoree' said, "to get up and put on a show to show these guys what we think of them."
WEDNESDAY QUICK HITS: Day 5 of USC's Holiday Bowl prep work had the Trojans out of pads, helmets only, in shorts and jerseys, and back on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Field for the seniors final practice there although it really took place on the new artificial turf of Brian Kennedy . . . just a little too much rain for the recently aerated grass over the deep sandy base of Howard Jones . . . the 45-minute session was a quick review day with all sorts of sudden changes, injury substitutions, whatever sort of game simulation situations for a coaching staff with a number of new members elevated into positions for the Holiday Bowl . . . Players enjoyed the final day for this season on campus and the final day of their careers for the seniors by switching numbers with many of the widest swings in size favored . . . Center Khaliel Rodgers was moving like normal on the ankle he tweaked Sunday . . . Kevon Seymour not in his helmet but went through the Senior Tunnel and Clay said he considered him 50-50 for the bowl game . . . No answer from Helton on whether there was any chance the missing Chad Wheeler would join the team in San Diego as he was absent again for what USC describes as a personal issue . . . After three days off for Christmas including Saturday's travel day to San Diego, USC will practice Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday's game . . . Helton said those three days of workouts in Chula Vista would be in effect a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of game week.CHECK THIS OUT: For Wednesday's practice report, check out WEDNESDAY DAY 5 HOLIDAY BOWL GHOST NOTES.
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