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One final shot for Jordan to push his brand

Will this be the year Jordan Simmons, above right going against Rasheem Green, finally gets the chance to reach the potential so many thought he had coming to USC as a premier high school player? He thinks maybe so.

For the first time in his four years since arriving at USC, Jordan Simmons has been rotating with the first team at right offensive guard in the summer workouts.

Which is why after Friday morning's PRP, it wasn't a surprise for the senior, whose career has suffered from a knee injury every season of his USC career as an all-everything prospect out of Crespi High, to hear a practice observer tell him: "I'm excited for you."

"I'm excited for myself," Jordan responds with a smile, maybe the first time he could say that since his freshman season in 2012 when he was coming in off preseason knee surgery in a career that's had him fighting one knee issue after another, limiting him to just nine games in four years.

"I think I came back to soon," the 6-foot-4, 335-pound Simmons says of his first return from surgery "in 8 1/2 months. That was just too quick."

But just the start. There were early season injuries in 2013 and 2014, with a sprain and a bone spur ending those, after he'd switched from offense to defense and made it back for the Holiday Bowl last fall, although he knew defense wasn't his thing. "The footwork, the setups," he said. "It just wasn't me."

But offense is where his natural ability lives, he says. Khaliel Rodgers, who has made that switch this year is probably much better suited for going over, Jordan says. Jordan is an O-line guy all the way, he says, and always has been.

Back on offense and completely healthy for the first time as a collegian, he's competing in a high-level, four-way battle with Viane Talamaivao, Damien Mama and Chris Brown, for a starting spot.

"The timing is right," Jordan says, talking about this team coming together and the O-line getting a new coach, veteran Neil Callaway, who walked in this past January. "His resume speaks for itself," Jordan says of the SEC veteran who played for Bear Bryant.

Does he  know Callaway has 10 SEC football championship rings, most of any person ever? Hadn't heard that, Jordan says of Callaway's time as a Alabama player and offensive coordinator/O-line coach at Bama, Auburn and Georgia. "That's the fun fact of the day," Jordan says. "I'm going to have to text him about that."

But it's not his resume, or the way he outlined the new offensive scheme, or everything that's staying the same that's most impressed Jordan about his new coach, it's what Callaway said to his O-line guys the first time he talked to them.

"He told us we're going to put our hand in the dirt and whip the [behind] of the guy across from us," Jordan says.

He thinks he'll be ready to do just that in what will be a late-developing career he's modeling after a fellow Inglewood guy, the similar-sized Donald Penn, an undrafted player out of Utah State going into his 11th starting season in an outstanding NFL career, now with the Oakland Raiders.

But first comes this, his final season. With his lingering year to year injuries, he'd probably be able to qualify for a sixth season, Jordan says. "But I've already graduated," with "a degree in American Studies . . . I have just two units to finish [this semester] . . . and then I'm going to get my body ready for the Combine."

But he's also been doing other things to get ready for a post-football career. "Not something you'd guess," from his African-American Studies major. "I want to design shoes," he says, "football shoes."

To that end, he's had two "Nike internships" the past two summers for Southern California-based Nike licensees -- one a Jordan Brand marketer, the other a manufacturer/distributor of equipment USC will wear and use this season. But it's shoes that Jordan has his eye on, especially as a big O-lineman who is wearing 2011 models USC equipment boss Todd Hewitt found for him in storage. They don't pay much attention to the big guys, he says.

One of the cool things about his internship, Jordan says, was how he "got to shadow Reggie Bush at the Nike Get Open Experience for 7-on-7 teams like Serra, Dorsey and Salesian," and get to know the USC alum a little bit. "It was cool to talk to him, not awkward at all. He's a very down to earth guy."

Jordan says he's more of a concept guy, not really a designer who has the art background to do the actual art work. And yet, in 2014, he did have a display of his work in the annual "Artletics" exhibit for USC athletes. And if you push him, he'll show you the concepts for the line of t-shirts he's hoping to produce some day combining his USC experience and a tongue-in-cheek look at the world.  

But it's football that matters now. "I can't control what's happened, I can just do what I do day-to-day," he says. All the difficult times, Jordan says, "have been a real learning experience for me. When the tough times come, you learn a lot about yourself the way you handle them."

How he's handling football, he says, is first of all, "I've had a really good summer," not unlike that of this team, he says. They'd like him down 10 pounds to 325 but the weightlifting and conditioning program is the best since he's been here.

So is the leadership. "There's a different feel about this team," he says, pointing to fellow seniors Max Browne, Zach Banner and Justin Davis as stepping up for the offense. "It's more leading by example for them. Everybody really wants to win -- as a team. It wasn't always that way in the past."

Having the defending national champion Alabama team to focus on hasn't hurt. "Our players don't feel like we're going down there to get pushed round," he says.

And for the first time in his career, Jordan will be one of the Trojans doing the pushing. 

 

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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