If Christian Rector were to wander across a high school classmate that hadn't seen him since graduation, that classmate might not recognize the now 280-pound defensive lineman.
Since arriving at USC, Rector has put on 40 pounds as he transitioned from being a 4-3 defensive end and tight end at Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola to a down lineman in first Justin Wilcox’s 3-4 scheme and now Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 defense.
“When you talk about the difference between a freshman to a sophomore. That body changes,” head coach Clay Helton said about players development from Year 1 to Year 2. “I always tell parents, that it's night and day. Buy new clothes because they're going to have bigger waist lines. They're going to be one size up.”
At first, the pounds Rector added were just additional weight to help him play in the trenches. The coaching staff wanted him to bulk up during his redshirt season, so he commenced to devouring his favorite foods all the time. In-N-Out Burger and Ono Hawaiian barbecue became regular staples in his diet.
“At first, it was hard to do, but then I just ate whatever I wanted and it was fun,” Rector said of putting on the pounds. “But in the spring, I was kind of sluggish. It was hard carrying the weight.”
Rector opened eyes with how much his body had changed from the end of the season until spring ball, but he found that adding the weight wasn’t enough. He needed to condition his body with the extra mass. That’s where strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis took over.
“In the summer, Coach Ivan helped me push myself. I was able to get in shape and now I'm able to run at 280, able to carry the weight like I want to.”
During fall camp, Rector has been one of the big bodies that have helped transform the defensive line from the Trojans’ biggest question mark to a pleasant surprise. He has become a stout run stopper with an ability to pursue plays outside of the box — something he wasn’t able to do in the spring.
“I'm able to run down the ball, track the ball, play screen passes. If there's a play out wide, I can sprint it down and maybe be second on the tackle.”
One of the other changes Rector has noticed is how much stronger his initial strike has become. He no longer is the typical high school defensive end that is reliant on speed around the edge because he is only strong enough to play pitty-pat with an offensive lineman. Rector has moved beyond that stereotype. Now he is popping the pads with force when he comes off the line of scrimmage.
“One, they're learning how to play with 20, 30 extra pounds, but two, the added strength is so important,” Helton said. “It takes a little bit of time to adjust to that body.”
During the adjustment period, Rector has had strong days where he really catches your eye and other days where he is never noticed. It’s the next step in the progression for Rector and fellow weight-gaining defensive lineman Liam Jimmons, says their position coach, Kenechi Udeze.
“They are both doing a tremendous job for me. I think when the lights are turning on with them, they are just flickering right now. They aren't staying on. I need them to be more consistent and when they are, that light is going to shine as bright as it possibly can.”
Udeze has been encouraged by how receptive the whole defensive line group has been to his coaching. He is seeing that power grid become more stable and a translation from the drill work they do every day to the live scrimmage periods of practice has become evident.
Rector is excited by his personal progression.
“I think this camp has been really good for me. I've been able to track my progress throughout the days and see how much my technique has improved and how I'm able to play blocks better and how I'm able to do better.
“My footwork has gotten a lot better and that was a big part of my game that I think I needed to work on. Also, my hand placement and my initial strike off the block. I think that's gotten better. If I can just keep on progressing and keep on doing better then…”
Rector let his answer linger, possibly because he doesn’t quite know just how good he can be. He’s playing in a different body than he did in high school and has yet to take a collegiate snap in his new frame. What he does know is what is going to be different about him this season.
“A more physical Christian Rector.”
Exactly what the USC defensive line needs.
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