Stevie Tu'ikolovatu started showing up at those early morning summer conditioning workouts in June and July, even though he couldn't take part because he hadn't been accepted into grad school yet nor had he been awarded a USC scholarship.
"I wasn't part of a team," he said of those frustrating six weeks. So there he was in his Utah gear, working out on his own across the street from Cromwell Field and when someone asked him, he would say he was "staying with family." Only not exactly, as Stevie said on a conference call with Salt Lake City and USC reporters after practice Tuesday.
"I was pretty much homeless," Stevie said. "Most of the time I slept in my car," which for the first couple of weeks "was a small rental." Only later did he get "a Suburban from my family," the 340-pound, 25-year-old grad student transfer from Utah said with a big grin. "I took the back seat out." Now he was living large.
As for where he parked it, well, wherever he could. "I stayed at Malibu once," he said. Moving around "was a good way to get to know the streets of LA."
But Stevie's perseverance paid off. He got himself accepted into USC's "Masters program in gerontology," he told the Salt Lake City reporters who reacted much the same way their LA counterparts had right after practice when he told them the same thing. Say what? But as USC's resident gerontologist at the age of 25, it's only fitting. "I like working with older people, they have wisdom.
His wife, who joined him after he was admitted and could move into married student housing, is all for the move from their hometown. And not just for football, where he's earned a starting spot and the everlasting love of this USC coaching staff for the maturity, leadership and sheer toughness at nose tackle.
But that's not what makes him and his wife most proud, what he's done in football in his short time here. "I'm most proud of where I'm going to get my degree from -- USC," he says. "That's the big prize for me."
A win Friday would come close. Said his family will be there maybe 60 strong if he can come up with that many tickets from his teammates. "The whole USC side will be my family," he said. They'll be the ones not wearing black in the Friday Night Blackout that can turn a normally raucous Rice-Eccles into an even wilder, crazier place -- "the loudest place I've ever played in," Stevie says.
As to the "Blackout," well, "I'm on the other side now," Stevie says. "It's just fancy uniforms." And as much as Stevie said he "remembered everything" from Utah's come-from-behind win at the end two years ago, he really didn't. Just that Utah won. Now he'd like to flip that around.
He's been talking personnel to both USC line groups, telling his D-line guys about the players he's gone against in practice for four years. "That's weird, man," he says of the way that's going to work Friday. And then to his O-line guys here, what his D-line mates will be like in that matchup.
And yes, Clay Helton has said there has been personnel talk but that's about all. Utah has tweaked some of what they do so that's where Stevie T's inside info helps the most.
"USC has worked out better than I thought it would," Stevie T told his Salt Lake City interviewers. But a win Friday would make it even better.
E.J. heading home
It's the kind of thing that happens everywhere. Young man crosses the country, gets homesick, doesn't have as much success playing right away, has some "personal family issues," Clay called them and ends up wondering what to do. Even a five-star, 6-foot-5, 325-pound offensive tackle like Georgian E.J. Price, who USC thought could become the backup at left tackle if he worked at it. But it just didn't work out as Clay announced after practice that "I felt like he should find a school closer to his home . . . a really good kid . . .a part of our family."
Only no one could foresee how this would play out with an Internet rumor going viral to the point that Deadspin even did a serious story on it how Price had punched Clay at the Stanford game. Clay said he had to be told what "social media" was making of an untrue story. "I hate that that goes on," he said.
But go on it did, this story about EJ punching him in the face. "Which is funny," Clay said in denying that any such thing had happened. "I wouldn't be here, I'd be dead."
About that QB decision
For those who weren't here Monday, Clay patiently answered questions about the decision to switch from fourth-year grad student Max Browne after three games to Sam Darnold. "Max competed honorably," Clay said. "The reality of football is we're 1-2. You've got a decision to make as a head coach." And no, he won't second-guess his decision to select Max in the summer. "I dealt with who was playing better and went with the older kid . . . I'll never regret going with him." Further, he said of the first three games for Max, "the numbers weren't bad, the numbers were adequate. We just didn't put the ball in the end zone."
Said his greatest dream, one he told Max, "a kid you recruited here, a kid you raised here, a kid you loved," was "for Max to be 3-0." Only he wasn't. "I made a decision and I'm going to live with it," Clay said. Asked if he was confident in first-time starter Sam Friday in Salt Lake City? "Very," Clay said.
And then there were 8
Asked about Shotgun Spratling's photo on USCFootball.com showing just eight players on the field for a Stanford extra point, Cameron Smith, the captain of that group said it was true, no photo illusion. USC had just eight on that extra point rush team. And that wasn't the only time it happened. But it will be the last, he said, after a quick score caught not one, not two, but three USC players unaware that they were supposed to be on the field with him.
"It's sad and it's embarrassing," Smith said. "I was disappointed and upset. I went up to them and told them we've got to have you out there." Cam also said one other thing: it won't happen again.
Looks like Chris Hawkins has moved down from first team safety with a secondary of Leon McQuay and Marvell Tell at safety and Iman Marshall and Adoree' Jackson at corner with Ajene Harris coming in for Adoree' when he's coming off playing offense and Jonathan Lockett in at the nickel where McQuay played . . . Taylor McNamara was getting his left foot X-rayed for an injury late in practice and Malik Dorton has a hip injury . . . Adoree' Jackson says he does remember the 100-yard TD he would have had two years ago at Utah after knocking the ball loose into the end zone and picking it up for a length-of-the-field return the Pac-12 officials disallowed but he remembers even more the game-winning pass between him and John Plattenburg that gave the Utes the win . . . And yes, he does expect to get the call on offense this week, he says. "I don't mind if he's going to throw me out there. I just want to be the lighter fluid that starts the party." . . . For more play-by-play on today's practice, check out TUESDAY WEEK UTAH GHOST NOTES.
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