While USC’s invitation to the Rose Bowl is a great opportunity for the football program to re-establish itself among college football’s elite, the month of practice to prepare for the game gives underclassmen like Ykili Ross a great opportunity to develop as a player.
The former Riverside (Calif.) Poly safety is now a redshirt freshman at USC, and this week, he’s not only preparing for Penn State, but next season.
“I’m focused on getting better with my technique and the details of playing defense,” said Ross. “I’m especially trying to work more on getting better playing nickel. Just working my eyes and playing the intangibles.
“I’m kind of knocking some of the rust off playing one-on-one with the receiver, but it’s coming along.”
Last week, rumors swirled that Ross would move to wide receiver — a position he also played in high school.
“I would say that's pending,” said Ross. “I don’t know, I’m just trying to finish out the year and I want to keep learning as a player. Whether it be for offense or defense.
“It’s a thought, but it seems like I have to get serious about something right now.”
Right now, Ross is playing defensive back and focused on that position first. His reps have increased this past week and he knows it’s time to shine.
“I’m just trying to keep the plan, the process and the bigger picture in my head,” said Ross. “It is hard not contributing more, but then at the same time it’s not.
“I’ve got good dudes playing in front of me and I’m learning from them. Hopefully next year I will get the opportunity to come out and show what I can do. The coaches know what they have in me as a player. I’m sure they have plans and expectations for me next spring.
“I’m just getting ready for that. I’m getting ready to take on the role as being the guy. That comes with time, and that time is now. It’s about focusing on the details.”
Opportunity is a key word for Ross. As a former Army All-American, friends, family and fans put their expectations on Ross’ shoulders to be a star immediately.
Not playing early and often can result in undue pressure to seek opportunity elsewhere.
“I want to grow here at USC and I’ve been doing that,” said Ross. “I like Coach (Clancy) Pendergast a lot, and I have a god relationship with Ronnie Bradford and Coach Clay Helton.
“I like the scheme we’re running, but even more importantly, I like the academics here. I feel like I’m going in a super, super good direction as far as that goes. That’s huge. I didn’t come here just for football, I came here for the education too.
“Honestly, that plays a big part. So no…. I’m not a yo-yo guy. I’m not a crier or whiner who pouts. I believe and trust in the process. I’m still technically a freshman, so it doesn’t affect me much. I could see if I had limited eligibility left, but I’m young and I’ve gotten my feet wet.
“I’ve touched the field and gained some confidence. I expect to be out there in the Rose Bowl at some point in time, especially on special teams. This hasn’t been a full year of me just sitting on the sidelines.”
Versatility has always been a strength for Ross. Playing wide receiver, cornerback and safety in high school, he is playing multiple positions in the defensive backfield for the Trojans.
“I’ve been playing both safety spots and nickel,” said Ross. “For me they’re sort of interchangeable.
“The big thing is knowing everything I can about whatever position they tell me to play. I feel like I’ve built up a good relationship with the coaches and they’ve had a chance to see who I am — my character.
“I’m building up a certain trust. I think that will come into play next year. I didn’t participate in the spring, and I think that set me back with the new coaches a bit, but this whole season they’ve been getting to trust me.
“My time is coming a little slower, but all I can do is work hard. When I get my opportunity, I expect to take full advantage of it.”