This is it, the time when it's become a business. For some of these Trojans, the first day of the next phase of their football lives. And their professional lives.
So you'd think it would be all about business. Only it's not.
Even the business part, like when Chad Wheeler got together with his agent, the famed Leigh Steinberg making his "comeback" and Leigh's son, Matt, a USC alum, after Wednesday's Pro Day at USC. Chad is the first USC player to sign with Newport Beach-based Steinberg but as the group got together to talk over the day, it felt more like a family gathering. More of a well-wishing and a chance for the families of the other 14 USC hopefuls to come by . . . and be hopeful.
Chad, who worked out with USC's quartet of offensive linemen -- Zach Banner, Damien Mama and Jordan Simmons -- had lost weight since the Combine. He's down to 296. Damien had gained eight pounds, up to 342 while moving faster. Zach had stayed the same -- 353 -- and done so for three weeks and for Zach, who has been up and down in his career, that's something he wanted to show the NFL scouts. And Jordan, who hasn't gotten to throw his weight around much because of one injury after another and then got an NCAA turn-down of his request for a sixth year of eligibility because of all the injuries, came in at 339 and carried it well, as he always has.
The last hurrah for a group that has been so much a part of USC football these last three, four or five years. And now that they're not USC players, you get to see them more as people, young men off to find their place in the world and hopeful about how things turn out for them.
"This is a dream of mine," Zach said, proud of his weight maintenance and his Combine results so much so that he just did the drills, letting his Combine numbers stand. Forget the 40 time, "Weigh in and do the drills," his agent, Joe Panos told him, "my 10-yard split about the same as anyone's," he said. "Weight is the only issue with me."
He's very proud of his USC career. "I played great in college," Zach says. But of the NFL, he's a bit more circumspect now. "It's a blessing if I get drafted," he says. Then he repeats it later. "If God blesses me to be drafted."
It's not a given, Zach knows it, for most of them. Like Chad, the last word you hear from Zach and Damien is "thank you."
Chad and Damien are still battling injuries a bit -- Chad a wrist and Damien a torn pec -- that limited them in the bench press but both felt they'd improved all their movement skills including the 40, where Damien lowered his 5.85 to 5.7. Not great but moving in the right direction.
But as they move on, the USC O-linemen group at least had college careers to look back on with lots of Trojan starts. Two wide receivers who came in for two years did not. But both showed up big-time Wednesday.
De'Quan Hampton got the day off to a big start with word coming out of the McKay weight room that he'd killed it. "I did," De'Quan, measuring in at 6-foot-3 and 223 pounds, said of his 21 reps of 225 pounds on the bench, his 41.5-inch vertical and his 11-0 broad jump. That vertical would have ranked him fourth overall at the combine and second among receivers. His 11-0 broad jump would have ranked 11th overall at the Combine and sixth among receivers. A case could be made that, except for his playing time at USC, De'Quan absolutely should have been invited to Indy.
Did he know he was going to kill it, DeQuan was asked. "Most definitely," he said, not bothered that he ran 4.66 with a bit of a hamstring pull that he says isn't serious and won't limit the workouts he has coming up with teams.
He wasn't alone. His Trojan teammate from the JuCo ranks, Isaac Whitney, did the same with a blazing 4.41 time in the 40, faster than Adoree Jackson's 4.42 at the Combine. That would have been the fourth-best Combine time for a wide receiver and 11th best overall. For the 6-2, 204-pound Whitney, who also did well catching the ball, those were the numbers he needed to get noticed. It didn't hurt that he posted the second-best vertical (36 inches) and second-best broad jump (10-6) behind Hampton of all the USC hopefuls.
Again, while their USC careers may not have been what they'd hoped for, as Isaac said, he has a USC degree to take with him and if they make it, they would not be the first USC players to have a more successful career in the NFL than in college.
One who might, just because of its brevity as a single-season USC grad student transfer, is Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, who at 331 pounds, had a great day on his feet doing the drills after benching 33 times. Pete Carroll was there to watch him, he told Shaun Cody, who thinks Stevie's career in the NFL will exceed his. "He's one of those guys who won't get injured and play 12 years in the league," Shaun said. When asked by Carroll if the Rose Bowl Defensive MVP could stop the run at nose, Cody said "absolutely he can."
Didn't get to talk to Justin Davis, who didn't get to do any work at the Combine but did see him post a 4.49 in the 40 and that's a time that will help sell the multi-talented running back and all-around good guy to get someone in the league to pick him. Nice job by Justin.
And then it was time to say goodbye to two of the Trojan family's favorites -- JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree'. Neither needed to run or test again, although JuJu did the cone drills. But both felt they did fine at the Combine, especially JuJu, whose 4.52 time in the 40 shot down the talk that he'd be lucky to run a 4.6. "He's way faster than he's given credit for," Adoree' said.
JuJu says the fact that he's getting this going at the age of 20 is a good thing. Even if he ends up in Buffalo, for example, that second contract gets here sooner and like Robert Woods, he could end up in LA next. Adoree' had a different take a bit, "growing up a Rams fan," he said -- "the St. Louis Rams." Now he gets them in his second home town. And they'd be a great destination. But not one he was focused on.
One intriguing part of the equation for Adoree' came Wednesday when he talked with Pete Carroll, "the first coach to ask me about playing both ways," he said. And he was intrigued by the thought of it after a morning of DB drills and catching punts of every kind.
But while JuJu, after leaving campus to train the last month was happy to be back home -- "I felt really comfortable out there," he said. His focus on his NFL prep work "On my 40 time," he said, worked out. The rest of it was there for scouts to see, especially something he didn't always get credit for because of his ability -- "my football IQ." JuJu is right about that. JuJu gets it. Always has.
About leaving early, JuJu said "Half of me thought I should leave, half of me thought I should stay." That he's leaving this USC program in good shape made that an easier call.
Not as easy a call was which quarterback he'd like to have throwing to him in the NFL? Tom Brady, of course, he mentioned first. But then on reflection, he thought maybe Aaron Rodgers would be the guy. "Because Sam [Darnold] is a lot like Aaron Rodgers in his scrambling [and accuracy]," he says.
Adoree' didn't need to talk about his return to campus. He hasn't left. He had a class Tuesday and one coming up later Wednesday. "Orson Welles' films," he says of the one class. The other is in Stevie T's field -- gerontology. With the 12 units he's getting this spring, Adoree' will need to pick up just 12 more for his degree and that's much more manageable with an NFL schedule, he figured.
The mention of Orson Welles gets into some of his great work. "We've gone over three of his films," he says as we wonder if they'll talk about his great radio work and classic "War of the Worlds," show. He doesn't know but says "Don't spoil it for me." He doesn't want to miss all the fun.
And when a USC SID person calls out "one more question," Adoree' makes it clear he'll wait until the last question is asked and enjoy doing so. But he has to move on. The NFL Network is waiting.
And then, after he gets his wisdom teeth out next week -- "The first chance I've had in college . . . I haven't had an off-season," Adoree' says -- he'll be back at it the first week of April.
"It's in God's hands," he says of his own future.
Of the USC program he's leaving: "They'll be in good hands -- they're still on that streak."
USC PRO DAY PARTICIPANTS/RESULTS
(Height, weight, 40 time, bench press reps, vertical jump, broad jump)
*** OL Zach Banner: 6-8, 353 (no results, let his Combine numbers stand)
*** RB Justin Davis: 6-0, 201, 4.49, no bench, 30 VJ, 9-7 BJ
*** WR De'Quan Hampton: 6-3, 223, 4.66, 21 reps, 41.5 VJ, 11-0 BJ
*** DB Adoree' Jackson: 5-10, 186 (no results, let his Combine numbers stand)
*** OL Damien Mama: 6-4, 342, 5.70, 22.5 VJ, 8-1 BJ
*** TE Taylor McNamara: 6-5, 251, 4.75, 14 reps, 32.5 VJ, 9-9 BJ
*** DB Leon McQuay III: 6-1, 197, no 40, 12 reps, 33 VJ, 10-2 BJ
*** LB Quinton Powell: 6-2, 193, 4.75, 14 reps, 32 VJ, 9-9 BJ,
*** WR Darreus Rogers: 6-1, 218, 4.90, 10 reps, 29 VJ, 9-5 BJ
*** OL Jordan Simmons: 6-4, 339, 5.20, 23 reps, 25 VJ, 8-3 BJ
*** LS Zach Smith: 6-1, 209 (no results)
*** WR Juju Smith-Schuster: 6-1, 213, only did jumps -- 33.5 VJ, 10-3 BJ
*** DL Stevie Tu'ikolovatu: 6-1, 333, 5.28, 33 reps, 26 VJ, 7-11 BJ
*** OL Chad Wheeler: 6-7, 296, 5.34, 13 reps, 24 VJ, 8-9 BJ
*** WR Isaac Whitney: 6-2, 204, 4.41, 12 reps, 36.5 VJ, 10-6 BJ