Gerard Martinez | USCFootball.com

2 days to go in Michael Pittman's spring

Getting close to the finish line for a Trojans team that's pretty much full-go on defense and Sam Darnold and his young receivers on offense with the Spring Game Saturday now no longer a game becauseof numbers.

Michael Pittman Jr. has one goal piled on another and another and another this spring.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound sophomore wide receiver who has earned the most coaches' praise for his spring work says in one breath that he's working on his "route-running, catching the ball, going up for it and getting in and out of my breaks."

A lot of that comes after practice when he often stays so late there's no one around to interview him.

Tuesday, there was. Make that eight media who waited Michael out after more than a half-hour "on the Juggs machine and then doing footwork," he says. But don't ask how many balls he caught. That's top-secret. He's not saying. "Lots," is all he'll cop to.

It's not just Michael, of course. Last year's quartet of departing receivers did much the same. As does this year's leader, junior Deontay Burnett. So Michael isn't inventing the wheel here. But he may be pushing it a bit harder.

He also may be more capable of expressing where he wants to see this go. Because his spring goals do not stop with those first four.

He wants to "make my plays, jump over corners (something he tried last week) and score TDs," he says, which is why he's looking ahead to Saturday's Spring Game scrimmage when the defense will play it straight and if you can beat a guy, you may be able to get it to the end zone.

Just like his dad, Michael Sr., did as a 10-year NFL running back and two-time Super Bowl participant with Arizona, Denver and Tampa Bay, where he won a 2002 title. But as big a deal as it is to have a dad who's been there, done that, Michael says the best thing his dad, a laid-back football father ever did, was to remind him that: "Nothing bad ever happened to someone who went out every day and gave it his all."

Which is what Michael did even before he got to high school: "I just decided I wanted to be the hardest-working guy," he says. His dad, his mom and his step-dad have all been great motivators for him, Michael says, but his goal has been for them not to have to worry about that. He'll motivate himself, thank you very much.

He wants to be "a tough, physical, go-for-the-football receiver," that teams look at as the possession guy because deep down, he feels he has the speed to beat people deep. "I feel like I have."

His special teams work last season, as the only one of the five freshman receivers not to redshirt, has been a big help, just as his early high school background as a "running back, outside linebacker and safety."

He learned two things on special teams, he says: how "violent" this game can be at this level and "how to make full-speed decisions, as Coach [John] Baxter says."

The best deal about all this is his chance to run routes for and catch passes from Sam Darnold, "the best quarterback in college football," Michael tells people when they ask him what it's like to play with a guy favored to win the Heisman. And they ask him "every day," he says.

"Sam likes to throw 'snaps' to big receivers," Michael says, as the biggest of USC's crew. Sam also is not afraid to tell him where to go and when to get there.

"Sam is Sam," he says, "he's direct . . . he'll say 'go two steps instead of three' . . . he can tell you in like three words."

Which gets Michael to his final goal. Developing the kind of chemistry, the trust that Sam had with JuJu Smith-Schuster last season --and then Deontay.

"That's the most important thing," Michael says.

Although getting your coach to notice is pretty far up on that list, as well. When asked for the most impressive young receivers, Clay Helton says: "Michael Pittman, Tyler Vaughns and Velus Jones have really jumped out at me," and there's Michael in the No. 1 spot again. And then Clay says that "Cary Angeline has really stood out," of the redshirt freshman tight end.

Asked if Michael has to become that sure-handed, physical guy who makes the third-down catch you absolutely have to have, Clay says: "I hope so . . . with his special teams work and as a role player, you can see his confidence now."

Indeed you can. But as Michael says, it's a confidence born of coming out every day and practicing absolutely as hard as he possibly can. 

FOOTNOTED 

Down to just three guards and three tackles on offense, USC will go with more of a situational scrimmage than a Spring Game Saturday at noon at the Coliseum. "Like last year," Clay said, "very practice like." Fans should park in Lots 4 and 6, USC says  . . . One of those six linemen left is Servite alum Clayton Johnston who has been running at a tackle spot the last week and playing against Uchenna Nwosu and Porter Gustin is getting the 6-foot-6, 290-pounder who'd like to be 295-300, better, he says . . . One new look USC has installed on offense, Clay says, is a three-wide, two-back set with Vavae Malepeai as the lead back who can also run it and catch it from that formation . . . Asked if anyone will be wearing No. 55 next season, Clay said no one has asked to wear it and the way it looks now, no one will be wearing No. 55 . . . Back for a bit of action were running backs Aca'Cedric Ware and Ronald Jones . . .  Tyler Petite, Jackson Boyer and Isaiah Langley were held out with hamstrings . . . Isaiah also sadly lost his mom, Shanika Dancy-Martin, to cancer last week and a gofundme page has been set up for her here: https://www.gofundme.com/homegoing-celebration-for-my-mom  . . . For play-by-play of today's practice, check out: TUESDAY SPRING DAY 13 GHOST NOTES: http://www.scout.com/college/usc/forums/1017-the-peristyle/15512719-tuesday-spring-day-13-ghost-notes

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


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