A year ago as an early entry freshman recently arrived from his native Nigeria and fresh out of Serra High, Oluwole Betiku didn't have a clue about the one position USC was hoping for him to play.
Not so much because of the complexity of the Trojans' edge rusher Predator position but more because it was football. He'd boxed and played soccer, but the nuances of the college game at the level USC plays it eluded him.
Sure, he was all-everything at Serra with more than a dozen national and California awards after a 70-tackle, 28-sack season where the 6-foot-3, 250-pound was just way too athletic for the high school kids trying to block or run away from him. Now he's more athletic and stronger, at the same 6-3 and 250, but much more flexible after a year of Pilates and yoga and "trimming down my midsection," he says.
Back in high school, "It was 'see the ball, get the ball'," Wole' says with a big smile at the basic nature of the game. And so he did. Now that's the end game but in Clancy Pendergast's defense, it takes "understanding your assignment" to get there.
"The longer I go here, the easier it gets," he says of both football and life in the good old US of A here in LA. More of that later.
But first he had to get up to speed in football. Which is why Saturday's Spring Game activities (12 noon, Pac-12 Networks, ESPNLA 710) at the Coliseum matter so much. Oluwole will be stepping in with the first team defense for the injured Porter Gustin in a much different role from last fall when he made brief cleanup appearances in five games with no tackles.
"Here, everyone has a job to do," he says. "You want to be a superhero but you have to understand your relation with the rest of the players."
For this spring, Wole' is being asked to understand the playbook at two positions. When Tayler Katoa went down with a knee injury at inside linebacker, Olajuwon Tucker moved to the inside and Betiku was asked to pick up the SAM spot at outside linebacker as well behind Uchenna Nwosu. It shows the interrelated impact from one position to another for a USC roster not completely full yet, at least in a mature, ready-to-play way across the board.
"I see myself more as a Predator," Wole' says, "you get to rush the passer . . . I'm more comfortable there."
At the SAM spot, "you're more of a middle linebacker playing at the end of the line of scrimmage." So that's taking a bit more doing. "My teammates help me," he says, so that "when I see the formation, I know what's coming."
At times, Wole' has done some teaching of his own for his teammates. Like how wonderful life is here with things like "faucets and running water . . . and how when you go into a room and turn the light on and it goes on," he says. "I love the light." And the ability to flip a switch without having to go get a gallon of gas to put into a generator.
"And then you go into the shower and the water comes out," Wole' says. But he doesn't push that story too hard, he says. "A lot of our guys have have pretty much spent their lives in LA . . . we're all brought up differently."
One big difference, Wole' says, is "there is no Africa time here. When they say 1 p.m., you can't come at 2." And yes, Wole' says, that's "not a stereotype" about his homeland. That's just the way it is. And it's been an adjustment as well.
So which is more of an adjustment for him -- life in LA or football?
"Football is life," Wole' says. It's his life now. "I approach life in America as football."
Connor Murphy, at 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds now, shares the backup dual responsibilities with Betiku, learning both spots where there are now just four players for the two positions and multi-training a must behind Uchenna Nwosu and Gustin. "We're focused on both positions," says Connor, whose personal focus has been "to play long and strong" utilizing the leverage from his length and strength. "Physically, I'm a lot stronger in my lower body and the game has really slowed down for me. I see into the backfield much better now." . . . Officially out for Saturday: TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe (shoulder), DB Isaiah Langley (groin), WR Pie Young (groin), WR Deontay Burnett (head bump), OLB Gustin (hand), OL Andrew Vorhees (back), TE Tyler Petite (hamstring) and OG Viane Talamavao (biceps) . . . the talk of giving corner Jack Jones some time on offense this spring ran into the reality of the kinds of injuries that had USC playing 6-4 safety/nickel slot cover guy Jamel Cook at corner because of his coverage skills. Jack will have to wait until the fall when help will arive in the secondary, Clay says.
SPRING GAME/SCRIMMAGE/PRACTICE INFO
*** There will be a number of on-field presentations during Saturday's scrimmage/practice: the 2016 seniors will be awarded their Rose Bowl rings, then the 2017 early-entry freshmen football players will be introduced and finally, the 2016-2017 USC men’s basketball team will be honored after winning a school-record 26 games including two in the NCAA tournament. Several fans will be selected to participate in a punt catching contest.
*** Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Los Angeles will broadcast the scrimmage live from noon to 2 p.m. PT and it also will air live on ESPNLA 710 Radio.
*** Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the gate (or online on USCTrojans.com). Children ages 12 and under are free. Gates open to the public at 11 a.m. PT. Parking is $15 in Lots 4 and 6 on the south side of the Coliseum. Fan information is available at USCTrojans.com/springgame