O/NSO - "It's Here" edition

Thanks to the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll, Southern California trotted out its newest national icon Wednesday to add to such local landmarks as the Hollywood sign, Disneyland, and Venice Beach. Please welcome to fall practice the University of Southern California Trojans' football team, the pre-ranked No. 1 team in the America

The Obvious - Thanks to the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll, Southern California trotted out its newest national icon Wednesday to add to such local landmarks as the Hollywood sign, Disneyland, and Venice Beach. Please welcome to fall practice the University of Southern California Trojans' football team, the pre-ranked No. 1 team in the America.

The Not So Obvious – Oh sure, the only polls that really count are the final ones, but for pure sendoff on a beautiful SoCal Wednesday and for USC football fans everywhere, it doesn't get much better than this to start the 2004 season. Trojan fans, who haven't experienced a pre-ranked number one rating since 1979, still have three weeks to enjoy it before the national championship reality tests commence against Virginia Tech on August 28th in Landover, Md.

The Obvious – Figuring the Associated Press will shortly join the coaches in making the Trojans the unanimous preseason numero uno, it was still impressive to see the Cardinal and Gold receive 44 of 51 first-pace votes and no lower than fifth on any ballot.

The Not So Obvious – This season, the Trojans will face eight coaching members of the voting panel of the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll. Included in that list are Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, BYU's Gary Crowton, Colorado St.'s Sonny Lubick, Washington State's Bill Doba, Arizona State's Dirk Koetter, Arizona's Mike Stoops, Cal's Jeff Tedford, and Notre Dame's Tyrone Willingham. And as a bit of a honeymoon stitch, Oregon's Mike Belotti, whose Ducks won't play the Trojans this season.

The Obvious – On Wednesday morning, it was hard to tell who was more excited about the beginning of the 2004 season – the players or the coaches.

The Not So Obvious – In the afternoon session, one fan dressed in a Trojans' home jersey showed his enthusiasm by displaying a tattoo on his left bicep of Mike Williams' stunning one-handed catch from last year's campaign.

The Obvious – Morning practice with the veterans began with Pete Carroll running onto the field screaming, "Let's go, let's go!" and repeated by normally mild offensive coordinator Norm Chow. It was a mini-second later before the booming voice of defensive line coach Ed Orgeron chimed in as if the 2004 national championship Orange Bowl game was just days ahead.

The Not So Obvious – Also ready to ignite was new assistant linebacker coach Ken Norton, who told a veteran linebacker "Don't let him block you. It's personal!" Don't tell Norton he still bleeds blue and gold. If you didn't know it, you'd swear he is cardinal and gold through and through. Did we mention in one drill that Coach "O" got so excited by a penetration sack by sophomore defensive tackle Manuel Wright (6-6, 290), he "attacked" Wright with such enthusiasm that he appeared to actually startle the former Long Beach Poly behemoth.

The Obvious – All eyes were looking for wide receiver Mike Williams and it didn't take long for No. 1 to show why, if permitted, he might be the best player in America.

The Not So Obvious – Mike looked fantastic. He made some calling card catches, worked hard, and even had some fun as he pretended to tackle redshirt freshman linebacker Thomas Williams after an interception. Big Mike did have one obvious drop and a spectator smirked, "Bench him." Naturally after practice, the media crush descended on Williams like a horde of, well,…NFL agents. Williams said he thinks we will all know his final status by Aug. 11.

The Obvious – Mission Viejo quarterback and Trojan verbal Mark Sanchez spent the day at both practices.

The Not So Obvious – Sanchez seemed to be carrying a black Trojan notebook or playbook with him. With freshman quarterback Rocky Hinds and veteran Matt Cassel accompanying him, Sanchez spend the day with the all the Trojan quarterbacks. The kid was very into the whole proceedings, and one got the impression he wished he could suit up with the number one team in the nation right now.

The Obvious - The Trojans spent some time practicing on their newly installed FieldTurf.

The Not So Obvious – The O/NSO spent some time doing our own research of the surface between morning snaps and we report that the stuff is really cushy, lush, and certainly a vast improvement from the days of Astroturf. It was so soft and tender; one could take a nap on the stuff.

The Obvious – The weather was the type of day you'd want to show a recruit from Landover, Maryland – just delightful.

The Not So Obvious – Of course, this is just the exact opposite type of weather from the expected legendary Washington D.C.humidity. Coach "O" perhaps sensing that his troops needed to get some more sun yelled to some players on the sidelines, "Get out of the shade. You look like a bunch of *^&$#* leaning against that wall!"

The Obvious – As our Gary P. pointed out in this afternoon, the highly anticipated freshmen afternoon session was attended by many of the vets to view their future competition and find out what all this recruiting pub was all about.

The Not So Obvious – Being new to the game, some of the Troybabes weren't sure which direction to go from drill to drill. Strength coach Chris Carlisle had to point the way. Carlisle yelled, "If you don't know the way, we'll point to you in the right direction!"

The Obvious – One player that kept getting attention was Fremont freshman defensive lineman Thomas Herring (6-6, 315), who succumbed to the heat and had to get some fluids at "The Tent."

The Not So Obvious – Before the elements got to him, Herring put on an impressive display making his way through one of Coach Orgeron's obstacle courses. All-America senior defensive line candidate Shaun Cody was so impressed with Herring that he yelled, "I like it! I like it!".

The Obvious – Offensive guard Fred Matua has changed his number from #57 to #51,

The Not So Obvious – Matua told the O/NSO he changed because #51 was his high school number at Wilmington Banning.

The Obvious – Despite the lack of pads, the players really began to mix it up during both sessions, a sign that this is a team that can't wait for Sunday's hitting.

The Not So Obvious – So excited to be back on the field, linebacker Oscar Lua, the former Indio star, unintentionally knocked over offensive line coach Tim Davis on his way back to the huddle. Davis bounced up and good-naturedly pretended to rumble with Lua.

The Obvious – Tight end Alex Holmes looks ready to go and appears in the best shape of his Trojan career.

The Not So Obvious – In attendance Wednesday was Holmes' brother, Kalid, a freshman at Santa Ana Mater Dei. The younger Holmes is going to be "physically" walking in Alex footsteps.

The Obvious – The Trojan team managers were in mid-season form making sure that everything was ready for Troy's gridiron gladiators for both sessions.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans have gotten a number of good recruits out of the Sacramento area but none more important than co-head manager Courtney Hamilton, a grad of Sacramento St. Francis School for girls. You think you need some incentive to be a Trojan student manager? How'bout the fact they all received national championship rings from last year's super team.

The Obvious – The Trojans are looking for a replacement of injured tight end Dominique Byrd.

The Not So Obvious – Walk-on sophomore tight end Nick Vanderboom, Byrd's high school quarterback back in Minnesota, showed some good hands and made some nice gains during the day. Byrd told the O/NSO after practice that he expects to be back by the Stanford or Cal game. However, freshman Dale Thompson did some good things on Wednesday.

The Obvious – Many Trojan fans have wondered what happened to defensive end Chris Barrett, who went out last year with a dislocated left shoulder.

The Not So Obvious – Mr. Barrett, the Tustin muscleman, had a nice sack of John David Booty in the morning session. Barrett had no sacks last year in his very brief 2003 appearances.

The Obvious – Much has been made about an impending center position battle between sophomore starter Ryan Kalil and freshman Jeff Byers, the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

The Not So Obvious – During the Morning session, Kalil worked some reps at guard. Coach Tim Davis is certainly giving indications that it's possible that both Kalil and Byers may see action at the same time. Transfer Ross Burrell worked at center when Kalil was moved to left guard.

The Obvious – Oh my, is transfer offensive tackle Taitusi Lutui huge (6-6, 370).

The Not So Obvious – Stunning is the operative word in describing the kid's size and quickness. "Deuce" has a neck, calves, and thighs that may become legend in Trojan lore. During agility drills, Lutui was like on roller skates and later displayed some punishing blocking in some scrimmage action. In fact, one run block left some of the vets in awe.

The Obvious – There is no question that freshman linebacker Keith Rivers is the closest in physical first-year maturity to another former out-of-stater, three-time All-America linebacker Richard Wood from Elizabeth, New Jersey.

The Not So Obvious – In attendance for his Trojan debut was Rivers' father, who is shorter than his son but looks like a too could compete for a linebacker position.

The Obvious – Pads won't be worn till Sunday morning, a day that all diehard Trojan followers love to see…. if allowed through Goux Gate.

The Not So Obvious – At a recent WeAreSC staff dinner at the legendary Papadakis Taverna, a question was tossed out to the gathering. When the " hitting" starts, what area do you want to watch first? A vast majority quickly "voted" for first viewing of the linebackers, obviously a tribute to incoming freshman Keith Rivers and transfer Ryan Powdrell, who flashed his quickness and speed on Wednesday. Of course, the O/NSO voted for the offensive line with newcomers Deuce Lutui, Chilo Rachal, and, of course, Mr. Byers.

The Obvious – The Trojans are hoping that with the addition of All-World receiver Mike Williams, oft-injured fullback Brandon Hancock, and the return of star-crossed tight end Dominique Byrd, SC will be able to withstand the early challengers.

The Not So Obvious – At the same WeAreSC dinner, those cyberworld hacks, giddy from some vintage wine and an exotic dancer, were unanimous that an undefeated season was the expectation.

The Obvious – In order to be a national champion again, the Trojans will need the same kind of high level performance and fortuitous bounces and breaks it takes to go the distance.

The Not So Obvious – In the 2003 dream season, the recently released DVD, "The Tradition Continues", reminds Trojan fans that a number of games, like the BYU struggle in the Coliseum, were not quite as dominating at times as the final scores indicated. National championship teams normally get the bounces to go their way, or have you forgotten the early first quarter dropped touchdown pass by Michigan's Braylon Edwards in the Rose Bowl and Trojan linebacker Lofa Tatupu's "foot interception" that broke the back of the Michigan Wolverines.

The Obvious – Heisman quarterback candidate Matt Leinart has a blog website at www.mattleinart.com.

The Not So Obvious – Very nicely done, Trojan fans will find the site both interesting and entertaining. This is a very intelligent, athletic author, and lefty some very insightful things to say about his team and life in the Trojan football fishbowl.

The Obvious – Arizona coach Mike Stoops recently was quoted in a newspaper article that Wildcats are using the Trojans as their model for rebuilding the Tucson program.

The Not So Obvious – We had a chance at the Papdakis dinner outing to ask our own John Jackson, he of Trojan receiving fame and now budding broadcast star, why don't more team emulate Norm Chow's offense. Jackson said teams do, but they don't have Chow calling the plays or the type of players needed for the offense. J.J. also commented that Chow formations teams into situations like a linebacker covering Reggie Bush and then "it's over!"

The Obvious – The NCAA is passing rules to try and take the "celebrity" out of the recruiting visit.

The Not So Obvious – It will be very interesting to see if the Papadakis Taverna is ruled off-limits to Trojan recruits under these changing NCAA guidelines. There has not been a better nor effective recruiting tool than a Saturday night visit to the legendary Greek establishment in San Pedro. You don't think that owner, John, the former 1970's linebacker star, would deal in takeout orders to Heritage Hall? Heck, even restaurants can schedule road trips and don "visiting" uniforms.

The Obvious – The NCAA is also saying that recruits may no longer have their names announced or pictures shown on the giant scoreboards during their visits to the local football stadium.

The Not So Obvious - Aside from the fact this will have no effect during a recruiting visit, the NCAA would have to implode the Coliseum NOT to have a drop-jaw moment for visiting blue chippers. When you're number one in the nation and drawing the attention the Trojans have been receiving, the Coliseum turns into the Wrigley Field or Fenway Park of college football.

The Obvious – Trojan fans were relieved to see that all of the Trojan freshmen and transfers made it into school.

The Not So Obvious – There was some concern that perhaps wide receiver Derek Jones might not make it, but things turned out well for the former Poly speedster. However, the word on the street is that future Trojan recruits may have a much tougher academic time finding their way to the Coliseum grass due to the tightening of the academic screws. Stay tuned.

The Obvious – Nobody has recruited better than Pete Carroll and his staff and many believe that this is the year the coaching staff has been pointing to show the fruits of their efforts.

The Not So Obvious – A good barometer of this Trojan recruiting and on-the-field success comes from the respected Notre Dame fan publication Blue and Gold Illustrated. Irish columnist Tim Prister wrote, "In fact, it is clear that contrary to the best recruiting campaign, the Irish are butting heads more frequently with the nation's top programs. They're still going to come out on the short end more often than not when competing against Southern California, the Florida schools and a few others, especially when going head-to-head for recruits located in the warm weather states."

The Obvious – Wide receiver Whitney Lewis has withdrawn from school for the fall but plans to return to SC in the future.

The Not So Obvious – Don't blame the mother. Don't blame the coaches. Don't blame football. Don't blame the uniform number. The young man needs all the support USC fans can give, but the responsibility lies squarely now on Whitney Lewis. Yes, we have heard the dyslexia stories, but Notre Dame's Rudy also had the same challenge. Perhaps Whitney will mature into the Trojans' version of Rudy. All it takes is the will, desire, and motivation, but sometimes finding those qualities is like trying to beat triple coverage.

The Obvious – The loss of Lewis and the Williams' eligibility questions has opened the door for freshmen receivers Dwayne Jarrett, Fred Davis, and Derek Jones.

The Not So Obvious – While all three had their moments on Wednesday afternoon, the O/NSO feeling is that New Jersey's Dwayne Jarrett is really something special. How special? It says here that with a year of weights, this kid could make fans forget Mike Williams. It appears his potential is that good.

The Obvious – The USC media department has released for public consumption their 388-page football media guide.

The Not So Obvious – More yearbook than traditional media guide, it has almost everything a Trojan fans could ask about the past, present, and future. Of course, upon close inspection, we again notice there are no head shots of the heralded freshmen along side their bios. It could probably be justified except Pete Carroll loves to play his freshmen, and it certainly doesn't take a Tommy Trojan to figure out a number of the Troybabes figure to see 2004 action. Oh well, there is always 2005.

The Obvious - The Trojans honored the first Wild Bunch with a statue that was once located in the back of Heritage Hall.

The Not So Obvious – Between Wednesday's practices, it was noticed that the "new" statue of the Wild Bunch is located in the front left of Heritage Hall. The statue has mini replicas of Charley Weaver, Bubba Scott, Al Cowlings, Tody Smith, and Jimmy Gunn. A nice touch was a plaque about each player below his figure.

The Obvious – The Trojans will don their pads for the first time in 2004 on Sunday morning.

The Not So Obvious – There is nothing like the first day of pads, and it will certainly be interesting to watch the heralded freshmen group clash muscles with the heralded veterans. Now there can't be anything more exciting at this point of the year than watching the debut of ballyhooed freshman lineman Keith Byers clash wits with Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson. Of course, Keith Rivers going head-to-head with tailback LenDale White sounds like a John Williams' football symphony to any Trojan fan.

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