"I can't express how eager I am to return in spring ball," said Hancock. "I want to experience being part of the team again. It broke my heart to have to be a spectator last year watching my teammates on the field. The coaches always try to keep your spirits up by telling you that you're still part of the team but it's a totally different level of intensity when you're not out there every day."
Hancock had experienced his share of setbacks earlier in his Trojan career including a sprained ankle which forced him to miss the first three games of the 2003 season and a sprained left knee that kept him out of the final two regular season games that year. He had also missed the previous spring ball after wrist surgery. Nothing, however, prepared him for what he went through last year.
"It got started during the Rose Bowl, that's actually when I hurt my ACL but I didn't know about it until mid-March. I was one of those rare guys that was able to be functional with a torn ACL, it wasn't until I had some soreness in the knee before spring ball that we finally discovered the problem. Had I known about it in January I probably could have had the surgery right away and I could've played last year.
"Right around the time of the knee surgery I suffered the ruptured pectoral tendon. I was doing some bench press reps in the weight room and it was just a freak accident. I had actually just set a new personal best with 435 pounds, it was a real clean rep so I tried to go up to 445 and as I lowered the bar I felt a tearing in my chest and I heard a sound that was like ripping cardboard. I looked down and saw my pec roll up like a curtain, guys like Shaun Cody saw it happen and they said it was pretty gross. It didn't hurt that bad at first but eventually it swelled up and the whole arm was black and blue.
"For about a month I had a hard time getting around because I had this huge leg brace but I couldn't use crutches due to the pec injury so I had to ride around in a little cart to get to classes and everything. It was really demoralizing. It makes you value your health when you go through something like that."
At 6-1, 235 with a combination of size, speed and athleticism, Brandon was long known as a workout warrior who took great pride his nutrition and training. He had first caught the attention of recruiting fans when he put up incredible numbers at the Nike Camp and feature stories in magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Muscle Magazine International only enhanced his reputation.
On the field, he became an effective weapon as a Trojan not only as a blocker but also as a pass receiver out of the backfield. He started two games as a freshman and took over the starting position full-time as a sophomore. Despite missing several games due to injury, Brandon provided several key plays during the drive for the national title including a 33-yard touchdown catch on a 4th down play against Arizona State and a 52-yard touchdown catch against Washington.
While sitting out the 2004 season Brandon watched as Lee Webb and David Kirtman filled in for him and he was proud of the way both stepped up in his absence.
"I was so happy for those guys. Lee, he waited for this opportunity and paid his dues. He's got to feel 100% content with what he did. He was a great vocal leader and the fans got behind him so much when he was out there. David did a lot of stuff that I had done with catching a lot of balls out of the backfield. It shows that I can't just expect to waltz back in there and expect to get my starting position back."
Hancock said he doesn't expect any real changes with his role in the new offense under the direction of co-offensive coordinators Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.
"I like to block but I'd also like to get the ball some. Maybe some misdirection runs or some of the same types of patterns they run with the tight end. It's tough when you touch the ball so much in high school and then you don't get to as much in college. I just need to show them in spring ball that I haven't lost my speed."
Brandon says he is healthy now and ready to prove himself on the field although he is now more aware of how important the rehab process is when trying to come back from a serious injury.
"I'm feeling real strong. I've re-worked my starts and my burst is back, my vert is almost back too so that tells me my explosiveness is coming back. My body fat is at 7% and I'd even like to increase that a little bit. I've been working so much on flexibility, a lot of cycling, yoga, stuff like that. I've changed my training to the point where I don't worry so much about maxing out, I concentrate more on increased reps with lighter weights. I don't want to be heavier because I don't want to jeopardize my speed.
"I had a setback during my rehab when I tried to come back too soon. The main problem was with my knee because I felt good after six months and I bit off more than I could chew. It's normally a twelve month rehab and I ended up having to take a little time off and be more cautious. The coaches had to kind of reign me in and put parameters on me because that's the type of person I am. Some people say I try too hard but I just try to make the most out of every situation. Now I'm twelve months out from the surgery and I have to ice the knee and stretch it a lot but for the most part it feels good."
Brandon said it was hard to deal with his injuries but he got his inspiration in how to handle his situation from former teammate Malaefou MacKenzie.
"I learned so much about how to deal with adversity by watching someone like Malaefou. He was a great mentor, to see what he went through and the way he handled it just laid the groundwork for me."
MacKenzie was just one of the older teammates Hancock became close to as a freshman and others were fellow running back Sunny Byrd and kicker David Newbury. He lived in an off-campus apartment with Byrd and Newbury as a sophomore and now lives with Byrd in Manhattan Beach.
"I had lived downtown for a while with Brandon Hance but I didn't like it that much. Sunny offered me a room down here at his house and it's a block from the beach with a weight room and a spa. It's great for me because Manhattan Beach is a real fitness oriented community and I can cycle on the boardwalk or run the sand dunes. You put in longer hours by the commute to SC but it forces me to get my work done. You can't just go back to your apartment to take a nap between classes like a lot of students do. Sometimes I'll be there so late at night that I'll end up sleeping in the library or the locker room."
That is typical of the drive and dedication that Hancock has shown both on and off the field at USC. He is planning to graduate after next season with a degree in communications and public relations with a minor in business and he plans to take classes toward a masters degree during his senior year. His eventual plans are to pursue a career in law after his football playing days are over but for now Brandon is focusing on spring ball and finally returning to the field after a long and tedious process.
"I look at this trial I went through as a character builder. Whatever doesn't kill you just makes you stronger."