Soto talked about how she had served as an intern in the athletic department while at USC and how her early job travels took her to places like Yakima, Washington and Santa Barbara before returning to Southern California. She was also quick to joke that the Trojan winning ways of late began once she started covering the team on a regular basis "it hasn't been all you Reggie, I've had something to do with it as well".
Lindsay then invited running back coach Todd McNair to the stage and Todd began by talking about how he had played with Marcus Allen and Bruce Matthews in the NFL and how he had also been coached by Jeff Fisher so he had heard all about USC before he got here. He also added that the Trojan family has "welcomed me and my family with open arms."
McNair was asked how much of his job as a position coach in college was about strategizing and game preparation and how much was actual coaching such as tutoring players on technique, trying to improve their skill set, etc. McNair turned to Bush and said "he wasn't doing all this before I got here". The line got a good laugh. Todd then said "I try to prepare him not just for football but, if he should be so lucky, for life in the NFL as well".
A question was asked about the new coaches on staff and McNair said "they fit right in. The energy and spirit is the same, some of the technique may be different but everything else is the same."
Another question was asked about spring ball. McNair said it went very well and then he added "we had the Milkman (Bush) over here. He had a little shoulder surgery in the off-season and he milked it all the way through spring. At the end though he was trying to run tough like his coach." It was clear that McNair and Bush have a very good relationship with the way they were interacting throughout the dinner and presentation. At one point McNair faked walking off the stage after someone in the crowd starting chanting "Reggie, Reggie" and McNair said "they're already calling for Reggie. It's just like when he's back on punt returns".
McNair was asked about Chauncey Washington and he said "Chauncey is a combination of Reggie and LenDale. I hadn't seen him play before spring so I figured I had another LenDale because of his size. He went out yesterday in testing and ran a 4.47, that's rolling. He's got some elusiveness too. I don't know how they recruited all those guys together."
At this point in the dinner there was some commotion outside the front door leading into the Brookside clubhouse dining area. A group of young kids were gathered in front and were pointing inside and waving their arms trying to get Reggie Bush's attention. Reggie gave them a smile and a wave.
McNair was asked a question about Hershel Dennis and he said "they (Bush and White) couldn't get him off the field. He's a solid, well rounded back. Chauncey is a combo of Reggie and LenDale but he leans more towards LenDale. Hershel is also a combo of the two but he leans more towards Reggie."
The subject was brought up about Auburn having two running backs picked so early in the NFL draft. "That's good for our guys to see. It's good for recruits to see. Sometimes you need to sacrifice to be a part of something special."
McNair talked about Matt Grootegoed and said "He's gonna have to play linebacker in the NFL. Tampa Bay plays small linebackers, he doesn't have that big NFL style size, he's got those stubby little legs. My guess is he will excel on special teams and then at some point a linebacker will get hurt or something so they will put him in there and he'll never come out."
At that point McNair sat down and Soto invited Bush to come onstage. Reggie got a loud ovation and he smiled shyly as he greeted the crowd.
The first question Soto asked was "how much has your life changed?" and Reggie said "more autographs. I love it though, especially for kids." He was asked about his goals for next year "I just want to try and improve on everything that got us here. I want to improve my leadership, be more of an example to the young guys. I want to be more physical. I'm kind of a quiet guy so I think I need to be more vocal. I've always been kind of a leader by example rather than a rah-rah guy."
A question was asked about the Heisman Trophy "I already talked to Matt (Leinart) about it. He owes me a vote for the Heisman." When asked about Norm Chow he said "I always thought of Chow like a wise monk". The crowd buzzed with anticipation when Reggie was asked about the possibility of staying for four years at USC "As far as leaving early goes my first goal has always been to get a degree. I'm the first one in my family to go to a four-year college so that's very important to me. It will be decided next year when the time comes."
Soto talked about the five different ways Bush had scored a touchdown while at SC (running, catching, KR, PR and one TD throwing). Reggie was asked which TD was his favorite and he said "I'm always joking with Matt saying I'm one for one throwing the ball with a touchdown." He was asked about his favorite play "returning kicks. There's no set play, you just get the ball and go. You can feel the energy of the crowd waiting for something to happen." If he had to choose one play for his highlight tape Reggie said it would be the punt return against Stanford. Reggie also talked about a play against Notre Dame where he was lined up wide and Matt heard the linebacker call out "I've got #5". The play wasn't originally designed to go to Reggie but once Matt heard that "it was like, oh man, here we go….touchdown."
One of the highlights of the night came when Reggie talked about the 40 times he ran the day before when the team went through testing drills. Each player had two runs and Reggie had a 4.37 on his first try, a time that is impressive by any standard. Will Buchanon, however, cranked out a 4.28 on his first effort and Reggie said "I overheard that and I said to myself, I can't let him beat me." On his second run Reggie was timed at 4.25 "that's my nature, I'm very competitive". As a side note, Reggie said Will ran a 4.26 on his second run.
Reggie was asked if any defender gave him problems last year and McNair chuckled at the question since he clearly knew the answer Bush was going to give. Reggie looked directly at his coach and smiled "yeah, there was this one linebacker from Stanford, he was fast. I ran a deep route and he kept up with me, we didn't throw the ball my way on that play but we watched it in the films. He was one of the very few guys." Someone in the crowd asked "is that guy coming back?" and McNair responded "yes, he is."
Bush was asked about being caught from behind in the Orange Bowl. "I was bummed out. I haven't scored in a bowl game yet and that would have been perfect timing. I broke loose and the guy barely tripped me up." The subject of Pete Carroll came up and Reggie said "We have NFL type practices and coaching. That prepares you not only for the season but for the next level as well. He's a great person, he's a lot like a little kid. He's out there at practices running around, throwing passes, he's so energetic. He's probably got more energy than some of the players."
Someone in the crowd asked about playing at Oregon State last year in the "Fog Bowl" and Reggie said when they first saw the conditions it was "what the heck is this? It took us a minute to adjust but once we did it was back to SC football." Another question was asked about his punt return in that game and he said "I couldn't see. Guys were shooting out of the fog, I couldn't see them until the last minute. I never want to play in that again."
One of the last questions involved playing at the Coliseum in front of the crowd and walking out of the tunnel. Reggie said "walking out the tunnel gets me hyped. When you hear the crowd chanting your name you get chills."
Sean Kennally with Lindsay Soto