Hart of a Trojan

South Hills HS defensive back Justin Hart says he hasn't been able to stop smiling since he heard the news that he had been approved as a walk-on next fall for the two-time defending national champion USC Trojans.

Hart (6-0, 160) isn't a big name recruit and you won't find four stars next to his name on any internet rankings but that doesn't mean he is any less excited about the opportunity to play football for the Trojans. His story is one of perseverance and opportunity coming together for a young man who isn't ready to stop playing the game.

"I grew up in Southern California and have been playing football for six years. I also played soccer, basketball and baseball but when I got to high school and made the varsity football in my sophomore year I thought football might be a sport that could me get somewhere. I got some PT in my first two years and then in my senior year I started as a defensive back. I played all the DB positions and it felt good because I knew how hard I had worked for it."

Justin totaled 68 tackles on the year to go along with two sacks and one interception as South Hills advanced to the CIF title game before losing to West Covina. The time came for him to start applying to colleges and Justin focused on a trio of Pac-10 schools.

"My grades were a little above average (3.5 GPA, 1080 SAT) so I was shooting for an academic school that also had a football team. I applied to USC, Stanford and Cal-Berkeley and I figured if I didn't get in to any of those places that I would just go to a school solely for academics. I got denied at first by USC. With Cal, I went to their orientation and they said 90% of the people in the room that day would get in but I guess I was one of the 10% because I didn't get in. There was a part of the Stanford paperwork that I wasn't aware of so I didn't even get their application in on time.

"I reached a point this spring where I sent a letter of intent to register at UC Riverside and they don't even have a football team. One day I walked into my government class and one of my coaches said there was someone who wanted to see me. I went into the football office and there was Coach Sarkisian from USC. It was surreal, he asked me "how would you like to play at USC?" I couldn't even say anything, I was speechless. He got a copy of my tape and my transcripts and said he would get back to me right away."

During his normal visit to the South Hills campus as part of the May evaluation period Sarkisian was told about Hart by his coaches. They talked about a quiet kid with good grades who had worked his tail off to get a starting spot and who wanted to continue playing at the next level. Sark took a quick look and said "let's try to make it happen". Fortunately, Hart had already submitted an application to the university so the timing worked out and he was able to get approved shortly before the admissions deadline.

"When I saw the e-mail which said I had been approved I didn't even know what to do," said Justin. "My friends were more excited than me because I couldn't find a way to express my joy. I hadn't even told my mom about the possibility of USC, she didn't know anything about it, so when I showed her the letter she was saying "are you serious, I can't believe this". I called my dad and he was so excited. He said he always watches SC games, going back to O.J. Simpson, he said he has always watched the Trojans.

"It wasn't real to me until I went up there last week to meet the SC coaches. I didn't expect anyone to know me but when I walked into the coaches office they all knew who I was, they were asking if they could get me something to drink, it was amazing. Since that point I've had a smile on my face and nothing brings me down."

Hart will begin working out with the team this summer as soon as he passes his physical exam. In school, he will look to major in bio-medicine with an eye on pre-med.

"I just know when you have USC on your resume so many doors are open. There are just so many opportunities when you go there and I want to have the total experience. I've heard stories about how the alumni stick together, how much fun it is at the school and how much you get out if it. I can't wait to be part of it."

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