Move Those Chains

After speaking with Chilo Rachal numerous times over the spring as we put together something of a Spring Ball diary, he has become my new "favorite player." I have to admit that this was only partly due to his play on the field.

I thought that the end of Spring Ball would be the end of Trojan football until the fall, when the boys would hit the practice field again with hopes of gearing up for another National Title run. Silly me. Apparently the kids in cardinal and gold wanted to keep the spotlight shining on the USC campus throughout the summer. Normally, that would be great news as any information about USC football affects me like insulin to a diabetic. But this week, each mention of Trojan football brought negative story after negative story and has bathed the USC football program in some very unflattering light.

Forget that thing about bad apples and bunches: The recent incidents of Reggie Bush and Mark Sanchez have caused many people around the country to question the state, mentally and morally, of the USC football program. But those same people forget the other 60-some-odd guys who make this one of the true good-character teams in the nation.

With guys like Dwayne Jarrett and Brian Cushing displaying the mental toughness to overcome cross-country moves, Hershel Dennis fighting back from past, unfounded personality questions, and simply all-around good guys like Ryan Kalil and Ryan Powdrell (among countless others), this team doesn't deserve the bad rap it's getting right now due to the recent stories. In fact, the funny thing is that if this Mark Sanchez story turns out to be unsubstantiated, the team that heads into fall practice really won't have anything hanging over its head, except of course, the Rose Bowl loss.

Not Funny "Ha Ha": When it comes to the Mark Sanchez situation, I, like many others, am subscribing to the "wait and see" approach. That is, when it comes to the sexual assault allegation. In regards to the fake ID/9-0 situation, there's no need to wait and see. Now, I understand that more USC students have gained access to the 901 club with fake IDs than with real ones. The place usually loses it's "charm," if you want to call it that (the 9-0 has the charm of a back-alley dumpster), by the time most people are 21. So is it rare that underage students are drinking in there using a fake ID? No. But, are most of those students preparing to battle for the starting quarterback job on the USC football team? I'll go ahead and say no again.

Collegiate student-athletes simply must abide by different rules than the rest of the population. So many people are counting on them, some more irrationally than others, that they truly do represent a team, a university and a "family" every time they are seen in the public eye.

Nearly every athlete, collegiate and professional, will thank God for blessing them with the talent and ability to play their sport at a high level, but so few of them actually realize the pressure that talent places on them when it comes to everyday life. It's fine for them to appreciate all the good that comes along with excelling in a sport, but they can't refuse to accept the bad. Collegiate athletes simply cannot live the same life that other students are granted, but than again, most students don't get to call the Coliseum locker room "home."

Speaking of homes: From the very beginning, this Denise and LaMar Griffin housing deal stunk worse than the Kansas City Royals. I've been guardedly optimistic about everything that Reggie Bush has been saying about the situation, but I haven't been able to shake that feeling that I've always had about LaMar Griffin.

People who have known Reggie since his Pop Warner days claim that LaMar has always treated Reggie like his little project, intent on molding him into a superstar and, eventually, cashing in. Now, that isn't to say that LaMar wasn't also a good father figure (as evidenced by Reggie's Heisman acceptance speech), but it is to say that there was always some extra motivation for LaMar to get Reggie to where he is today. This was obvious, to me at least, when LaMar gave that sideline interview during a game and claimed that it was time for Reggie to "take it to the next level." Way to put a little emphasis on a college degree, LaMar.

And after all, who's to say that was even the correct decision. Don't pretend that you think I'm saying that Reggie wasn't talented enough to go pro, but LaMar obviously has something of a track record of making pretty careless decisions.

Look at the characters involved in this housing situation. Michael Michales? David Caravantes? Lloyd Lake? Would you ever choose to associate with people like this while your child was a collegiate athlete? Maybe to point them out in a line up.

Putting aside all discussion about the cost of the house or the rent that they did or didn't pay, the root question is why would the Griffins make the choice to go along with these people? I can see LaMar now, thinking about his plans for the future. "Well I'd like to go into business with somebody. But I'd like it if they had no experience with anything whatsoever. And it'd be a huge plus if we could do it in as shady a way as possible." Look, I'm not saying that anyone is guilty or innocent. I'm just saying that eating top ramen and taking the bus to work for 12 months before cashing in a multi-million dollar lottery ticket isn't such a rough thing to do. I mean, I did it for four years and never even got a shot at the lottery.

Of course, the worst part of all this is how their poor judgment will, not might, will affect so many other people. Sure, the Broadway plays "Rent" and "Movin' Out" will probably take on new meaning for the Griffins, but in reality, they'll have their new house and their new life and the NCAA collegiate-athlete conduct code will be just a memory. But for the team and the family they leave behind, the consequences are just ahead. Forfeiting games, losing scholarships, probation. Those punishments are all long shots and shouldn't really come into play for this situation. But when it comes to perception of the program and the future actions of any player on this USC football team, the Griffins have affected them in a major way.

If you are an Arkansas fan, are you telling me that the paint isn't already dry on your, "This is Our House. (But you can stay here rent free.)" sign? If you're a parent of a player on the team, will you be checking your Ralph's receipt a little more closely? Making sure they didn't give you a little too much in the way of preferred-card savings? And if you're a player on the team, you better get signed up for that Accounting 101 class, and your parents better be your first case study.

I hope the Griffins have a great life in whatever house Reggie bought for them, because when they tried to find one on their own, guilty or not, they messed up. Big time.

Maybe we should close the window: Well, it's Draft Day. Finally. This draft has come with the longest, most overblown buildup of any draft in the history of the world. Even Vietnam protestors think this is the most annoying draft ever.

The problem, of course, is that the draft is a week late this year, which gave NFL personnel an extra week to fry their brains and come up with boneheaded decisions at an astounding rate.

The closest thing I can think of when it comes to this year's draft is when you either see or say a word over, and over, and over, and over again until it loses all meaning, becomes just a series of letters and you're not quite sure if they're actually supposed to go together.

When the season ended, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Vince Young were the consensus first, second and third picks. But throughout the combine process, Chris Mortenson and his NFL cronies, at one point, decided that Jay Cutler was a better quarterback than Matt Leinart. Jay Cutler's team won 11 games in his career at Vanderbilt. Matt Leinart won 11 games in his worst season as a starter. This is why there are so many crappy teams in the NFL.

And now the Texans are set to pick Mario Williams with the number one pick, replacing Chevy Chase's decision to leave Saturday Night Live as the worst choice in recent memory. I can't even discuss this rationally. It's like a baseball team needing a starting pitcher and signing a mascot.

You know who else has good mechanics? Midas: Let's just say that the best thing about Jimmy Clausen's decision is that the whole thing is over. Let's also say that I hope someone can put him in touch with a South Bend barber.

And after residing in the world of collegiate recruiting for the past year, I can pretty well assure you that your college coach should be about reason number 15 for choosing a school, just ahead of the school's fight song and just behind its proximity to an In-N-Out.

Whoa, Nellie: When it comes right down to it, Keith Jackson's departure from the press box ranks up there with Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and the rest of the juniors and seniors leaving USC. He is and probably will be the best college football announcer I'll have the privilege of listening to. Sure, he got a little disoriented and confusing at the end, but that just made him all the more endearing. ESPN and ABC should put up a challenge to the Baby Einstein craze and release videos of Keith Jackson talking about anything. College football, fishing, politics, a splinter he got while whittling a piece of wood. There's something about his voice and the way he calls a game that always made college football even more enjoyable to watch.

"It's great to learn. Because knowledge is power": After speaking with Chilo Rachal numerous times over the spring as we put together something of a Spring Ball diary, he has become my new "favorite player." I have to admit that this was only partly due to his play on the field.

What I was most impressed by was that nearly every time I'd reach him on the phone, he was just finishing up an essay or some other assignment for school. I realize that there are many players on the team who are in great academic standing, but in this era of academic ineligibility, it was refreshing to see, firsthand, a player staying on top of his responsibilities.

Each year that I've written for this website, one unsung player has really stood out and become "my guy" for that particular year. Past recipients of this award include Eric Wright and Josh Pinkard. Just thought you'd all like to know that. Of course, it helps when they actually stay on the team.

And finally, not just another case of "boys will be boys": So many people have offered so many suggestions of how Pete Carroll can keep his players in line, but when it comes down to it, the players themselves need to take responsibility for keeping themselves in line. Pete Carroll has his own life. He has his own kids. He doesn't need 85 more of them.

Can you imagine having to parent 85 extra kids every second of every day? This isn't Monty Python's Meaning of Life. What's Carroll going to do? Build a Bio-Dome to house his players during all the time they aren't practicing, working out or going to school? I've seen that movie. It doesn't work.

These kids need to realize that all you have to do in order to get through college and keep your eligibility is not get caught breaking the law. It's seems like a pretty easy task: Don't be a felon. But college-athletes seem to have more problems with that than an O-Chem final.

Now, granted, it was probably easier of me to follow the rules during school because I was what some people might call a "nerd" (Please oh please don't tell Ricky Manning Jr). But when it comes down to it, each player knows the rules and it will be, and should be, up to each individual player to keep themselves in line.

Hopefully at this point, USC football and all of its players can finally start fading into the background for the remainder of the off-season before coming back for fall practice as model citizens.


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