Shoemate back in action

USC may have been hosting their skills camp on Saturday afternoon, but arguably the most talented skill-position player in the class of 2008 was on display farther south, as D.J. Shoemate and his Servite Friars took on seven other teams in a passing tournament held at Dana Hills High School.

Shoemate's presence alone created a palpable buzz as players, coaches and fans alike could be heard raving about everything ranging from his ability, to his size, to his quick comeback from injury.

Servite Head Coach Troy Thomas marveled about how Shoemate was out on the field performing at such a high level in just his fourth week back from a foot injury that sidelined him for the entire 2006 season.

Shoemate commented on that as well. "I feel that I'm coming back real strong," he said.

When asked where he felt he was at in terms of playing speed and performance, Shoemate said, "I feel a lot more comfortable now. I'd say that I'm at about 90 to 95 percent. But I don't feel that anybody is 100 percent at this time of year and I feel that I'm hanging with the guys who have been playing year round. Right now I'd say I'm about where everyone else is because I'm definitely keeping up with everyone else."

Reflecting on the injury, Shoemate said, "It was a heartbreaking moment for me. It was so hard because I'm very physical and very competitive. I love this sport; it's a beautiful sport."

Of course, sitting out the season gave Shoemate plenty of time to reflect on the game, and more importantly, his role in it. "Trying to come back was such a mental struggle. In getting through it, I felt all eyes were off of me and it enabled me to gain a new perspective. I started to settle down and focus on the team more than myself.

"I really wanted to be a vocal leader when I was injured, and now I'm trying to be both a vocal and physical leader now that I'm back."

As evidenced by his effort Saturday morning, he his most certainly back. "This season, I'm going to step it up in every aspect of the game," said Shoemate. "I want to be the guy that everyone can depend on and not have to worry about whether or not I'll be there on this play. I want to be ready for every play."

Asked which positions he would be playing this upcoming season, Shoemate said, "If they need me at safety, I'll play safety. If they need me at defensive end, I'll play defensive end. If they need a quarterback, I'll play quarterback. That's the kind of leader I want to be."

While he may end up at several positions on the defensive side of the ball, Shoemate can probably pencil himself in for a big year at wide receiver on the offensive side. He'll line up in the backfield as well, but there is no stopping this kid when he sets up out wide. His combination of a tight end's body with a wide receiver's athletic ability makes him an absolute coverage nightmare for opposing defensive backs.

"My size is definitely a strength at wide receiver," he said. "Being 6'1" and 200 pounds plus is an advantage over just about every cornerback and safety."

But Shoemate's size is balanced by his outstanding speed and athleticism. "Also, I'm a fast guy," he added, "a quick guy. And I'm very physical."

As for what he needs to work on this season, Shoemate said, "I'm trying to work on making crisper cuts, running better routes and reading a little bit more. I want to lead my team in every aspect of every position as well, so I'm trying to learn all the different positions. It's not easy."

Asked about where his early commitment to USC stands at this point, Shoemante needed just one word. "Strong," he said.

"I'm a Trojan. I've been a Trojan for over a year now. Nothing's changed. I love being a Trojan and I love going out and seeing the guys compete. My stance on it right now is to go out, play football and enjoy my senior season. I want to go out there with that mentality and play at an elite level."

Shoemate is so confident in his commitment to the Trojans that he doesn't plan on making any visits to other schools. "I'm not going to take any trips," he said. "I'm solid."

This is the second time in two seasons that Servite has produced a very early USC commitment who understands the importance of building relationships with other potential recruits. Asked whether he would be taking on the same role that former teammate Chris Galippo stepped into last year, Shoemate said, "I can definitely see myself becoming a recruiting leader for this class. I've put out several calls to players all over the country and I love building that relationship between guys.

"Even if they don't come to USC, I know I've built that relationship and I can go across that line and talk with them and have a good relationship and conversation. Interacting with them is a great thing, especially when you go out to different events and you see them there. It's a great experience."

Shoemate has no expectations as to what position he'll play when he suits up for the Trojans as a freshman in 2008. "If they want me to play wide receiver, I'll play it," he said. "It's the same thing with my team right now.

"I'm not really focused on the individual out here. I'm focused on my team and trying to help us win."


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