Not So Green Gable

Not Reggie Bush. Not Marcus Allen. Not Charles White. Not even O.J. Simpson. Nobody. Even with its long, distinguished history of talented running backs, USC had never called upon a true freshman to start at tailback for a season opener. Nobody that is, until C.J. Gable got the nod against Arkansas, leading off the 2006 season.

"It was exciting," Gable said. "I mean, I was the first true freshman to start at tailback for their first college game."

Gable responded with 51 yards rushing on 12 attempts and the first Trojan touchdown of the 2006 campaign.

Though it was his first experience with big-time college football, it wasn't nerves, a lack of experience or an increase in skill level that was the toughest part for Gable to deal with.

"I was almost too excited," he said of that first game. "I really had to contain myself because I was so excited about being out there. I kept having to tell myself to relax and just play."

Gable ended up starting games against Arkansas, California, Notre Dame, UCLA and Michigan, finishing the season with 111 carries for 434 yards and four touchdowns. He ranked second on the team in rushes and touchdowns, and third in rushing yards.

His numbers probably weren't as eye-popping as he hoped they'd be, but with such a stacked backfield including three other true freshman tailbacks, simply seeing the field was a victory in its own right.

"Heading into fall camp as a freshman, I was always trying to do my best," said Gable. "I knew the position would be an open competition and the best player would play.

"I had an opportunity to show the coaches what I had," he said. "I wasn't trying to do anything but that."

Competition has become a favorite buzz word of head coach Pete Carroll. With so much talent on the roster at each and every position, having guys compete for spots is really the only way to help things shake out.

As a true freshman, Gable completely understood this. "The competition helped me a lot," he said. "I was doing well during practices, but I always knew that I had to play better than (the other tailbacks).

"I knew that if I didn't play my best every time out, there was no way I would get on the field."

With even more faces at tailback this season, Gable will again be called on to compete for a spot in the backfield. There has been so much speculation in regards to the Trojans carrying ten scholarship tailbacks into the 2007 season - How many will transfer? Will there be internal bickering? Who won't see playing time? - it seems that nobody is worried about what the players themselves feel about the situation.

"I don't even think about it," said Gable of the abundance of ball carriers. "I know what I have to do, so I'm not really worried. I guess that's for everybody else to deal with.

"We all get along real well. Chauncey (Washington) is helping me to get better all the time, telling me to do this and that. 'Keep working out. Get stronger.' He helps keep me focused."

While Gable didn't have the breakout season that he is capable of, being held to just under four yards-per-carry, he showed flashes of the talents that earned him his substantial playing time. "I think I showed people a little bit of what I can do in the game against Notre Dame. I showed how I truly play - how I really am on the football field."

In that game, Gable rushed for 107 yards on 20 carries, both career highs. And with that, Gable believes that his best is certainly still to come.

"I'm going to keep learning about the game," he said. "It's never enough. I know I can always be working and learning how to improve."

After just one year, he has already seen a marked improvement in one area. "My protections are getting much better. I never hesitate anymore. I know exactly where my responsibility is and I'm responding much faster."

Along with that increased confidence away from the ball, comes the sense of an increased confidence with the ball. Asked about what 2007 may hold in store for Gable and the Trojan offense, the sophomore quickly responded, "More big plays. Both from me and the offense in general.

"It's going to be very entertaining."

Though he still has better than two months of conditioning and practices ahead of him, C.J. Gable is no different than the average Trojan fan when it comes to talk of September 1, the Trojans' season opener.

Asked about what he was most looking forward to this season, Gable said, "I want the first game to start now. Just hurry up already."

Gable's eagerness to get the 2007 season underway is completely understandable. After all, he didn't have to wait at all to start 2006.


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