When Pete Carroll went into SEC country and lured Joe McKnight from John Curtis High School in Louisiana to Los Angeles, the young tailback with electric moves was immediately dubbed the next Reggie Bush.
On film McKnight looked the part, flashing speed, elusiveness, and a Bush-like ability to make defenders look silly as they tried to flatten the big-name ball carrier, only to come up with handful of air and a bruised ego.
At the time, McKnight was Scout's top-rated running back in the 2007 recruiting class, and considered a can't-miss prospect but fast-forward just a few years and some in the national media are already calling the USC junior an underachiever.
"I don't want to make any excuses but my freshman year, when I came in, I had a lot of pressure on me with the Reggie Bush stuff and being compared to him," McKnight admitted.
The junior tailback should have plenty of motivation after the Sporting News recently claimed that he was the biggest underachiever in the Pac-10 and added, "Still waiting for him to be the best tailback on his team, much less the conference … much less the country."
"People have a right to say it, but I take it as just people on the outside looking in, and not here doing the stuff that I do," McKnight said the criticism. "Really I just take it as motivation."
While McKnight said he isn't fazed by the talk, he is aware of it and can't wait to silence the doubters.
"A lot of stuff that people are saying is downplaying me, and I would rather hear that all year because it makes me stay on my game, and go out and play even harder to shut people up," he said.
Coming off a season in which he averaged 7.4 yards per carry, it's a stretch to call McKnight an underachiever, but a handful of injuries have kept him from being as productive as some expected.
McKnight is now healthy and has had a quick start to Fall Camp, making several big plays on the first two days of practice.
"I have a chip on my shoulder. I am going to let it be known that I have a chip on my shoulder and come in here with a whole different mindset and just try to takeover," he said. "That's how I have to be.
"It's going to be a wild, wild camp and a wild season because I am 100 % and I have already got it in my mind that I want to play and be the starter. I just have to come out there with a chip on my shoulder and lead by example. If I go out there and do all the stuff that I can do then other people will follow along."
McDonald, Perry Sidelined
As we reported earlier, USC freshman safety T.J. McDonald was held out of Sunday's practice after injuring his left ankle during the first practice of Fall Camp.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound standout from Edison high school in Fresno, twisted his ankle while doing a jump ball drill with fellow safety Taylor Mays. McDonald landed awkwardly and Mays rolled over his ankle causing the injury.
"It's an ankle sprain on T.J.," Carroll said. "It's just day-to-day on that thing."
Defensive end Nick Perry also missed practice after suffering a concussion on Saturday. Carroll didn't know the severity of the concussion but said it could be a "couple of days" before Perry was ready to return to action.
News and Notes
- Several of the top recruits in California were in attendance to watch practice on Sunday including: Dion Bailey, Jesse Scroggins, Robert Woods, George Farmer, D.J. Morgan, Trajuan Briggs and Kevin Anderson.
- Sixth-year senior Jeff Byers welcomed freshman Kevin Greene to the college game with a punishing block. Byers picked Greene off and sent him flying as Aaron Corp was scrambling in the pocket. The play drew a loud response from the players.
"He hit Kevin Greene for the first time so Kevin found out what Jeff Byers was all about," Carroll said. "As long as it was a good decision and he didn't hurt anyone it was OK."
- Hebron Fangupo and Jurrell Casey were causing havoc in the middle during the 11-on-11 drills at the end of practice. Fangupo has had a terrific start to Fall Camp and really jumped out today with his play along the line. Fangupo sacked Aaron Corp and stuffed Allen Bradford at the line, while Casey stopped C.J. Gable behind the line for a loss.
"He showed up on a number of plays," Carroll said of Fangupo. "He is a different body type. He's 320-something pounds and, with his quickness he gives us a little different dimension. We haven't had a guy that big on the defensive side for years.
"I am anxious to see if he can keep going. This has been a very good first impression."
- Not to be outdone, Malik Jackson and Everson Griffen supplied plenty of pressure off of the edge. Jackson returned to the practice field after leaving Saturday's practice with an illness and made an instant impact. He recorded a tackle for loss, quarterback sack and quarterback pressure on three consecutive plays. Griffen added a quarterback sack. Both players speed off the edge was really impressive today.
- Tailback Curtis McNeal switched his jersey number from 22 to 6. "He looks a lot bigger in that number," Carroll joked.
- Allen Bradford, Joe McKnight and Marc Tyler all had big plays during practice. Allen Bradford and Marc Tyler both burst up the middle for big gains. Tyler put on a nice move to juke a linebacker that tried to fill the hole while Bradford showed off his speed by racing past the defense untouched.
McKnight took a short pass and turned it into a big play by weaving his way through the defense.
- Pete Carroll always makes himself available for pictures and autographs following practice, and today he remarked that he was also getting plenty of advice on the quarterback competition.
"Everybody dropped their opinions on me, but I am going to wait to watch the film," he said. "I heard from a lot of fans and kids today."
- After practice Carroll talked about the positive impact that new defensive line coach Jethro Franklin has had on Everson Griffen.
"I think the intensity level of Everson Griffen is maybe 40-percent more than it was in the past," Carroll said. "His consistency just in the first couple of days is different than it used to be, and that is maturity and good leadership and direction from his coach."
- Freshman cornerback Byron Moore blocked a field goal attempt.
- Will Harris nearly intercepted a pass over the middle from Matt Barkley on the last play of the scrimmage.
JUCO transfer Hebron Fangupo has made a great first impression at Fall Camp.
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