At a time when most freshmen should be hitting the wall, newcomers Nickell Robey and Robert Woods are breaking right through it.
Robey, the diminutive cornerback from Frostproof, Florida, was named starting nickel back by USC coach Lane Kiffin on Monday and could be positioned for even bigger things.
"We're actually trying to spend time to figure out where we're not going to use him because everyone's fighting for him," said Kiffin, pointing to possible duties as a starting corner and punt returner along with several other roles on special teams. "He can't obviously do all those things, even though he thinks he can. So we've got to figure out where we're going to use him."
Though Robey had ties to Lane and his father, defensive guru Monte Kiffin, after camping at Tennessee last summer, it wasn't clearly if he would ever end up a Trojan. His mother died of a massive heart attack shortly after Nickell signed his letter of intent, but his commitment never wavered.
"No, I had no second thoughts at all," Robey said. "I told Coach wherever he's going, that's where I'm going. No matter what the cause is, I'm all in for him and I'm here."
Now, Robey is poised to deliver the biggest impact of any first-year player on defense. He credits rooming with senior Shareece Wright during fall camp for bringing him up to speed.
"He's a great guy, positive and he gives you a lot of credit that's due," Robey said. "He lets you know when you mess up and he lets you know when you're right. He's just been a big help to me."
Perhaps Robey's most impressive trait has been the ability to match up with larger receivers despite being listed at 5-foot-8 and weighing just 160 pounds.
"I don't think about size," he said. "I feel like I can play with anybody no matter what size.
"I mean I have a lot of heart and a lot of toughness and I'm a smart player, so size ain't a factor."
The same could be said for Woods, the former Gardena Serra standout, whose spectacular catches have become an almost daily occurrence.
Kiffin compared Woods to Steve Smith and Keary Colbert. He's even pledged to change Woods' jersey number from 13 to Smith's 2 next season after senior running back C.J. Gable departs.
"It's great to be compared to those guys," said Woods, noting that both are recognized on murals in the locker room for earning All-America honors.
The main source for those comparisons has been work ethic, with Woods doing everything possible to master Kiffin's pro-style offense.
"I think what helped me was living not too far (away), I could come up here for practice or throwing sessions in the summer," Woods said. "That helped me a lot so I could get to know some of the plays and read some of the corners. It just, once I got to the field, I already knew what they were doing and it just helped me during camp.
"Just growing up, I've always had to put in the extra work. I always had to compete. I had (2011 recruit) George Farmer on my team and we'd compete and compete. Translate it here and have to try and get the starting spot or at least contribute to the team. If you want to do that, you have to put in extra work."
After posting a 50-yard kick return and 35-yard punt return during Saturday's scrimmage, Woods seems ticketed for special teams duties.
With scholarship reductions coming over the next few seasons, he would even be willing to try his hand at defensive back.
"I thought about being like the opposite of Charles Woodson, how he played receiver a little bit," Woods said.
-LB Devon Kennard (toe) was limited in practice. Kiffin said he would like to name a starting middle linebacker after Saturday's third preseason game.
-S Marshall Jones (groin) returned to practice and intercepted a Mitch Mustain pass.
-DE Nick Perry (high ankle sprain) is no longer wearing a walking boot. Kiffin said he was hopeful Perry would be available for the season opener at Hawaii.
-OL Butch Lewis (groin) did not return to practice Monday. Kiffin said he could be back in about a week.