Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
During his time at Troy, redshirt junior safety Drew McAllister has become synonymous for his trademark long, brown locks of hair. But just days before the most important fall camp in his USC career was set to open, the Danville, CA, native decided it was finally time to go with a different look and opted for an impromptu buzz.
"I cut it all off because it was time to go," McAllister said of the symbolic move. "I've had it [long hair] for a couple years and I am just ready for a change."
Change is the operative word when it comes to the newly clean-cut safety. After a breakout freshman season in 2008 (in which he led the team with three interceptions) just about everything that could go wrong has for McAllister (picture by OC Register) over the last two years.
In 2009, McAllister was productive serving as Taylor Mays' backup at strong safety (15 tackles and one start) despite playing with a sprained left hip that forced him to miss three games. By spring 2010, the former Monte Vista HS standout could no longer put on a brave face and was forced to undergo immediate surgery to repair a torn labrum in the same hip.
While he returned for the Trojans' first two games in 2010 after six months of grueling rehab, it was evident to those who had watched the hard-hitting McAllister during his freshman season that something was still off. Just days before the team was set to play Minnesota, the redshirt junior received word that he would require season-ending surgery to fix torn cartilage in his right hip.
"That [going through two surgeries in less than a year] just taught me to stay focused and to be humble," said McAllister. "You really are blessed if you're healthy."
Amazingly, No.19 is once again back on the practice field competing for the starting strong safety spot opposite junior T.J. McDonald this fall. While McAllister is still getting re-acclimated to the grind of fall camp, the man on the mend appears to have changed in more ways than just his outward appearance.
"It's definitely been a long road and it's pretty mentally taxing having to deal with the same surgery twice," said a reflective McAllister. "It's still a process getting back to 100 percent, but I feel great just getting back into the flow of things."
Although remaining healthy will continue to be his main objective over the next few weeks of camp, the competition at strong safety (between he, Marshall Jones, Jawanza Starling and Demetrius Wright) is by no means lost on the veteran McAllister (picture by Getty Images). He believes the battle for playing time though begins from within and not amongst his fellow teammates.
"It's really not between all of us, it's between ourselves," said McAllister. "The game is pretty much 80 percent mental, so it's studying the film and getting the knowledge from these type of coaches. I think for me, that's what it's going to take to really get me back to the level I was at."
Although he has survived the first two weeks of camp with a clean bill of health, McAllister's tireless journey back to safety hasn't officially come to the end of the road. But from the looks of it (long hair or otherwise), the Trojans' poster boy for perseverance doesn't appear to be leaving the football field anytime soon.