Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
Just three days before his first game as USC's starting punter, redshirt junior Kyle Negrete (photo below by John McGillen) is all smiles.
In 2010, despite health concerns regarding his back and no playing time or scholarship guarantees, the Fresno native made a bold decision to transfer from the University of San Diego (out of the West Coast Conference) to USC and sit out the year.
Entering fall camp this August, the walk-on tried to keep things simple. He insists all he wanted was a chance to represent the team he grew up admiring.
"I am so committed to Trojan football," Negrete said. "Growing up I always idolized USC and what the Trojans stood for. Seeing what those teams of the past brought here, I really want to bring that back."
While special teams coach John Baxter recruited the big, right leg of true freshman Kris Albarado (who is on scholarship), it was evident from the first night of fall practice that Negrete was the more seasoned kicker.
"For me, being a walk-on has never really affected who I am or what I represent," said Negrete. "I'm my own person, and I work just as hard as a scholarship player. As a walk-on, I came in to camp with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, knowing I was going to have to compete."
On top of his previous college experience and workmanlike attitude, Negrete's greatest asset - outside of being able to pin the ball consistently inside the 10-yard line - may be his on-field charm and veteran poise.
"I am a very easy going guy, who just loves to be loose and have a good time," said Negrete. "I love making people feel good about themselves. And in these types of situations, it's easy to get uptight, but we are out here playing the game we love."
The game of football has long been in Negrete's bloodlines. His grandfather, Jim Sweeney, coached college football for over 25 years (Montana State, Washington State and Fresno State), and ironically was Lane Kiffin's head coach from 1994-1996. His uncle, Kevin Sweeney, played five years in the NFL and was the third quarterback in Dallas Cowboys history to start as a rookie (joining Don Meredith and Roger Staubach). Not to mention, two of his cousins - Cornell junior quarterback Beau Sweeney and Washington junior safety Nate Fellner - are currently playing Division 1 football.
"Ever since I was a baby, I was raised on football," said Negrete. "With my grandfather coaching at Fresno State, I was on the sidelines for every game. It's a football-enriched family and it's fun because it brings us all together."
As he gets set to make his Coliseum debut Saturday, Negrete (photo above by USCFootball.com) admits he continues to think back to the advice his grandfather gave him at a young age.
"He just told me to always rise to the occasion," said Negrete. "I've proven my ability, now it's time to go out and perform."