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Cumming of Age

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Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor

From the time senior Ross Cumming (pictured below by Jon SooHoo) first began learning the game of football as a young child, his father (a former officer in the British SAS) preached the importance of physicality and toughness at all times on the athletic field. 

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"Really the player I am today has everything to do with my father," Cumming said. "He really had that soldier mentality, and that wore off on me. It was good to have that kind of example."

That toughness was put on display in May of 2007 when the native of Laguna Niguel was medically discharged (fractured back) from the Naval Preparatory Academy (Newport, RI) just months before he was set to join the Midshipmen football team as a freshman. Taking a page from his father's book, the former star tight end/linebacker at Santa Margarita HS didn't wallow in self-sympathy but instead returned home with the hopes of gaining a spot on Pete Carroll's 2008 roster.

Not only did he make the roster as a walk-on, Cumming (who turned 24 on Wednesday) saw action in the final nine games of 2008 as a fixture on the special teams unit (three tackles). He followed that up with a strong sophomore season in which he had nine tackles in 13 games.

Last year, despite a regime change, Cumming's relentless spirit and willingness to play just about any position on the field earned him a full academic scholarship. In addition, he essentially captained John Baxter's special teams' unit, recording eight tackles and two onside kick recoveries in 13 games.

But the story of the walk-on turned scholarship athlete took a turn few expected last Saturday when No. 46 was called on midway through USC's 43-22 loss to ASU. As redshirt senior Marc Tyler scampered for 91 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter, it was Cumming who helped lead the way.

"I actually expected to play as much as I did, but the plays I came in on we hadn't run all week at practice," said Cumming, who was matched up with Sun Devils' junior star linebacker Vontaze Burfict on multiple occasions. "I got in the huddle expecting a certain play and it was foreign to me. Overall though, it was a great experience for me, especially to play during a pivotal point in the game."  

Cumming insists that he will work to prove his stint at fullback was not a one-time deal. If he's learned anything from his unorthodox college career, it's that he holds a very important quality that's been developed over an entire lifetime.

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"What makes me an asset at fullback is the physicality and willingness to hit somebody that was ingrained into me at such a young age," said Cumming. "A lot of people are missing that nowadays in college football, that fire to sacrifice your body for the team."

Along with his selfless nature on the field, Cumming's preparation has a lot to do with his rise up the depth chart. In the days following last weekend's game at ASU, he sat down and watched film with running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu, spoke privately with redshirt senior fullback/tight end Rhett Ellison and chatted with former USC fullback Stanley Havili over the phone about technique and run blocking schemes. 

"This honestly keeps getting crazier and crazier," said Cumming. "I thought it finally stopped last fall when I was awarded the scholarship. And then again when they shifted me over to offense before this season. But I was wrong. It seems to only get better and better and I don't know when it will stop. For me, it's been one great surprise."




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