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2014 Spring Practice #11: Notes

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Written by Caroline Deisley and Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributors

Just three practices away from the Spring Game, the Trojans notched up the intensity at practice on Thursday testing both physical conditioning and mental toughness.
  • The coaching staff ran practice a little differently on Thursday, implementing a game-like simulation with four quarters of live play. The Trojans went through red zone scenarios and different pressure situations at game speed in order to test the team's endurance. Head coach Steve Sarkisian was happy with the overall performance and level of toughness, but feels they have a ways to go before the entire group is in game shape. 
  • "Practice got hard today," Sarkisian said. "They had to fight through mentally. The guys kept grinding and it was great to see guys keep working. We weren't always perfect fundamentally, especially in the second half of practice. That second half will be crucial for us to be exceptional in the fall. Believe me, these practices are harder than the games. They'll be in great shape when September rolls around, they'll be ready to play."
  • Sarkisian noted the endurance of the defensive line specifically, in addition to Tre Madden, Kenny Bigelow and Claude Pelon. According to the head coach and many members of the team, head strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis deserves the credit for the extensive physical improvement displayed by the entire team this spring. "Ivan's amazing. He does a great job. He balances guys from a 'build 'em up' standpoint, but also working flexibility, working conditioning and working mental toughness. How important that position is to the success of any college football program is huge. After next Saturday, Ivan's got them until we come back out here for the start of training camp. That's a critical time and I couldn't be more impressed with what Ivan is doing."
  • Jabari Ruffin is one player who has seen on-field results from Lewis' conditioning program, noting improvement in his strength, speed and flexibility. The redshirt sophomore linebacker has gained 15 pounds in the offseason and is eager to display his physicality this fall. "Every team has to have some big hitters and I am more than happy to take that role," he said.
  • Ruffin has focused this offseason on both brawn and brains, working to excel in all aspects of the game in 2014. "I've changed up my work habits," explained Ruffin. "I'm focused on attention to detail whether it's studying film or applying things on the field. I'm taking a more mature approach this season and I feel the effect. I'm excited to help the team out this year."
  • Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has noted the same serious mental approach across his entire defensive unit throughout the course of the spring. "The mental mistakes have gone down," said the coach. "They are more and more conceptually understanding what we are doing. They've done a really good job in the meetings. I've noticed that the guys are into it, they're asking great questions and they want to learn."
  • Wilcox and Sarkisian have both noted the substantial improvement and outstanding play of Antwaun Woods throughout spring practice, especially how conditioned the defensive lineman appears to be. "He has had a heck of a spring," said Sarkisian. "I think Antwaun has really been the standard on the defensive side of the ball all spring long. He's really matured to me. He's a great leader for us. He lives in the backfield, he does an amazing job of making the ball bounce to the perimeter and he does it with tremendous energy."
  • A defensive highlight of the day was J.R. Tavai's return to the field after missing some of spring practice due to injury. "It was awesome," Wilcox said excitedly. "It fired me up. It was huge to have him back."
  • More notable Trojans were in attendance at Thursday's practice including Rose Bowl-winning quarterback Brad Otton, former linebacker Lawrence Larry and former USC cornerback Daylon McCutcheon. 
  • Here is Coach Sarkisian's full practice recap...

Stadler Ready to Roll

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Masters rookie Kevin Stadler was not intimated by the aura of Augusta National Golf Club.  Having grown up roaming the grounds watching his father play, the USC men's golf alum looked comfortable strolling through Amen Corner to post a 2-under 70 which places him in a fifth place tie after round one.

Stadler will begin play Friday two shots back of the leader Bill Haas, who is also a second generation Masters competitor.  Stadler tees off at 8:03 a.m. PT on Friday (coverage on ESPN).

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Hoops Picked for Sleeper Success

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Pac-12 Networks did not wait long to start previewing the 2014-15 men's basketball season.  The conference analysts tabbed USC and Stanford as the two sleeper teams poised for success next season.

The Trojans will have a largely overhauled roster in year two under Andy Enfield.  Freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin, a Top 50 prospect, and UNLV transfer Katin Reinhardt, a former Top 50 prospect, will join Julian Jacobs in the back court greatly improving the shooting and ball handling talent.

Team MVP Byron Wesley is expected to return for his senior season, and he will have some help on the glass in transfer Darion Clark, a high character and high energy big man.  Plus, the Trojans welcome freshmen Malik Price Martin and Jabari Craig who are both long, rim protectors that have the athleticism to run and finish the fast break.

The coaching staff is still hard at work adding more pieces to the puzzle for a 2014-15 resurgence.  Here is what Pac-12 Networks had to say:


Home for Good

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USC women's water polo will spend the next month in the Uytengsu Aquatics Center with one goal in mind.  The Trojans road to a repeat runs right through their home pool as they wrap the regular season with matches against Loyola Marymount (today at 4:30 p.m.), UCLA (April 16) and an exhibition with the U.S. National Team (April 22) before hosting the MPSF Championships (April 25-27) and the NCAA Championships (May 9-11).

Click here for the complete schedule.

The Women of Troy are 21-1 overall, but they have played only four home matches, winning all of them.  The combined score of those contests was USC 71, Opponents 24. 

However, USC is not guaranteed anything having slipped to third behind UCLA and Stanford.  If history is any guide, the newly renovated Uytengsu Aquatics Center will be christened with some classic water polo in the next month.

Kelly Mendoza and the Trojans are eyeing a repeat.
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Pat's Chats - Darion Clark

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USC men's basketball transfer Darion Clark is one of the many new additions expected to make an immediate impact for the Trojans next season.  The athletic power forward is known as a tenacious rebounder and a strong leader.

In his interview series "Pat's Chats", athletic director Pat Haden introduces the Trojan Family to Clark, who is celebrating his 20th birthday today.


Men's Golf Past, Present and Future

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Men's golf takes over the sports page this week when the Masters tees off in Augusta starting Thursday (ESPN and CBS). 

For the first time in his professional career, USC alum Kevin Stadler will pursue the famed green jacket that his father Craig Stadler won in 1982.  The Trojan greats will become the first father-son duo to play in the same Masters.

The younger Stadler earned his way into the tournament on Super Bowl Sunday by claiming the title in Phoenix, the first PGA Tour victory of his career.  Like all Masters champions, "The Walrus" has a lifetime exemption into the field, so he will tee it up in Augusta for the 38th time, but this one is truly special.

"It's emotional in a very, very good way," Craig Stadler told The Washington Post. "I had envisioned this and knew it would happen someday. I was hoping it would happen someday. I was pretty sure. The rest was up to him."

Click here for the full story in The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the next generation of USC golfers are starting to play like aspiring PGA professionals.  The Trojans ride a streak of three consecutive Top 2 finishes into the Western Intercollegiate, the regular season finale in Santa Cruz.

Click here for a preview.

(Photo of Kevin and Craig Stadler by Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images)

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Super Alum

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Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith is also a proud graduate of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences with a degree in economics, and he was the subject of a profile video telling the story of his football and academic life.


State of Troy: Coliseum Renovation

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Two weeks ago, USC sent out a survey to various constituents regarding the possible redevelopment of the Coliseum. In this month's State of Troy, USC athletic director Pat Haden addresses some of the questions he has received regarding the survey.

Why did you send out this survey?

When USC took control of the Coliseum and Sports Arena this past summer, the university and, more specifically, the athletic department became responsible for the operation, maintenance and upgrading of the 91-year-old stadium. USC is required to spend $70 million over a 10-year period for enhancements and improvements to the stadium's infrastructure. While these improvements will help the Coliseum remain functional, they do not address much-needed improvements to the fan experience. It is not an option to "do nothing." Knowing that we have to spend $70 million on the Coliseum, why not investigate all options of what the Coliseum could become? That's the purpose of the survey, to discuss some possibilities and see what our fans will support. This is the time to explore what we want the Coliseum to look like for the next 100 years.

Are you planning to implement everything suggested in the survey questions?

Coliseum-GoPro-Scrimmage13.jpgNo decisions have been made. We know we need to do something based on the lease mandate and the current condition of the Coliseum. So, we have surrounded ourselves with expert consultants to guide us through a feasibility study and examine what possible steps we can take to enhance the facility. We recognized that the first step must be to gauge the appetite of our fan and donor base. This has been done through the release of our survey to nearly 250,000 stakeholders and will continue through the use of focus groups. This will provide telling information about what our fans truly want and what they are willing to support. Certainly not everyone is going to answer the survey the same way, but we, as an athletic department and as a university, must first listen, then digest the information, and finally act accordingly in the best long-term interest of the Coliseum and the faithful Trojan fans. We greatly appreciate the thousands of fans who have completed the survey. Positive, negative, or indifferent, all of them have been heard and are playing an active role in the possible redevelopment of the Coliseum.

Why does the Coliseum need to be renovated beyond the bare minimum?

Very little has been done to renovate the Coliseum since it was built, except when the field was lowered to add seats in 1993 and when major repair and retrofitting was needed following the 1994 earthquake. If we do nothing beyond the required $70 million in enhancements, the Coliseum will slip decades behind most other premier venues in the country. We will fall short in addressing not only many on-going issues and problems (life-safety, ADA, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, general infrastructure, ingress and egress, restroom, concession, audio-visual, football operation, sports medicine, media and technology), but there will be an overall lack of fan amenities. We have recently given facelifts to some of our campus athletic facilities, like Heritage Hall and the Uytengsu Aquatics Center, to the benefit of future generations of student-athletes and the Trojan Family. I believe we can do the same for the Coliseum, while keeping in mind that this is a historic landmark and preservation guidelines must be followed.

What are other benefits of renovation?

Modern stadiums have amenities that we simply cannot provide our fans in the Coliseum's current state. An updated Coliseum would provide significant opportunities to create long-term revenue generation through less intrusive sponsorship activation. Technology will provide us with a better in-game experience for our fans and sponsors. We want a more intimate environment to improve our home field advantage by bringing our fans closer to the game, and we will study acoustics and sight-line plans accordingly. We can provide premium experiences through club seats, loge boxes and luxury suites. We can improve the video boards and fix some audio issues. We can enhance the experience for our players by providing a better locker room and medical facility. The media would enjoy an improved press box. And most importantly, fans will have a better overall experience from tailgating to seating to watching the game.

Coli-Tunnel-Camp20-McG.jpgAre fans going to lose their seats or be forced to buy a personal seat license to protect them?

Again, no decisions have been made. As part of our survey, we are receiving valuable feedback from our fans regarding stadium renovation programs that have been pursued by other universities, including personal seat licensing and other topics. There has been a range of opinions, both positive and negative, and those ideas will be considered at every step in the process, including how to honor and recognize previous commitments should seat licenses be imposed in some of the stadium. At the same time, we need to be cognizant that not every long-time USC fan wants a premium option and we need to provide an affordable experience for those fans. We recognize that the support of the Trojan Family is what makes the environment at USC football games special, and we do not want to make decisions that would change this irrevocably. Our goal is to create a facility that our fans' children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can proudly visit.

What is the Coliseum Improvement Fee that is part of current ticket prices and how is this money used?

The Coliseum Improvement Fee, begun in 2012, has allowed us to make some improvements throughout the Coliseum. Over the past two years, we have upgraded the quality of the playing field, added a centralized point of sale system for concessions, improved the connectivity and sound for our guests, and partnered with third party concessionaires and maintenance professionals. This upcoming season, among other things, we will use the fee to implement advanced technology for ticket scanning and we will provide new pre- and post-game tailgating opportunities. But the cost of making impactful improvements to fan amenities and the game experience far exceed the annual fees generated by ticket sales and the Coliseum Improvement Fee.

How are other schools handling the problem of aging stadiums?

In the Pac-12 Conference alone, UCLA, Washington, Arizona State, California, Arizona and Washington State all either recently completed or are currently undergoing massive renovation projects. Since 2000, every Pac-12 school has spent between $32 million and $313 million more on stadium improvements than USC. Nationally, schools such as Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Baylor are taking on $100 million to $500 million projects.

2014 Spring Practice #10: Notes

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The Trojans took it down a notch today removing the pads and surviving the heat.
  • By rule, USC has to have three padless practices during the spring, so Steve Sarkisian decided to utilize the final one today to revitalize his team with five more practices to go this spring.
  • Running back depth has become such an issue during spring that walk-on QB Conner Sullivan moved to tailback today behind Tre Madden and Jahleel Pinner.  Sarkisian hopes to have Buck Allen and Ty Isaac back soon, and then Justin Davis will be healthy for fall camp.  Madden played through a hamstring injury for most of the second half of last season, but he said that it is fully healed.
  • Nelson Agholor made another outstanding catch on a deep ball to highlight today's practice.  "Nelson kinda does what he does, keeps making big plays," praised Sarkisian.
  • Sarkisian expects to name a starting quarterback before the end of spring practice, but all the quarterbacks struggled today as the coaches started to input a silent cadence at the line of scrimmage leading to a handful of mistimed shotgun snaps. "I thought it was a hard day for the quarterbacks because of some things going on around them, and then how they responded to it made a little bit difficult as well," said the head coach who is looking forward to how the QBs respond Thursday. "Understanding every day might not be your day, every play might not be your play, but how you bounce back from it is probably as important as anything."
  • The defense also played its part disrupting the offense with a steady pass rush led by the fast-improving OLB Jabari Ruffin. "He is really what you are looking for at that SAM linebacker position for us," said Sarkisian about his size and speed combination. "He was a high school receiver that is extremely athletic for a big man, but yet he is violent at the point of attack."
  • The new 3-4 defense poses all kinds of "different looks" and "odd fronts" for opposing offensive lines, said LT Chad Wheeler. On a daily basis, he is tested against big bodies like Delvon Simmons and speedy athletes like Scott Starr. "It's difficult.  That's why the defense throws it at you," Wheeler said. "They want to come at you with power and speed, so you have to be on your game on every level."
  • Wheeler was one of the surprise stories of last season developing into a mainstay at left tackle after gaining nearly 100 pounds.  A year later, he feels much more comfortable in his bigger body.  "Your organs have to catch up," he said. "You've got to get used to the weight so you can get faster. I try to cut down on the fat, so I can build more muscle."
  • Wheeler has also become a leader on the line as one of the few returning starters. "I have been working on my craft continuously. I'm trying to show up for our incoming freshmen, Toa [Lobendahn] and Jordan [Austin]," he said.
  • Here is Sarkisian's post-practice presser in which he expands on what he thinks can be a "very good" defense:


Wills Battles the Boys

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USC women's lacrosse assistant coach Devon Wills is in training camp with the New York Lizards trying to earn a spot in the all-male Major League Lacrosse.  The women's national team goalie is quickly adjusting to life at the sport's highest level.

"The speed of the release [is different]," she said about the major differences. "But it's also what's going on in front. They shoot a lot of shots with screens in front of you. In the women's game, that just doesn't happen."

Click here for the full story in Long Island Newsday.

While Wills only had a weekend to show off her skills before returning to USC, head coach Joe Spallina was impressed. "I thought she was great today," he said. "She showed she can play."

Wills is back with the Trojans now awaiting word on whether or not she made the cut.  The Women of Troy end their regular season on April 27, which coincides with the Lizards season opener.

Wills-Bob-Sorensen.JPG(Photo by Bob Sorensen)