Fall Camp practice has been business as usual in Southern California, one with perfectly timed sessions, whistles blasting into players ears and plenty of surprise contributions and results from players up and down the depth chart.
“There is a different feeling in sense of togetherness,” said Max Wittek about his band of brothers heading into the August 29th season opener. “We feel a lot more united…this year we have the mindset of ‘I don’t care who is in, I’m gonna make my play when given the opportunity’.”
The message provided by Wittek seems rather simple, yet involves a team-wide effort on the grind of attaining success. It reaches right up to the top of the program in head coach Lane Kiffin and company.
Things are starting to change for the better this fall, emphasizing fundamentals and accountability from the start. The staff has been ruthless in implementing a flurry of steps to ensure the Trojans are prepared for the long haul, not just the opening game of the year.
Whether it be structured around an increased download of play-action plays in the early portion of camp, to even implementing a pushup policy for boneheaded mistakes, the Trojans are taking responsibility for their actions.
When Lane Kiffin donned his patented white visor for the second day of Fall Practice on Sunday, the Trojans began to step up the intensity on the practice field.
Perfectly timed or just merely a coincidence, the last two days of practice have sent drastic messages to both sides of the football for the better. The most recent from the Trojan offense, which is going through drastic changes at quarterback.
The challenge hinges with taming the most penalized team in the Pac-12 last season, one that constantly shot its chances in the foot. Throughout much of Fall Camp, the coaching staff continues to harp on the importance of eliminating mistakes by slowing down the game for the players on the field.
“The coaches are making everything very simple for us,” said Su’a Cravens, one of the freshmen standouts of Fall Camp thus far, speaking about his defense. “They are putting us in position to just go out there and make plays.”
It’s the subtlest of differences between this and last years 7-6 club, but the team-oriented approach is seeping through to the players. Long gone are the days of “#WeBe7ieve” and Coaches Poll Preseason No. 1 Rankings lining the accolades.
The simple motto of “29 Practices” has filtered the discussion of expectations this Fall Camp, as playing for each other and trusting in the system to get things right seems ever more prevalent on the field.
“I’m going to go in and make the most of my opportunity,” said Cody Kessler. “I will do what is the best for the team, whatever that role may be.”
Where has this team-oriented approach resonated from? Well look no further than Kiffin, the Darth Vader-esque figure, who is bringing order and responsibility back into the wavering program.
“I would play for him until I die,” said the Trojan’s Biletnikoff Winner, Marqise Lee. While equal sentiments may exist only to a less gruesome extent, similar convictions have been echoed by Lee’s teammates who are growing to trust in the process.
Praising his depth at the running back and corner, Kiffin has addressed the need to give his players more time on special teams, to assure every player is given the reps and opportunities that will best suit the squad regardless of position.
The Trojans’ new-look defense is also following the trend, allowing six secondary players to switch amongst all the positions this fall to find what truly works best for this team. This, in the midst of some major rebuilding, while trying to replace all four starters in the secondary from last season.
“You can’t always judge a book by its cover,” said Hayes Pullard about his head coach, defending the softer and more personal side of him. “Kiffin is a very friendly guy and if you get to know him, he is actually a great guy.”
Can all this prep-not-hype coach talk translate into success on the field? While a few practices cannot always predict success for an entire season, fans can be assured that gone are the days of post-game arguments, blame games and even petty mockery and distrust in leadership.
“At the end of the day, I feel like the coach is there to motivate you,” said Lee. “But then again, how about if it doesn’t hit the spot to get a player to keep going so I take it upon myself, you know, to continue to work hard.
Lee provides a refreshing breath of brevity about the entire football program as they continue the grind of Fall Camp. All this talk comes before the important full-contact practice beginning on Thursday, which stands as just another bump in the road for the Trojans’ fledgling unit.