Steve Sarkisian is impressed with the mentality of his USC Trojans, but the last thing he should be is surprised by it.
Anyone who has watched this group of players knows that hardship has made them strong.
After all, this is a group which chose USC despite crippling sanctions, then fought through the ramifications of those sanctions — bowl bans, limited scholarships, injuries and internal turmoil — to emerge still standing.
“One thing that impresses me about this group is when you challenge them, they respond,” Sarkisian said after Thursday’s practice.
They most certainly do.
They responded last year, refusing to crumble when circumstances gave them every reason to. When Lane Kiffin was fired in September, they rallied behind Ed Orgeron. When injuries decimated squad depth and walk-ons were called up to start in key positions, they rallied behind each other. When setback losses to Notre Dame and UCLA smacked them to the ground, they responded with vigor.
It may be on a much smaller scale, but rebounding from a sloppy practice on Tuesday, when a visibly disappointed Sarkisian called out the less-than-stellar outing, was simply a reestablishment of this team’s identity.
“They’re a really tough-minded group. They’re a competitive group. There’s not a lot of woe is me mentality. These guys respond every single time,” Sarkisian said, praising his players’ effort and coachability.
It would be nice to say that such a mentality will result in wins next season. Unfortunately, there’s so much more that goes into these things.
It’s a start though and it’s that mentality which should form the foundation for everything else that is built on top of it, whether it be scheme, tempo or execution.
“We’re not perfect, by any means, but we’re getting an idea of who we are as a team,” said Sarkisian.
That’s what the spring is all about. Under Kiffin, at least towards the end, the team was defined by fear. Under Orgeron, the team was defined by fearlessness. Under Sarkisian, perhaps the team will be defined by the challenge and response.