Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The formula has been simple, concrete and consistent on the defensive side of the ball: team first, self second. For the defense, that means trusting each other to learn the new 5-2 scheme and for each person to play their role. It all begins with the man who returns as the Trojans’ leading tackler from last season. Red-shirt junior Hayes Pullard hopes to open the flood gates in USC’s 2013 home opener.
“I’ve started in the Spring so I will now be leading players out of the tunnel,” Pullard said referring to his duties.
“It was probably every dream to come true. Start from watching greats go by [to] now being one of those guys as a lead-by-example guy; it’s just a great feeling.”
The defense has come out firing all of Fall Camp. This effort stems from a unique application of Clancy Pendergast’s major course lessons, one that begins with a “culture of going after the ball, keeping the bond together and playing for your buddy,” says Pullard.
In the midst of 13 grueling practices in only nine days, the grind of Fall Camp is starting to take its toll for everyone on the roster. With injured players dropping like flies, Pullard continues to fight the adversity of the lingering aches and pains one day at a time.
“You have to get in the ice bath and roll out because we all have camp legs,” Pullard said. “Once you start running around, you get that second gear, which is the greatest feeling.”
Leaders like Devon Kennard and Lamar Dawson line the Trojan defense but Pullard understands that at the end of the day, the defense functions best if the entire unit proves it can finish. In terms of role models, the Inglewood, CA native has spent a good deal of his life watching dominant USC defenses rock out the Coliseum every Saturday. Pullard cherishes these memories and certainly does not take for granted the fact that his own aspirations have come full circle.
“Ever since I was little I was watching Brian Cushing,” the Trojans’ current No. 10 mentions of his jersey and athletic idol. “His motor never stopped and he made practice feel like games, while enforcing accountability to get better each and every day.”
These lessons have quickly translated over to practice with Pullard holding down the fort in the middle of the field. For a player who arrived on campus two years ago with the mindset of just going out there and hitting people, maturity has developed over the course of his career.
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A member of what he calls “one of the nastiest defensive lines in the nation,” Pullard is a major piece behind an exciting culture shift on defense.
“We have been taking the initiative to force turnovers. We were breaking records and getting after the ball,” Pullard said of what has transpired in camp so far and what the Trojans aim to do this season.
Pullard also hinted at the relationship the entire program has built, starting with a brotherhood that reaches far beyond the loving friendships that are formed through a lifetime of memories.
“Everybody is working together, which is a way better feeling,” Pullard said talking about dissecting opposing attacks. “We are going to watch film together and study tendencies.”
Much of this excitement is the result of a free-flowing symbiotic mesh of sorts with coach Pendergast. “It gives us a chance to roam around and make plays,” Pullard said of his new role. “He [Pendergast] simplified the defense to allow us to play to the best of our ability.”
Entering the second fold of his career in Southern California, Pullard accepts the challenge of meeting lofty expectations, all while in the midst of playing with the mindset of one day playing his way to the NFL.
“When my time is up I would love to play for the Baltimore Ravens,” Pullard said. “A lot of that has to do with Ray Lewis and his great career.” Before he can get there, Pullard has some work to do holding down the middle of the field and playing his part to make USC’s new defensive scheme one that is competitive and feared in the Pac-12.