After losing his first season to injury, running back Vavae Malepeai has a twinkle in his eye as he makes the most of his opportunities during USC football spring camp.
Vavae Malepeai has run into a patch of good fortune this spring.
With Aca’Cedric Ware missing time due to a foot injury and Dominic Davis sidelined all spring with a concussion, Malepeai has had extra opportunities to make a strong first impression on new running backs coach Deland McCullough.
“[Malepeai] is a very complete player. He can pass protect. He can run hard. He can run with velocity. He’s deceptively fast. He’s very strong,” McCullough said.
After drawing rave reviews from Helton for being the driving force behind the second team’s success on the ground during USC’s first spring scrimmage on Saturday, Malepeai again benefited from an injury — this time to Ronald Jones II — taking first team reps for the Trojans on Tuesday.
INJURY REPORT: Ronald Jones II Held Out of Tuesday Practice
He didn’t miss a beat, despite going against the first team defense. He found pockets of space, used his power to his advantage up the middle and his speed on the outside.
Most importantly, he showed his position coach that he’s been paying attention — and that injuries ahead of him aren’t the only reason he deserves the attention.
“I think today was a perfect example of Vae taking [instruction] and 100 percent rolling with those reads,” McCullough said. “This guy was gashing these guys.”
Watching Malepeai gash the defense is something that would surprise only a newcomer. He did it last fall as a freshman, impressing during his first camp before a broken shoulder blade sidelined him for six weeks and effectively ended his season.
He had come to USC with the mindset of working hard and earning early playing time. Instead, he was forced to take a redshirt.
“I just took that time to get my body right and learn from the older guys,” Malepeai said, leaning on Justin Davis and former running backs coach Tommie Robinson as he recovered.
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Now, Malepeai is in line to contribute as a redshirt freshman. but he’s not looking to just pick up where he left off. There’s work to do.
“I’m trying to improve all-around. It’s about pass pro, it’s about reads, securing the ball and, as a player, being able to go out and get it,” Malepeai said. “You can’t be complacent at any time. You’ve just got to keep grinding.”
When Jones II, Ware and Davis return — and five-star running back prospect Stephen Carr arrives in the fall — Malepeai will hope that the work he’s put in this spring will be enough to afford him a role in the offense in 2017.
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There’s every chance that’ll be the case, given his abilities and work ethic, which blend well with what McCullough prefers from his players.
The running backs coach is a self-described “detail freak.” Malepeai gets that.
“As a player you’ve just got to learn to be very detailed and take all the details in, just soak it up like a sponge and be a coachable player,” he said.
McCullough covets tough players who desire greatness. Malepeai gets that too. And his coach has already taken notice.
“He’s got the twinkle in his eye that you like,” McCullough said. “He sees the opportunity and he wants to take advantage of it.”
Three weeks into spring camp, Malepeai has made his case. He’s got three more weeks to make it stick.