USC copes with losing another FB in familiar fashion
Posted: Thursday September 21, 2006 5:43PM; Updated: Thursday September 21, 2006 6:23PM
USC fullback Ryan Powdrell suffered a broken ankle on this play last Saturday.
John W. McDonough/SI
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LOS ANGELES -- Stanley Havili stood on the USC Trojans practice field, politely shaking his head. No, he informed me, he'd never seen the movie This Is Spinal Tap. So he could not appreciate the parallel between USC's bad luck at fullback and the serial misfortune suffered by the drummers in that heavy metal band.
While no Trojan fullback has "spontaneously combusted" (the sad fate of Tap drummer Peter "James" Bond) or perished in a "bizarre gardening accident" (the grim end met by Bond's predecessor, John Pepys), there has been undeniably bad juju at the position. Senior and returning starter Brandon Hancock blew out his left knee in a preseason practice, ending his college career. Then, in one of the more gruesome injuries in recent memory, Ryan Powdrell suffered a dislocated and broken ankle during USC's 28-10 win over Nebraska last Saturday.
For several sickening moments, before team physician James Tibone pulled Powdrells' foot out, rotated it, then popped it back into joint, the foot was pointing 90 degrees in the wrong direction. Yet there was Powdrell, flashing the school's two-fingered "victory" salute to fans as he was carted out of the Coliseum. Talk about cojones.
So who's next up on drums, so to speak, for USC? Who'll carry the load at that position when the Trojans face off against Arizona in Tucson on Saturday night? Fifth-year senior Mike Brittingham, a 210-pound former walk-on, finished up the Nebraska game. But the guy Pete Carroll spent the most time talking about in his Tuesday press conference -- and who got the majority of the snaps with the No. 1 offense in that afternoon's practice -- was Havili, a bus driver's son from Salt Lake City who was a 2005 Super Prep All America at Cottonwood (Utah) High.
To review: you've got a serviceable, fifth-year guy and a teenager who has yet to touch the ball this season (and still gets lost trying to find his way around campus). For nine coaches out of 10, this isn't even a choice. You go with the older guy. But this is how Carroll framed the issue: "It's a great opportunity for our team philosophy to come through. We have a young kid, Stanley Havili, who has come here to play."
This program has had the top-ranked recruiting classes three of the last four years. It isn't just the fact that the Trojans have played for a national title in each of the past three seasons; or that, as Carroll once exulted after a win, "we're doing it in Southern California." What makes USC irresistible to high school superstars is that when Trojans recruiters tell them there's an excellent chance they'll be on the field their first season -- the schoolboys know they're not blowing smoke.
That's why the Trojans have played 13 true freshmen so far this season (Ohio State has played six; Auburn, five; West Virginia, eight; Florida, 12.) Those first-year guys include starting tailback C.J. Gable (who is in danger of being supplanted by fellow freshman Emmanuel Moody, who averaged eight yards per carry against the Cornhuskers), and starting strong safety Taylor Mays (filling in for the injured Josh Pinkard). As Carroll says, no one gives it a second thought.
That's why, during two-a-days, Havili found himself in the huddle, every so often, with the first team. "I'm looking around and there's Dwayne Jarrett, there's John David Booty, and there's me," he said on Tuesday. The Trojans staff uses spring football (and, to a lesser extent, practices leading up to the bowl game) to evaluate talent already in the program. Come August, it's time to see what the freshmen can do.
As Jarrett, the All-America wide receiver puts it, "Coach Carroll tells all the guys he recruits, 'You're gonna have the opportunity to show what you can do, right away.' So if you're slacking off at your job, or if there's a talented guy behind you who knows the playbook, they're not scared to put him on the field. They don't care if he's a freshman."