- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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In about a five-minute span, USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor used the word "blessed" almost as many times as he caught a football last year.
"No question, I'm in a blessed position," the 6-foot, 185-pound Nigerian-born Agholor said. "I get to be in the same position he was in last year. He had a chance to make plays alongside a great wide receiver and now I get a chance to make plays alongside a great wide receiver."
It might be that USC is the one that ends up counting its blessings. If Agholor makes even a modest leap from his freshman to sophomore year, it could spell trouble for Pac-12 defenses.
In his freshman campaign, playing behind Woods and Lee, Agholor caught 19 balls for 340 yards and two touchdowns. But it was against the league's two premier teams -- Stanford and Oregon -- that he played his best football. Though both were losses, he caught three balls for 77 yards against the Cardinal and six balls for 162 yards and a score against the Ducks.
Now the projected starter playing opposite Lee, the reigning Biletnikoff winner, Agholor will be afforded a wealth of opportunities to showcase his talents.
"I'm not worried about individual accolades," he said. "I'm my own guy, but my job is to get open. Marqise is an amazing player. But he can't do my job for me. Playing alongside him is a wonderful opportunity. But just having him there doesn't guarantee that I'm going to make plays. It's up to me to make it happen."
Two years ago in Lee's freshman year, he and Woods put on the greatest receiving display of any wide receiver tandem in USC history. They were the fourth pair to both have at least 1,000 yards each, and their combined receptions (184) and receiving yards (2,435) were the most ever of any USC pair. Pretty impressive when you consider some of the duos throughout the years.
Two-thirds of that group are now in the NFL -- quarterback Matt Barkley to the Philadelphia Eagles and Woods to the Buffalo Bills. And with a new quarterback at the helm for the first time in four seasons, be it Cody Kessler, Max Wittek or Max Browne, there's likely to be some growing pains. At least, that's the outside perception. In the locker room and among the receivers, there is no expectation of a drop off.
"We're in a great spot at quarterback," Agholor said. "We have three guys who are definitely capable of helping this team get to where it needs to be. All of them have done something to show that they can be the starter. I'm confident in all of them."
Of course, 2012 didn't work out the way Agholor -- or any other Trojan for that matter -- thought it would. He also knows he's going to get a lot of looks in 2013 as defenses do what they can to slow down Lee, who caught 118 balls last year for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 132.4 receiving yards per game. In other words, teams will likely put the clamps on Lee and make the young Agholor be the one that beats them.
"I've definitely learned a lot about this game from Robert and Marqise," he said. "The more you know about the game, the slower you can make it. You move at your own speed as your knowledge increases. Those guys really taught me how to slow the game down while still playing fast."
Motivated by the team's struggles of 2012 and knowing he's going to be one of the team's impact players in 2013, Agholor said that even though he's a sophomore, he's ready put the team on his back -- even if he is sitting second chair to the top wide receiver in the nation.
"The simplest way to put it is I want to do everything I possibly can to get us back to where we should be," Agholor said. "I want to be viewed as a leader -- as someone who is an example and takes care of his own business. If I can do that, hopefully others will follow and everything will take care of itself.
"I'm not the kind of guy who focuses too much on the past. Progression each day is what I'm all about. I want to be better than I was yesterday. And I think that has to be the mentality of this team. We can live in the moment, as long as we are progressing each day. And if we're better than we were yesterday, and you add that up over the last five months, we should be in a really good position."
3dChantel Jennings and Kevin Gemmell