LOS ANGELES -- Several players from USC’s 2011 recruiting class stepped right into important roles as true freshmen. But for every Marqise Lee, Lamar Dawson and Marcus Martin, there were several first-year players who took a redshirt as the Trojans looked to build depth for the future.
While many of the unused players remained highly visible during practice, such as quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, defensive end Greg Townsend Jr. and linebacker Anthony Sarao, others blended in to varying degrees and a few -- most notably offensive lineman Cody Temple -- seemed to disappear altogether.
Temple was a two-way lineman out of Bakersfield (Calif.) Liberty High School who surprised some by appearing on USC’s radar and eventually earning a scholarship offer. He was a lifelong USC fan that was hoping to do big things for the Trojans. But back pain that he has been dealing with since the eighth grade quickly derailed those plans, as Temple took part in only a handful of practices throughout the year and never truly threatened to make a mark on the depth chart.
But several months removed from the 2011 season, Temple is ready to turn the page on a tumultuous freshman year, as the lessons he learned off the field could go a long way toward helping him make an impact on it.
“I think my main problem with my back was mental,” Temple said. “People always just told me to go to the chiropractor and that I threw my back out or whatever. Because they kept telling me that, I gave into it mentally and that’s what I think sent me back even further. I kept telling myself, I’m done, I’m done.”
Like most college freshmen, it took Temple a few months to find a solution that would work for him. He said once his stubbornness and desire to cut corners in his rehab was replaced by a need to do things the right way, his season began to turn around.
“Once I mentally let loose and starting doing everything the Trojan way, then I started getting better,” Temple said. “Everyone helped me out -- coaches, trainers, strength coaches, teammates -- everyone kept pushing me. Being back in with the team was my breaker -- being allowed to be back with the team, because I have a part I have to do for the team and finally I was able to do my part.”
Temple was fully cleared during the end of last season and said he was able to drop some weight this offseason. He said the added weight he was carrying was thought to be a contributor to the back pain. There are still some occasional uncomfortable moments, but Temple said he’s handling those occurrences much smarter now. At 6-foot-2 and 277 pounds, he said he feels good as he moves toward his first spring practice.
It’s likely that Temple won’t want to lose any of the lessons he learned during those first few months at USC, and this spring could offer him a second chance at a first impression.
After serving strictly as an offensive guard last season, Temple was likely poised to fight for a spot behind returning starters John Martinez and Martin. But reports from Thursday’s team workout said Temple would be moving to defensive tackle this spring, a position that features no returning starters, but plenty of youth and potential. After losing starters DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou from the interior of the line, George Uko and J.R. Tavai will likely get first reps at defensive tackle and nose tackle, respectively. But Temple should have a real shot to earn a spot backing up either position. It’s a move that he won’t argue with in the slightest.
“Making it to USC was my No. 1 goal, so wherever the coaches want me to play, I’m happy,” Temple said on Tuesday, before the move was made. “But I still have my defensive hunger from high school.”
It wouldn’t be the first time this staff found success with a position switch, as Dion Bailey moved from safety to linebacker last year and led the team in tackles. Ross Cumming switched from linebacker to fullback and became an integral part of what turned into a dynamic USC rushing attack.
Wherever he lines up this spring, Temple said he is sure of one thing. He’s going to get noticed.
“I made a promise to the coaches,” he said. “I told them I’m here for a reason and I’m going to show that I wasn’t just a guy who took up a scholarship. I’m a guy who is here to work, and that is going to mean something.”