LOS ANGELES -- As a senior at West Torrance High School, Brian Baucham won the 2008 California state meet in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles. During his USC career, avoiding obstacles has proved slightly more difficult.
After redshirting his first year at USC, Baucham appeared in five games as a redshirt freshman before abrasions he suffered in a motorcycle accident forced him out of action for three games. He then missed three additional games due to a sprained ankle and toe. He pitched in as a redshirt sophomore to the tune of 20 tackles and two pass deflections, and was set to compete for the starting cornerback position opposite Nickell Robey as redshirt junior in 2011. But academic ineligibility forced him to miss the season and plummet down the position's pecking order.
"It was a struggle in my mindset," Baucham said of the ups and downs of injury and adjusting to a new coaching regime. "I'm an independent kind of guy, but it was learning that we're all a family out here. After I got that mentality in my head -- that they're here to help me and not push me back -- it's excelling now, like an airplane taking off."
Baucham credited the coaching staff for sticking with him, straightening him out and getting him back on the field. But Baucham isn't just back on the field this spring -- he has stood out in almost every practice through the first two weeks. He was singled out by head coach Lane Kiffin after one practice, and has made at least one noteworthy play in all five. On Thursday, he was the first nickel cornerback to run with the first unit.
"I'm loving it," Baucham said of being back out with his teammates. "It's exciting. I'm loving the way the guys and the coaches are coming around to me being out here."
The cornerback position has arguably been the most outstanding unit this spring, with Baucham registering as perhaps the most pleasant surprise. Robey has locked up one starting spot and Isiah Wiley has stepped up his game opposite him. But players such as Baucham, Anthony Brown and Ryan Henderson have been pushing every day this spring.
"We're all fighting, but we're a family, so we're helping each other out as well," Baucham said. "We're competing against each other, but it's for the good of the team."
Baucham said he relishes the opportunity to go up against the USC receiving corps every day in practice and is looking forward to Robert Woods returning from an ankle injury.
"It's great for us," he said. "These are the best receivers in college and we get to compete against them. If we're close to them and beating them, that means we can beat anybody else in the league right now."
But for Baucham, simply suiting up in preparation for his final season at USC beats just about anything.
"I feel great," he said. "It's about to be a great year."