The Trojans continued their prep work for the Sun Bowl on Friday with a midday practice in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets. After the workout, USC head coach Lane Kiffin once again emphasized just how important the Dec. 31 matchup with Georgia Tech is as the team looks to build momentum heading into the offseason.
“We just want to finish really strong and win our last game and springboard us off into a great offseason ... sign a great recruiting class and get ready for spring ball,” Kiffin said. “We’re not looking backwards. We’re looking forward, and we can’t change the past -- it is what it is. We have to accept what our record was and where that puts us. We’ve had two years of sitting around and not having bowls, not being able to practice and not being able to play football. So, we’re excited about this opportunity.”
Wittek embraces leadership role
While Matt Barkley -- still out of action after suffering a sprained AC joint in his shoulder against UCLA -- did take in his first practice in quite awhile, it was as an observer, and as Kiffin has indicated from the start, the senior signal caller won’t even attempt to suit up and go full-speed with the team until the Trojans land in El Paso.
That has left all of the reps at quarterback with the first- and second-team offensive units to redshirt-freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, with Wittek designated as the starter if Barkley isn’t able to go.
For Wittek, the added workload with the first teamers has resulted in not just a greater comfort level in running the offense but also an expanded role as a leader, something that has come about gradually throughout the season before reaching a new level following his first start as a Trojan against Notre Dame.
“I feel like they listen to me, they look to me as a leader, and I’m prepared to lead this team into whatever game we play in,” Wittek said. “I think my preparation all season -- they’ve been able to see the way that I’ve prepared and been able to respect that in a sense. But being able to put that into a materialized thing with game play, I think, has helped a lot.”
Woods showing renewed burst
USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin has been especially impressed with the play of standout receiver Robert Woods of late, particularly during the bowl game practices.
“He was always running good during the year, but I think that he’s just running like we expected him to, you know, [like] No. 13 Robert Woods,” said Martin, referring to the jersey number Woods wore as a freshman. “His attitude has always been good throughout the season, but I think that Robert has reached a point of maturity to where he see’s it, he gets it.”
Pretty soon though, Martin might have a fight on his hands to keep Woods in a Trojans’ uniform. Currently awaiting feedback from his NFL draft evaluation request, Woods is pondering a jump to the pros.
“I’ve definitely been recruiting my tail off to keep Robert,” Martin said. “I know he has a big decision. ... I know a lot of people like him on the next level, but my job here is to try to keep all of the good players here.”
Regardless of whether Woods decides to opt for the draft or to remain at USC, however, Martin said he will back him in his ultimate decision.
“I definitely will support Robert in whatever he does,” Martin said.
Martin likes what he’s seen in Rogers
Friday marked the second day that wide receiver Darreus Rogers worked out with the Trojans, wearing jersey No. 26. Originally a member of the Class of 2012, the Carson (Calif.) product was just admitted to USC recently, and he is set to begin classes in January. With two workouts under his belt now, he already has made quite an impression on Martin, both for his ability on the field, as well as his attitude off it.
"He sent me a text message last night after his first day of coming out, saying how fast things were moving, and he said, 'Coach, I want to be great. Push me. Coach me hard,' " Martin said. "And I said, 'No problem with that.' And he came out today, great attitude, he's receptive in meetings, he asks the right type of questions, and again, it's only his second day, but his retention has been good."
And while he won’t be able to travel with the team to El Paso, Martin believes the experience Rogers will have gained in three days of practice will be invaluable to his development down the line.
“Being in high school, you might come to a practice during recruiting, but you don’t know how it feels to actually go through that type of day,” Martin said. “And I think it’s a tremendous advantage to get him in here to see how it feels. So now in the spring, he’s past that.”