- Johnny Curren, WeAreSC, Reporter
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USC quarterback Max Wittek knows a thing or two about bouncing back from adversity.
First, there was the injury in spring ball -- a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee suffered during, of all things, a field goal drill.
Then, with the team gearing up for its offseason workout schedule in early June, Wittek was sidelined again, this time with a case of mononucleosis.
But with his mindset firmly focused on competing for the Trojans' starting quarterback job, and a body that has proven to be as resilient as they come, he managed to make a lightning-quick recovery in each instance.
He returned from the knee injury in April after missing only three workouts. And after hearing horror stories from friends who had been stricken with mono and were laid up for as much as six weeks and dropped pounds at an alarmingly rapid rate, he was back in action less than 20 days after being diagnosed with a weight loss of just three pounds.
Having now been back in the swing of things for almost a month, Wittek is as healthy as ever, looking strong and in command during the team's voluntary passing sessions on Cromwell Field.
"I think that I'm really lucky and blessed to have a body that heals quickly," said Wittek, who prepped at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, the same high school that produced former standout USC signal callers Matt Leinart and Matt Barkley. "My entire life, I've always come back faster than anticipated, so thank God that kicked in here when I got mono. Being out for only two weeks was truly a blessing, and it feels great to be back out there with my teammates, flinging the rock around and getting the chemistry going."
It's a good thing too, because Wittek is currently embroiled in a heated position battle with fellow redshirt-sophomore Cody Kessler, a star of the spring, and early entrant freshman Max Browne, who has shown tremendous promise since his arrival on campus in January.
Working side by side during the team's summer workouts, the three passers have pushed each other continually, just as they did throughout the spring.
"You know, guys like Cody and Max being such highly thought of recruits coming in, and being able to compete with them, I think that SC is a place that is built on competition like that," Wittek said. "You get the best guys from all around the country, so it's only natural for it to bring out the best in you."
Having filled in for an injured Barkley as the Trojans' starting quarterback in the team's final two games of the 2012 season, it's safe to say Wittek holds an undeniable edge on his counterparts when it comes to game experience. That, coupled with his 6-foot-4, 235-pound build and trademark rocket arm, certainly appears to make him a more-than-qualified candidate for the job.
Still, while his physical tools are undeniable and he has shown flashes of strong play, Wittek also has had his struggles, particularly with decision making -- something that was evident in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, when he completed just 14 of 37 passes with three interceptions, as well as during the team's spring game, when he was picked off twice by USC safety Demetrius Wright.
But having spent countless hours in the film room this offseason, Wittek has seen the errors in his ways and is committed to correcting them this summer.
"My main focus is, every single play, to just make the right decision," Wittek said. "Just having looked over the spring, and the last two games of last year especially, it was almost a moment of clarity when I was watching those games, like, 'Wow, if I would have just run the ball and gotten 6 or 7 yards, we're looking and third-and-2, and that's a manageable situation.' I'm making it a priority to not force the ball. I have all of the talent to make those throws when they're there, but I can't force it when they're not."
With so much on the line, Wittek has worked harder than ever this summer, taking every opportunity to bring his game to another level -- particularly in recent days due to a new living situation that has proven to be extremely beneficial.
"I just moved into a building downtown where it's myself, Randall Telfer, Soma Vainuku, Xavier Grimble and Marqise Lee, so it's been incredibly easy to just grab those guys and say, 'Hey, let's go throw real quick,' and we have such a wide array of positions," Wittek said. "So, we go out there and we're actually able to put out formations. I think something like that is invaluable."
With the quarterback competition set to pick up with even greater intensity in less than a month with the start of USC's fall camp, Wittek looks more than ready to make a strong case for himself in the Trojans' quarterback derby. But with his own long-term goals set even higher, his ultimate hope is that this all is only the beginning of something even more significant in the grander scheme of things.
"One of the things that the coaches say is that a legacy is built on, 'Will you be remembered when you're gone?' And so, ultimately, I think that I'd like to leave a mark strong enough to where I'm remembered after I'm gone from USC," WIttek said. "I want to win every game that I lead my team into, and I think that with those victories, all of the other stuff will come."