USC Trojans: Abe Markowitz

Arriving at USC as a walk-on in 2008 after turning down scholarship opportunities from several other programs such as Michigan State and Miami (Ohio), Abe Markowitz went on to make quite a name for himself as a Trojan, embodying the university’s trademark battle cry, “Fight On,” in just about every way imaginable.

Garnering a reputation as a tireless worker with the ability to contribute at both center and guard, the Honolulu Punahou graduate was awarded a scholarship just before the 2010 season by then-USC head coach Lane Kiffin. Ultimately sidelined that fall as well as the next because of foot injuries, he worked his way back into the best shape of his career and enjoyed a successful 2012 campaign, appearing in 11 games, including two as a starter.

[+] EnlargeAbe Markowitz
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesAbe Markowitz played as a walk-on in 2013 because of scholarship limitations.
Informed last offseason that USC no longer had room for him primarily because of an issue involving scholarship limitations stemming from NCAA sanctions, Markowitz came close to landing at the University of Hawaii, but in somewhat of a surprise turn of events, he eventually rejoined the Trojans last summer as a sixth-year senior, albeit as a walk-on.

Taking out a loan to help pay for his final semester at USC, Markowitz was buried on the depth chart for much of the season, but he certainly went out on a high note. Starting at center in the team’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl victory over Fresno State, he had a standout performance and was named offensive outperformer of the game.

Now gearing up for USC’s Pro Day coming up in March, Markowitz, who earned an undergraduate degree in urban planning and also threw the shot put and discus on the Trojans' track and field team, he took time out to talk about what he’s been doing for the last few weeks, while also reflecting back on his college football career.

WeAreSC: What have you been up to since the conclusion of the season?

Markowitz: I’m in Hawaii and I’ve been training for Pro Day since the Monday that I got off. I’m working with a local trainer named Chad Ikei. We train in Manoa Valley. In the morning we do field work, working on our 40 and things like that. We actually work on the UH field, and then we go in the gym up the street.

Who are some of the other players that you’re working with?

GM: There’s a defensive back, Rashaad Reynolds, who was the defensive MVP in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl for Oregon State. There’s Lavasier Tuinei, who played for Oregon two years ago. There’s Tavita Woodard, who played defensive end for the University of Hawaii. And then there’s my old high school classmate, Kimo Makaula, who played at Idaho State. It’s a good little group.

In your time as a Trojan, you were dealt setback after setback in terms of injuries, and also with the uncertainty of your future at USC last offseason. What was the key to your perseverance through all of that?

GM: I think the key was probably just mental toughness, and I knew what I wanted in my life. I wanted my education and I wanted to play some football. So, I just kept things simple. I knew what I wanted, so I just did whatever I could to get it.

Your future at USC was put in doubt last offseason, and while you had the opportunity to leave for another program, you were always vocal in your determination to remain a Trojan. Why was that?

GM: It would have been hard if I left. I would have had to get into a grad program somewhere else, get adjusted to new coaches and prove myself to them. With these coaches I knew that even though it might have been a rocky road, they knew that I was a proven commodity. … I just always wanted to stay. I chose to walk on at USC – I had scholarships elsewhere. My family and I did everything possible to keep me there.

How gratifying was it for you to end your career the way you did, starting in the Las Vegas Bowl and earning offensive outperformer of the game honors?

GM: In the moment, you don’t think about it. You’re caught up in the prep and all of the work, but after the game there’s a photo of my dad and I hugging each other and crying. I saw my dad and I was like, ‘Can you believe this, dad? Look at this trophy.’ And then we went and hugged each other, and it was like, ‘This is amazing.’ After all that I went through, I was able to come back, finish strong and I was rewarded.

Your grandfather, Larry, played football at USC, but your father, Barry, played at UCLA. Which side did you grow up rooting for and how did you wind up a Trojan?

GM: I was raised and taught in some Bruin ways, I hate to admit. I went to three UCLA football camps, and the O-line coaches liked me, and then they got a new O-line coach my senior year. He didn’t care so much for me, so then we started to not care so much for them. And then the first time I stepped foot on the USC campus was the summer before my senior year when I went to the Rising Stars Camp. I got to see how Pete Carroll ran things, and how it was all about competition, and I just fell in love with that.

[+] EnlargeAbe Markowitz
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesMarkowitz was named the outperformer of the game in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, his final game as a Trojan.
You lived in Western Samoa for a time growing up and you’re a member of one of Samoa’s royal families, and I know that one way that you’ve embraced your Polynesian heritage is through dance. Can you talk a little about that for people who don’t know?

GM: In the Samoan culture, dance and performance is a big part of life, so growing up I played a lot of sports while my sisters did all of the dancing, but as I got older, I wanted to get into some of the dancing, too. In Hawaii a lot of schools have May Day. May Day is Lei Day, a cultural thing we’ve been doing forever in Hawaii, and I was dancing in our May Day show in Hawaii for three years, and I was the Samoan King my senior year – I led the Samoan section. So, when I came to SC, I always heard about the football guys doing the Haka for the Hawaii Club, and it had not happened for a couple of years, so I wanted to bring that back. So, I helped make that happen for two years, and I hope someone continues it. It’s just part of giving back. Being one of the only Polynesians at USC, you’ve got to do something to help promote your culture.

What was your favorite class that you took in your time on campus?

GM: In my last semester, I could choose classes that didn’t really have to go with my major or anything, so I chose a lot of information technology programming classes. In ITP you learn about websites, video making, different programming languages, hacking and how to make apps.

Favorite on or off-campus eating spot?

GM: There’s a taco truck, Los Carnales, on Vernon and Figueroa. It’s a little ways from campus, but it’s pretty good.

If you had one message for USC fans, what would it be?

GM: I just want to thank the fans. When I came back and I was in the crunch of paying the bills for school, doing all the work for school, doing work for football, I had people come up to me and say, ‘Hey Abe, thanks for coming back. Thanks for sticking it out.’ That felt good to have everyday people come up and say that to me. I just want to thank everyone.

Markowitz fulfilling a 'dream' at USC

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
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The Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl-bound Trojans got a taste of the glitz and glamour of the Strip following the team’s practice on Sunday, but it’s likely that Abe Markowitz never had a clue. Because while many of his teammates took part in a post-workout photo opportunity with a pair of showgirls, the 6-foot-1, 305-pound center/guard was off on the far side of the field getting some extra work in. By the time he made his way toward the exit, all of the commotion had long since ended.

“There’s practice and the set schedule of things we do in it every day, but if you have something to work on that isn’t in that schedule, you need to make the time and work on it,” Markowitz said. “Today, that’s what I was doing, and hopefully it helps the team out.”

[+] EnlargeAbe Markowitz
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesSixth-year senior OL Abe Markowitz, who will play his final game for USC in the Las Vegas Bowl, says "I just want to be remembered as a guy who chased his dream."
It’s that blue-collar, no-nonsense work ethic that has served Markowitz well in his long and winding career at USC, as he’s shown the consistent ability to step up for his team whenever he’s been called upon. And now, with Marcus Martin sidelined with a knee injury, the sixth-year senior will see his efforts pay off one last time when he lines up as the Trojans’ starting center against Fresno State on Dec. 21.

“I’m trying not to let my emotions get involved in anything,” said Markowitz, who will be making the third start of his career, and the first of 2013. “Every game this season, I’ve prepared like I was a starter -- that’s what you do here. That showed, unfortunately, in the UCLA game when Marcus got hurt, and I stepped right in and fulfilled my role for the team. So, this is just another week for me. Maybe in a couple of months when I’m done with my USC experience I can look back and see how special of an experience this was, but right now we’re all just locked in.”

The Honolulu Punahou product has certainly made his mark for the Trojans, but his career has been anything but conventional.

Markowitz, whose grandfather, Larry, also played football for the Trojans, and whose father, Barry, played across town at UCLA, chose to walk on at USC in 2008 despite holding scholarship offers from the likes of Michigan State and Miami (Ohio). Quickly making a name for himself on the practice field, he was awarded a scholarship in 2010. Ultimately missing that season as well as the next with foot injuries, Markowitz came back to enjoy an extremely productive 2012 campaign, registering two starts and serving a crucial function as a more-than-reliable reserve.

Originally informed following last season that the Trojans no longer had room for him due primarily to an issue involving scholarship limitations stemming from NCAA sanctions, he was close to landing at the University of Hawaii in the offseason before, in a surprise turn of events, he was eventually cleared to rejoin the team at USC in July after gaining a sixth year of eligibility. And while he would no longer be on scholarship, for Markowitz, who had developed deep roots at the university, the simple fact that he was able to remain a Trojan was what counted most

“I love this place and I’ve definitely enjoyed being here,” said Markowitz, who took out a loan to help pay for his final semester of college. “Just being in Southern California, the weather, the culture, my grandparents live here, and I just wanted to finish here.”

Markowitz’s return also afforded him the opportunity to realize a dream of playing in front of family and friends in his home state when the Trojans took on the Rainbow Warriors in Honolulu in this year’s opener. A contest in which he filled in at right guard for a significant portion of the game, it stands out as one of the highlights of his time at USC.

“I got to play a lot in front of my home fans there,” said Markowitz, who also participated as a shot putter and discus thrower on the USC track and field program. “My parents were there, old neighbors, people that had really helped me out in high school, and that was really big for me. That was a special thing that I wanted to do, and part of coming back was playing in that game in Hawaii.”

And now Markowitz, who is hoping to get a shot at the NFL, is on the cusp of finishing his USC career off in fitting style when the Trojans take on the Bulldogs in less than a week. And while he’s determined to do everything he can leading up to the contest to ensure that he’s prepared, when it comes to the long-term, it’s safe to say that his legacy is already set in stone.

“I just want to be remembered as a guy who chased his dream,” Markowitz said. “I’ve had my few opportunities, and this is my last one. I want kids to know that if they want to chase their dream of walking on some place, then they should do that, because as long as you have the work ethic, and you surround yourself with people that believe in your dream, you can achieve whatever you want.”

Five things: USC at Colorado

November, 23, 2013
11/23/13
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Five things to watch as No. 23 USC (8-3, 5-2 Pac-12) travels to Colorado (4-6, 1-6) on Saturday for a 6:30 p.m. PT kickoff:

1. “Get through it” game: There are the usual questions this week about the possibility of this game being a letdown for the Trojans. The team is coming off an emotional victory over Stanford and there is the looming prospect next week of a matchup with crosstown rival UCLA that could have some very high stakes. Sandwiched between those two games is Colorado, an opponent with a single conference win this season, in a cold, nighttime environment in front of what is expected to be a sparse crowd. Ed Orgeron says his players will not let down because they trust the process of preparing for the game and they know what is still possible for this season.

2. Attack mode: The Buffs are ranked last or next-to-last in the conference in all four major defensive categories (scoring, pass, rush, total). They have the fewest sacks and are giving up the most yards per rush. That means Cody Kessler should have time to run the offense and the Trojans should be able to run when they need to. Kessler has been efficient lately and is putting up good numbers, but with these weather conditions, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Clay Helton pay special attention to the run game. Regardless, the Trojans will look to score early and often to take control of the game quickly and get the starters to the sidelines.

3. Don’t let Rich get richer: Colorado wide receiver Paul Richardson is a legitimate big-play guy, a player who is very familiar to members of the USC program. He played Pop Warner football with Dion Bailey, was a high school teammate of Marqise Lee and trained in the offseason with Josh Shaw. It will be Shaw who is charged with the assignment of making sure that Richardson – who ranks No. 4 in the nation in receiving yards per game - doesn’t have the kind of night that would allow Colorado to stay in the game.

4. Say hello to reserves: If the Trojans can get a comfortable lead, look for Orgeron to make sure the reserves get plenty of playing time. It could be another opportunity for Max Wittek to show off his arm, for De’Von Flournoy to get a few catches as his career winds down or for Abe Markowitz to get some well-deserved reps at center. On defense, look for players such as Jabari Ruffin, Scott Starr, Quinton Powell and Michael Hutchings to show what is waiting for them as the future of the USC linebacker group.

5. Keep the Orgeron train moving: There is a lot of momentum for the Trojans right now under Orgeron and USC fans aren’t looking for that to end in Boulder. In fact, they are looking for the train to pick up speed on the way to the showdown next weekend in the Coliseum. The Trojans have shown steady improvement each week under Orgeron to the point that they are playing their best football of the year at the right time. And, as has been thoroughly discussed in the national media this week, Orgeron has put himself squarely in the mix as a candidate for the full-time job.
As the Trojans continue game week preparations for Hawaii, here is a look at some of the key topics from fall camp.

QB battle: So it appears as if the Trojans will be splitting time at the quarterback spot against Hawaii. Lane Kiffin is playing his cards so close to the vest on this one that he won’t even decide who will start the game until the team lands in Hawaii on Tuesday night. The good news is that all the hoopla will come to an end on Thursday night, once the actual game begins. Either Cody Kessler or Max Wittek will jog onto the field for the opening possession, and that will be that. How things progress from there depends on Kiffin, who eventually either will pick a starter or continue with the two-headed role.

[+] EnlargeJustin Davis
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsTrue freshman Justin Davis could get a lot of work against Hawaii as the Trojans deal with injuries.
Depth issue at tailback: The Trojans came into camp with six tailbacks, but injuries limited five of those backs at various points. Kiffin already has said Silas Redd -- the projected starter -- might not play against Hawaii as he continues to rehab from a spring knee injury. If Tre Madden is healthy, don’t be surprised if he gets a lot of work, along with Justin Davis and Buck Allen. Madden and Davis did some good things in camp, while Allen stayed healthy and got a lot of work. Ty Isaac could be in that mix, as well. D.J. Morgan did not play in camp due to injury.

Big 3 at receiver: There has been a lot of discussion about the lack of depth for the Trojans at the wide receiver spot. With offseason injuries to George Farmer and Steven Mitchell, the Trojans suited up only five scholarship receivers for fall camp, where it seemed like all five took turns getting banged up. The good news is that the season is starting with the top three players available in the rotation in Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers. Even if that is the extent of depth at the position for the opener, you would be hard pressed to find a better trio of receivers lining up for any team in the nation.

Wheeler takes over: There wasn’t a more surprising development in spring than to see Chad Wheeler take over at left tackle when Aundrey Walker went out for a few days due to injury. Wheeler, who had seen limited practice time in his USC career due to shoulder and knee issues, settled in quickly, and by time Walker returned, Wheeler had shown enough to stay, so Walker was put at right guard.

Hope Abe is able to play: If there is any football karma out there for Abe Markowitz, it stands to reason he will get a chance for some extended playing time against Hawaii. Markowitz played at Punahou High School in Honululu and would love nothing more than to play in Aloha Stadium in front of the home crowd after being forced to miss the Trojans' trip to Hawaii in 2010 due to an injury suffered the week of the game. Markowitz, who returned to the team as a walk-on this fall after missing spring ball, is a reserve center and guard in his sixth-year of eligibility.

Dominant pair: It has been a long time since the Trojans had a duo of interior defensive linemen as good as Leonard Williams and George Uko. Remember the days of Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson? Those two formed a pretty impressive wall in the middle of the USC line, and the current pair has a chance to do some special things of their own. Kiffin has said Williams is the kind of player normally found in the middle of top-flight SEC lines, while he also said Uko -- and Devon Kennard -- were two players who brought consistent championship work ethic to fall camp.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Breslin
AP Photo/Chris SzagolaMorgan Breslin hasn't dressed for practice since suffering an ankle injury more than two weeks ago.
Missing Morgan: The Trojans suffered a lot of injuries during fall camp, with as many as 23 players sitting out of a given practice. Most of the injuries were relatively minor, but one that has lasted is the injury to outside linebacker Morgan Breslin. When Morgan first went out more than two weeks ago, it was an apparent ankle injury that didn’t look to be a problem. However, that Breslin hasn’t suited up since. He is a critical weapon for the USC pass rush, and the Trojans will be looking to get him back in action as soon as possible.

Rotation in secondary: Judging by the depth chart released by Kiffin over the weekend, there doesn’t seem to be much settled in the way of a rotation in the secondary. All four spots had “OR” designations to indicate that no starter had been selected yet. This might not be a bad thing at the two safety spots, as the Trojans appear to go three-deep at both spots. Kiffin said the corner position will have Kevon Seymour, Anthony Brown and Torin Harris as the top three in that rotation.

Solid addition: The Trojans got a verbal commitment last Friday from ESPN 300 DE/OLB Malik Dorton from St. John Bosco of Bellflower (Calif). Dorton (6-foot-2, 235) is known as a run-stopping defensive end who likely will play outside linebacker in the USC 5-2 defensive scheme. He becomes the eighth verbal commit for the Trojans in the class of 2014.

The USC Trojans took the field Saturday for the opening day of fall camp practices.

“It was nice to get out here and have organized practices,” said quarterback Cody Kessler. “The summer workouts are great and all, but it’s good to finally be able to be out here with the whole team and the coaches. I thought we had a really good focus today, which was good to see.”

It was a no-pads practice for the Trojans, who will not put on full pads until practice No. 6, which will take place Thursday in a scrimmage in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“It will be a very physical camp once pads get put on,” said coach Lane Kiffin.

There will be a lot of attention paid to the quarterbacks, and Kiffin praised both Kessler and Max Wittek for their work Saturday. Kiffin said there is a long way to go before a starter is named.

Among the primary things Kiffin will be looking for is to see who manages the game better and who takes care of the football. For what it’s worth, Kessler took the first-team reps in the final team drill of the day.

Wittek made an early completion deep to Victor Blackwell, and Kessler hit Nelson Agholor over the middle on a deep ball and then later hooked up with Marqise Lee on a nice reception. Another receiver who had a good first day was freshman Darreus Rogers, who caught almost everything thrown his way.

On the defensive side of the ball, safety Gerald Bowman stood out as a playmaker as he had a one-handed interception and broke up a pass.

Running back rotation

USC running back Tre Madden
Courtesy of Joe AndrasTre Madden "looked great" in the first practice, said USC head coach Lane Kiffin.
All the tailbacks were in action, which was important since several are coming back from injuries. Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan were limited, but the other four all stood out in some way.

Tre [Madden] looked great and he got a lot of work,” Kiffin said. “Justin [Davis] looked better than he did at the end of last spring. Ty [Isaac] had one fumble, but other than that he looked good. There’s a lot of talent in that group.”

Buck Allen ran well in a team drill and looked sharp.

Markowitz update

Abe Markowitz was on the field taking reps as a reserve center. Kiffin confirmed that Markowitz has received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and has returned to the team as a walk-on. Markowitz gives the Trojans an additional versatile player on the line, as he can also play either guard spot.

Special teams in action

There was a lot of special teams work early in the practice with Andre Heidari attempting several field goals. There were also kickoff return and punt return drills, with the return men alternating among a group of Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor, D.J. Morgan, Victor Blackwell and Anthony Brown.

More highlight plays

Jabari Ruffin came on a pass rush and leaped high in the air to knock down a Max Browne pass attempt. ... J.R. Tavai was on a blitz and absolutely bowled over Justin Davis trying to make a block in the backfield. ... There were a couple nice plays by walk-ons: Tailback Taylor Ross had a long run and wide receiver Robby Kolanz leaped between two defenders to make a nice grab.

Recruits in attendance

DL Michael Wyche (Monterey Park, Calif./East Los Angeles College), LB D.J. Calhoun (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito), OL Jordan Austin (Claremont, Calif./Claremont) and class of 2016 WR Brandon Burton (Gardena, Calif./Serra).

Quotebook

“I’m at 198 pounds right now; I was at 208 last year. It’s easier to move around at this weight, but I was cramping up a little today because I haven’t bent this much in a long time. I like that this defensive scheme holds the secondary accountable because everybody in the back end is in man-to-man coverage. In high school, when I played free safety I was just roaming around, relying on my talent. Now I understand how to read offenses, I know my keys and how to read the quarterback.” – safety Dion Bailey

“I worked on my decision-making the most in the offseason. Making the right decision is what will win games. The Sun Bowl game gives me the drive to show something different; I’m very much looking forward to that. As far as the quarterback competition, we all know the reality of the situation. Someone will be named the starter and we all know that. We all spend so much time together and we’re friends, but we don’t talk about who will win the job. (Wittek was asked if he would consider transferring if he didn’t win the job) I will cross that bridge if it comes to that.” – quarterback Max Wittek

“I worked a lot this offseason on making sure I give my receivers a chance to make plays, to not overthrow them. We’ve got the kind of receivers that, if you give them a chance, they will do a lot of good things. It comes down to trust as a quarterback, trust in your guys to go get the ball. I also worked on being a field general, being a leader. It’s things like being the first guy in the meeting room, being there in the mornings when guys want to throw, just doing the right thing by example.” – quarterback Cody Kessler
With eight starters returning on offense, there is a lot of talent returning for the Trojans. But there is also the matter of replacing key productive starters, particularly at quarterback. One person who won’t be replaced is play-caller Lane Kiffin, who gave thought to transferring play-calling duties to quarterback coach Clay Helton before ultimately deciding to keep the duties for the coming season.

The Trojans actually put up some good offensive numbers in 2012, including averages of 32 points and 432 yards per game. The struggles came in areas such as turnovers (34, fourth-worst in FBS), 3rd down conversions (34.2 percent, No. 105 in FBS) and red zone execution (74.5 percent). Kiffin has said he wants to return to a more physical approach in 2013 with a run game that can be relied on to close out games when needed.

Quarterback

The competition to replace Matt Barkley will be one of the most highly watched position battles in college football. Right now there are three players in the mix -- Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne -- although most speculation has it as a two-man race between third-year players Kessler and Wittek. Kessler has gained a lot of momentum since his performance in spring, when he didn’t throw an interception in five scrimmages, and has continued to look sharp in summer throwing sessions. Wittek has the experience of starting two games at the end of the 2012 season, but injuries and illness have limited him in spring and summer drills. Wittek is known for having the bigger arm while Kiffin has described Kessler as a “gamer”. Browne is a true freshman with loads of potential but the two guys ahead of him have a lot of time in the system, so it stands to reason that one of the veterans will land the job.

Running back

Kiffin has described this as the deepest and most talented running back group of his tenure as USC coach. We see no reason to argue, as there is a nice blend of experience, toughness, speed and ability. Silas Redd is the expected starter and showed last season that he can run hard and carry the primary load. Redd is coming off a knee injury in spring ball he is projected to return in time for fall camp. As for the rotation behind Redd, that is where things get interesting.

Tre Madden made a huge splash in spring of 2012 when he moved from linebacker and dazzled the coaches in practice before suffering a knee injury and missing the entire season. Madden will be given every opportunity to show that he is back to form. D.J. Morgan brings a speed element, but he also has been banged up and will need to show that he can stay healthy and hold on to the ball. Javorius Allen enters his third year and showed promise in spring. Then there are the two freshmen -- Justin Davis and Ty Isaac. Davis was one of the stars of spring, as he looked very good as a slasher. Isaac is a big back who will try to make an instant impact in camp with limited reps to go around.

The Trojans return a pair of fullbacks in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner. Both players will be entering their second year of on-field action, and they are expected to play a bigger role.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesExpect Nelson Agholor's production to take a step up as a sophomore.
Wide receiver

It’s always a good situation when the top player at his position returns for another season. Marqise Lee won the Biletnikoff Award in 2012 as the best receiver in college football and has the ability to make a run at the Heisman Trophy this season along with securing his spot as the all-time leading receiver in USC history. Lee will also be the unquestioned leader of the Trojans and seems very comfortable in that role so far.

On the other side of Lee, Nelson Agholor appears set to show that he has similar big play ability. When Lee was sidelined for part of spring with a knee injury, Agholor was the most productive player for the Trojans. Victor Blackwell appears ready for a bigger role after a solid spring and true freshman Darreus Rogers was impressive in summer workouts. Fifth-year senior De'Von Flournoy offers an experienced option as well. Depth could be an issue for this group after season-ending knee injuries to George Farmer and Steven Mitchell.

Tight end

The Trojans don’t have great depth at tight end, but the position group is still strong. Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble are basically co-starters, a talented pair of 6-foot-5, 250-pound options who can catch and block with equal skill. Don’t be surprised if they put up bigger numbers than they did last season. Both players suffered knee injuries in spring ball, which meant an extended audition for sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who passed with flying colors. Cope-Fitzpatrick is another big and athletic guy who is clearly ready for a bigger role.

Offensive line

This is the position group that will need to come together for the USC offense to achieve the stated goals of being more physical and controlling the line of scrimmage. There are five players with starting experience returning with Marcus Martin moving from guard to center as a replacement for Khaled Holmes. Martin showed a lot of promise when he was moved midway through spring ball.

On the right side of the line, Kevin Graf and John Martinez return for their third year of starting next to each other at tackle and guard. Both players are on the preseason Outland Trophy watch list. Max Tuerk follows up a true freshman season that saw him named an honorable mention all-conference selection at left tackle by moving to left guard. Aundrey Walker is once again at left tackle and might be the critical piece for the line. Walker has loads of physical potential but there have also been issues with work ethic and preparation, which led the coaches to consider putting Tuerk back at tackle in the spring. If Walker can match the effort from the rest of the group this could be a pretty good line.

For the first time in many seasons there are some solid reserve options including Jordan Simmons, Cyrus Hobbi, Chad Wheeler, Nico Falah and Khaliel Rodgers. Abe Markowitz might also be available as a sixth-year player. He practiced with the team in voluntary workouts all summer, but there has been no confirmation on his status.

-- Statistics were compiled by ESPN Stats and Information
With the 2012 USC football season now in the books, it’s time to look ahead to what will be an absolutely crucial spring for the program. Here are five key position battles to watch this spring as USC coach Lane Kiffin looks to find the right combination of talent to get the Trojans back on the winning track.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kennard
Jeff Lewis/Icon SMIAfter a year lost to injury, Devon Kennard hopes to reclaim his spot on the defensive line opposite Morgan Breslin.
Defensive End
The emergence of defensive end Morgan Breslin was the big story on defense for the Trojans in 2012, but with Wes Horton’s departure, the other side is wide open with a long list of suitors looking to make their presence felt. Devon Kennard -- who has 18 starts under his belt as a linebacker and end -- had a fantastic spring a year ago, but then he tore a chest muscle during offseason workouts and missed the entire season. Now healthy, this is the last chance for the senior to live up to all of the lofty expectations that followed him when he arrived at USC as a freshman in 2009. Challenging Kennard will be J.R. Tavai, an extremely athletic and versatile option who can play end or tackle, as well as Greg Townsend Jr., whose larger frame might pair up nicely with Breslin. Kevin Greene and Jabari Ruffin could also get looks here.

Markowitz letter to Mark Emmert

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
3:50
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Letter from Barry Markowitz to Mark Emmert

President Mark Emmert 12/24/12
NCAA
PO Box 6222
Indianapolis, Indiana 46206


Aloha Honorable President Emmert,

My best to your family and staff for the holidays.

We last met on the field in 2007 pre-game of the University of Washington vs Hawaii Football Game at Aloha Stadium. My son Abe Markowitz (Punahou School, Honolulu) was recruited by UW. Abe and I met that morning with the UW staff (led by Coach Chris Tormey) at the Ihilani Hotel for a formal presentation.

Respectfully I seek your input and beg relief for a situation that eludes any element of fairness and timely resolution. Time is critical.

Due to unique specialized academic programs, my son entered USC in 2008 as a student/athlete (walk on for football and track.) My son turned down Div 1 scholarship offers from Michigan State, University of Buffalo, Portland State, Miami Ohio, etc, and financial aid opportunities to Brown University, Occidental College and others. This May, my son graduated with an undergraduate degree in Policy, Planning & Development. He has just completed his first semester at the USC Grollier Graduate School of Education.

Because of NCAA sanctions/APR/early entry waiver rules, my son a USC starter (co-starter) cannot apply for an NCAA Medical Hardship 6th year through his own university. Apparently, Abe cannot apply through USC because if my son is successful in his appeal, the Trojans would have to provide a scholarship that they may not have due to current NCAA imposed scholarship limitation sanctions. This is a definitive "Catch 22" unfair situation.

Another NCAA Div 1 member school can apply on behalf of my son for a 6th year. But is that fair to that member school to apply for a student athlete currently under scholarship at another university? How do other member schools justify the expense of recruiting my son when there is no absolute guarantee that my son is eligible for a 6th year, even though USC has kindly allowed a release to many other universities?

Our family financial resources are limited as I am permanently partially disabled. I informed my son that I would sell our home to finish his education and football eligibility at USC.

If allowed a 6th year, my son is not permitted by the NCAA to return to the 2013 USC Football Team as a walk on. Is that fair that an impeccable character NCAA role model two sport student athlete cannot return to his beloved university despite his personal and our family commitment and sacrifice?

How does my son, who requested an NFL Evaluation make an informed decision whether to stay in college or turn professional when there is no mechanism for Abe to immediately submit his request directly to the NCAA for a 6th year? Does he lose an opportunity for a professional livelihood while he awaits for another university to undertake the time and costs of submitting his Medical Hardship appeal? Does he have to go to the NFL prematurely because the options to seek a 6th year are just too unfairly elusive?

My son has honored his obligations to USC and the NCAA. I beg you for relief so that my son has an avenue to negotiate for completion of his collegiate opportunities.

I request the following, Sir:

1) Please allow my son to request a Medical Hardship 6th year directly to the NCAA, immediately. His personal letter, timeline, and medical records can be provided as soon as you allow. They are ready for submission.

2) Please allow my son, if he receives his approval for a 6th year to continue under scholarship at his current university. Punishing a walk on who earned a scholarship and achieved status as a starter cannot be what the NCAA intended when it authorized punishment to his university. I sincerely request you allow USC to reinstate one football scholarship for 2013-2014, if and only if it is used for Abraham Markowitz on approval of his 6th year of eligibility, by the NCAA.

3) Please allow Abraham Markowitz, if granted his 6th year of eligibility, to return to his former walk on status if no scholarship can be provided.

I would hope that the NCAA would concur, that these circumstances commanding my son to seek a transfer to continue his education and eligibility are not what the founding members of the NCAA intended. It is counter to every principle the NCAA seeks to uphold.

Thank you in advance for your kindness in promptly considering my requests. University registration requirements and NFL declaration deadlines require immediate action.

A righteous resolution would be for my son to remain where he is at, under scholarship, with eligibility.

Mahalo,

Barry Markowitz

NCAA needs to step up for Markowitz

December, 26, 2012
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Over the course of the next two weeks, NCAA president Mark Emmert will likely be attending several bowl games and corporate events leading up to the Discover BCS Championship Game.

Abe Markowitz
Garry Paskwietz at WeAreSC.comAbe Markowitz is hoping that someone in the NCAA will help him out and give him a sixth season of eligibility.
For Abe Markowitz’s sake, let’s hope Emmert finds time to devote a few minutes to helping a student-athlete who needs assistance unsnarling the NCAA’s web of bureaucracy.

Markowitz is finishing up his fifth season at USC this week while playing in the Sun Bowl but wants to apply for a sixth year of eligibility, in part to continue his football career but also to complete his master’s degree in education. His main problem, however, is that USC cannot apply for a sixth year for Markowitz due to issues that would arise due to NCAA sanctions, the APR and early entry waiver rules.

This unique situation puts Markowitz in a bind at a time when he needs to make serious decisions about his future. USC has released him to other schools but, with no guarantee that he will have a sixth year of eligibility, will another school make an application for a sixth year while Markowitz is currently on scholarship at USC?

It’s a Catch-22 situation, and with spring semesters starting soon at the schools in question, it means time is of the essence -- and so far Markowitz hasn’t received much help in sorting through the red tape.

For an organization such as the NCAA that is supposed to be there for the student-athlete, the Markowitz case offers a clear opportunity to step up and do the right thing.

This is a young man who turned down scholarships at other schools in order to walk-on at USC. After eventually earning a scholarship, Markowitz subsequently suffered two separate foot injuries which basically cost him two seasons on the field. He came back this year to become a co-starter along the offensive line but, of what should be of greater importance to the NCAA, he also completed his first semester of graduate work this fall after receiving his undergrad degree last May.

As anyone who has ever tried to navigate through a bureaucracy knows, it can be a frustrating process, and Barry Markowitz, Abe’s father, has taken the step of appealing to Emmert directly in an effort to help expedite the process. It remains to be seen if a father’s plea will be heard or if the NCAA folks will be too busy over the next few weeks to pay attention.

Whether it is at USC or another school, it seems reasonable that Markowitz should be given the opportunity to play another season of football and ultimately get his graduate degree. If it is at USC, there is an added bonus, as USC's season opener next season will be at Hawaii -- Markowitz's home state.

Hopefully with the New Year coming up, Markowitz will get a chance to see his wish come true.

Read Barry Markowitz's letter to Mark Emmert here.

USC offensive breakdown 

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
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Our look back at the USC offense for 2012 and a look ahead for what to expect in 2013.

Marqise Lee
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireMarqise Lee is a spectacular talent, but the Trojans need to be less reliant on the star receiver in 2013.
What was good in 2012: The Trojans had the best wide receiver in football in Marqise Lee, and it wasn’t even close. Check any measurement you want; the Biletnikoff Award, the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, any number of All-American teams. Those kinds of honors tend to roll in when you set a conference record for catches (112) and receiving yards (1,680) while also leading the conference in kickoff-return yardage. His masterpiece was the Arizona game, with 16 catches for 345 yards and a pair of scores along with 123 yards in kickoff returns.

What was bad in 2012: Too much reliance on Lee. As good as Lee was, there was a train of thought during the season -- one that was even offered up recently in comments by Matt Barkley -- that the Trojans may have focused too much on Lee in relation to other players. There is no shortage of skill weapons on the USC roster, yet Lee caught more balls this year than the next two receivers combined, and one of those other players -- Robert Woods -- is the all-time USC leader in career receptions. The USC offense, which was supposed to be one of the best in the country, had too many bouts of sputtering and inconsistent play. Finding a semblance of balance will be important as the Trojans head into next year.

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Wrapping up USC's first week of bowl practices

December, 7, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- Here's a look at everything else that happened with the USC Trojans this week, including their first two bowl practices, an early trip to El Paso and more:

Defensive coordinator plans

USC coach Lane Kiffin won't begin the formal process of searching for a new defensive coordinator until after the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31.

Kiffin's father, Monte, resigned as assistant head coach and de facto defensive coordinator following a disappointing 7-5 season. Kiffin says he plans to hire a true defensive coordinator to replace him, despite defensive line coach Ed Orgeron holding that title this season.

"We'll take our time and make sure that we get the right fit," Lane Kiffin said on Wednesday after the Trojans' first bowl practice.

Kiffin did indicate he will begin the process of sorting out candidates before the bowl game.

"I think you can kind of start it in your head," Kiffin said.

Kiffin is not afraid of a mid-January hire hurting his program in recruiting, even with signing day on Feb. 6. He pointed out that he was hired on Jan. 12 in 2010 and still signed a top recruiting class.

"It's not as quick as you think," Kiffin said of the time between the end of the bowl game and signing day. "One assistant coach isn't gonna be a big deal, and we still have over a month after the game until signing day."

Barkley back

Quarterback Matt Barkley missed Wednesday's practice while in New York for an awards banquet and walked into the Trojans' Friday session midway through, wearing sweats but no shoulder sling.

He has not practiced since suffering a sprained throwing shoulder Nov. 17, but he's still on track to start on Dec. 31.

Kiffin told reporters in El Paso on Thursday that Barkley "obviously wouldn't have been able to play if it had been an earlier [bowl] game."

USC's other bowl-game date possibilities were Dec. 22 and Dec. 27.

(Read full post)

Practice report: Back on the field

December, 5, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- After over a week away from action, the Trojans went back to work on Wednesday, and with Brian Kennedy/Howard Jones Field having recently been re-sodded, the team took part in a rare practice in the Coliseum. It was a loose and notably high-spirited workout that USC head coach Lane Kiffin said had "great energy," even going as far as to call it "probably the best practice we've had since maybe the first day of training camp."

With quarterback Matt Barkley still in New York after receiving a scholar-athlete award from the National Football Foundation, and Marqise Lee in Orlando as a finalist for the Biletnikoff award that will be handed out Thursday, Wednesday's practice centered around the development of some of the more inexperienced Trojans players, while Kiffin and Co. also tinkered around with a couple of position moves.

"Good to get back out on the practice field -- a luxury we haven't had the last two off-seasons -- to get some extra practices," Kiffin said. "Our early bowl week practices, we focus a lot on younger guys, our backups, and moving some guys around at times."

One of those players who spent time at a different position on Wednesday was Josh Shaw, who moved over to his original safety spot after playing a majority of the season at cornerback.

(Read full post)

USC senior offensive lineman Abe Markowitz has petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, a source has told WeAreSC.

Markowitz -- a former walk-on who earned a scholarship prior to the 2010 season -- suffered season-ending foot injuries in both 2010 and 2011 but came back this year to start two games and was a versatile reserve at both guard and center.

If the petition is granted, Markowitz could compete for the open spot at center in 2013 when Khaled Holmes is gone. It would also give Markowitz a chance to play in his home state as the Trojans open next season in Hawaii. Markowitz attended Honolulu Punahou but was forced to miss USC's game in Hawaii in 2010 because of the foot injury.

Markowitz, who has also competed in the shot put for the USC track team, is working toward a master's degree in education.

WeAreSC Roundtable 

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
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With the talk earlier this week of Marqise Lee possibly seeing double-duty at corner, WeAreSC staffers list five current and past players who could have succeeded in two-way action.

Garry Paskwietz

Current:

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USC-Utah: Wounded but not out of it

October, 4, 2012
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USC and quarterback Matt Barkley started the season as the toasts of college football. Or the hated front-runners, depending on how you respond to the Rorschach test that the Trojans are across the nation.

But a loss at Stanford and middling numbers from Barkley have doused much of the hype and knocked them off the college football radar. National championships and Heisman Trophies are no longer associated with the program in 2012, and more than a few seem eager to stick the dreaded "overrated" label on the team and player.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley, Lane Kiffin
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireQB Matt Barkley and coach Lane Kiffin know that much is still at stake for USC.
"I'm good at blocking all that stuff out," Barkley said. "I know what's significant to us. I know what people who know football are seeing, not just the media and what they are writing. It doesn't get to me or our offense. We've just got to keep our heads down and work for every yard we get."

USC off the radar? Trojans coach Lane Kiffin isn't buying it.

"I don't think at SC you're ever off the radar," he said. "I think that shows in the ratings of games. Even when you're not No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3, all the conversations are about SC and you're always everybody's biggest game. I don't think you ever really come off the radar here."

Backing him up is Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. To him, as well as the Utes fan base, it's a big deal that No. 13 USC is coming to Salt Lake City to play inside Rice-Eccles Stadium on Thursday night (9 p.m. ET on ESPN).

"Without a doubt," Whittingham said. "It's been many, many years since USC was here."

Many years is right. The Trojans' previous visit was in 1917 -- a 51-0 victory.

Still, in the preseason this looked like a game with far more national juice. Most so-called pundits projected this as a likely battle of ranked, unbeaten teams, a game with significance for the Pac-12 South Division as well as the national picture. It was seen as one of just a few potential stumbling blocks for USC as it fired up its engines for a run at the national title game.

Instead, we have USC getting beaten at the line of scrimmage in 21-14 loss to the Cardinal, and Utah getting whipped every which way in a 37-7 humbling at Arizona State.

Both teams are coming off a bye week. The Trojans already had a bounce-back game in their solid 29-7 win over California. The Utes spent the extra week trying to correct the myriad issues exposed by the Sun Devils -- blocking, in particular.

"The offensive line play has been an ongoing project for us. Obviously a priority," Whittingham said. "We had plenty to work on."

The Utes must get the running game going against USC. They need running back John White to be fully healthy after an ankle injury -- he didn't look at that way at Arizona State -- because the Trojans have produced a potent pass rush this season (four sacks a game), which could make for a long night for quarterback Jon Hays if his play-action fakes aren't working.

The Trojans also have issues on the offensive line, most particularly the health of center Khaled Holmes. He's likely out of the game, which means fifth-year senior Abe Markowitz will be eyeballing Utah's 325-pound nose tackle Star Lotulelei. In last year's meeting, Holmes, probably the best center in the Pac-12, if not the nation, mostly fought Lotulelei to a stalemate. It's difficult to imagine Markowitz won't need a lot of help from his guards.

Utah's hope rests on being able to slow the Trojans' running game and get pressure on Barkley without resorting to a lot of blitzes. While the Utes pride themselves on their man-to-man coverage in the secondary, it's likely they will use a lot of the Cover 2 to help keep Trojans receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee in check. That's what Stanford did, and such schemes have kept Barkley's numbers down because opposing defenses are willing to take chances with alignments that invite Barkley to check into running plays.

"If teams are going to play Cover 2 and just send safeties over the top and double-team both outside receivers, you're going to be forced to run the ball where they can't support the run," Barkley said.

Sure, Barkley would like to go deep every other play, but, he added, "I'm not really worried about being flashy and all that if we're moving the ball."

The problem is the Trojans have been hot and cold moving the ball, through the air or on the ground. They are fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring and pass efficiency, and sixth in total offense, rushing and passing yards. They are 11th in third-down percentage.

Those numbers suggest mediocrity, not the offensive greatness most projected for Barkley and company in the preseason.

Yet, it's still early. A lot can -- and likely will -- happen over the second half of the season. Neither of these teams have permanently set a trajectory for how things will go in 2012.

An upset victory for Utah would be monumental for the program in its second year of Pac-12 play. And an impressive performance by USC could land it back on the national radar.

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