USC Trojans: Khaled Holmes

The USC Trojans had four players selected in the 2013 NFL draft, increasing their record total of drafted players to 480.

It was a mixed bag for the Trojans in this draft, as they did not have a player selected in the first round -- USC also holds the record for most first-round NFL draft choices -- and there was also the public free-fall for quarterback Matt Barkley.

[+] EnlargeRobert Woods
Rich Schultz /Getty ImagesWith the success Robert Woods had against Syracuse, it's no surprise Bills coach Doug Marrone made him the first Trojan off the board in the 2013 draft.
There had been hope that Barkley and receiver Robert Woods would go in the opening round, but the first day passed with both players undrafted.

Woods didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called, though, as the all-time leading USC receptions leader was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the second round with the No. 41 overall pick.

The Bills had selected a quarterback -- E.J. Manuel from Florida State -- in the first round, and they were also in the market for a No. 2 receiver to pair with Stevie Johnson. The fact that Woods was the next selection for the club after Manuel says a lot about how they feel about him as a potential long-term piece of the puzzle.

The new coach of the Bills, Doug Marrone, also faced Woods twice as the head coach of Syracuse and in those two games he saw Woods catch 18 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns, along with a 76-yard run in 2012.

After Woods was picked, it was assumed by most USC fans that Barkley would be next off the board but, somewhat surprisingly, the next Trojan picked was safety T.J. McDonald, who went to the St. Louis Rams in the third round with the No. 71 selection.

There hadn’t been a lot of pre-draft buzz about McDonald, a one-time All-American who saw his stock fall as a senior. You have to wonder how much two items affected that drop-off: the personal foul penalties as a junior that led to questions about his style of play and the overall defensive schemes implemented in 2012 by Monte Kiffin, which led to his resignation.

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Exit interview: Khaled Holmes

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
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Khaled Holmes, Matt BarkleyRic Tapia/Icon SMIFew Trojans have combined on-field and off-the-field accomplishments better than center Khaled Holmes (left), who should be one of the top centers selected in this week's NFL draft.
Following in the footsteps of his brother, Alex, as well his brother-in-law, Troy Polamalu, Khaled Holmes came to USC in 2008 after a standout prep career at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. Making his debut as a starter as a redshirt sophomore at right offensive guard, he would eventually slide over to center the following season, where he remained for the rest of his time as a Trojan -- firmly establishing himself as one of the nation’s top players at the position. A strong and sturdy performer who was selected as a team captain in 2012, he was a Rimington Award finalist this past season despite suffering a high ankle sprain that hampered him for much of the fall.

Outside of football, Holmes was just as impressive inside the classroom. A 2012 Pac-12 All-Academic first team selection, he earned his B.A. with a double major in communication and classics before capping his time off on campus this past fall with a master’s degree in communication management.

Having now fully recovered from his ankle injury, as well as a strained pectoral muscle suffered at the NFL combine, Holmes is currently gearing up for a professional career. With the NFL draft coming up on Thursday, he took time out of his busy schedule to reflect back on his time at USC, as well as what life has been like since his Trojans’ career came to an end.

WeAreSC: What have you been up to since the end of the season in terms of preparing for the NFL draft?

Holmes: It’s been just a lot of training, first for the Combine in February, and then Pro Day in March. Just getting in the best shape possible for those events that you do, which is not necessarily the traditional football training that you might think of. But it was exciting, and it was fun to work out with guys from across the country who all had the same goals and the same dreams.

WeAreSC: Where have you been training primarily?

Holmes: Prior to Pro Day I was at Velocity in Irvine, and then Redondo Beach. And then since Pro Day I’ve been working out at USC.

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There has been plenty of attention on the USC offensive line this spring, almost all of it pointed in three directions -- the battle for the vacant center position, Aundrey Walker’s bid to nail down the starting left tackle job, and the impact of Mike Summers, the newly hired assistant who has joined James Cregg as one of what is now two offensive line coaches on the Trojans staff.

Over on the right side of the line, meanwhile, guard John Martinez and tackle Kevin Graf have each quietly had a more-than-productive March and April. Two redshirt seniors set to start alongside each other for the third straight year, there’s nothing particularly glamorous about the hard-nosed duo, but as the unquestioned veteran leaders of an offensive line unit that is still very much a work in progress, they figure to play a vital part in determining how the group ultimately performs in the fall.

“We’re the right side, we have the most experience and we plan on leading these guys to wherever we need to go,” Martinez said.

[+] EnlargeJohn Martinez
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIWhile parts of the offensive line remain in flux, John Martinez will start at right guard for the third consecutive season.
Graf and Martinez are hoping that means a more consistent level of play for the offensive line next season. Because although it performed solidly for the most part in 2012 -- allowing just 17 sacks on the year -- it also struggled against some of the more physical defensive fronts, most notably Stanford’s and Notre Dame’s. Throw in the loss of Khaled Holmes -- the team’s starting center for the past two years -- and it becomes apparent just how crucial this spring is.

With a change in philosophy set in place by Summers, however, in addition to the two seasoned vets paving the way, it’s safe to say that the offensive line has its sights set high for 2013.

“One thing Coach Summers has brought in this spring is that we talk about being the best offensive line in the country, and that’s what our goal is,” Graf said. “We’re here to be the best. We’re here to be the greatest offensive line in the country, and that’s what we need to work harder towards.”

In Graf, the Trojans have a prototypical tackle with 6-foot-6, 300-pound size to go along with deceptive athleticism and a unique football IQ that comes with growing up in a football family. His father, Allan, and brother, Derek, both played for the Trojans on the offensive line.

Martinez, at 6-2 and 305 pounds, is more of a brawler on the interior with a strong build and quick feet. Like Graf, he has football in his genes, with a number cousins having played collegiately, and a brother, Keni Kaufusi, currently on the California roster.

Both arrived at USC as members of the Class of 2009 during the Pete Carroll era. Graf, from Agoura Hills (Calif.), and Martinez, a Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood, product actually first met at the Under Armor All-American Game that year and became fast friends.

That bond has transferred over to the field where, having made a total of 25 starts next to each other, the two share a unique familiarity and comfort in the knowledge that they can always count on one another.

“We have trust,” Graf said. “I know that he’s going to have my back, and he knows that I’m going to have his, and that’s the most important thing.”

In particular, it’s the relative ease with which they can communicate with each other on the line in the heat of battle that works not only to their own benefit, but to that of the entire offense.

[+] EnlargeKevin Graf
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireRight tackle Kevin Graf will start alongside John Martinez for the third year in a row this fall.
“He knows what needs to happen if I need help, and I know what needs to happen if he needs help on certain assignments with pass protections and everything like that,” Martinez said. “So I definitely feel like familiarity and the sense of communication that we have with each other really helps out a lot during the games.”

“We’ll have full-on conversations on the line, because we know that we need to be able to communicate with each other -- we need to be able to see everything, and that definitely helps,” added Graf. “And when you’ve been training with someone next to you for three years, it’s almost easy.”

But their synchronicity on the field isn’t the only reason for their success. Having made names for themselves both in the weight room and on the practice field for the determined way in which they go about their work, they continue to strive to improve.

“We’re still getting better,” Graf said. “When we first started, we were just sophomores, and by the time you’re a senior, you’ve grown a lot in terms of your maturity, and you’ve grown up as a player and a person, but you can still get better every day, and that’s what we do.”

With a work ethic like that, their emergence as leaders over the last year has developed naturally. This spring, however, they’ve each taken that responsibility up a notch.

“I definitely think that I’ve stepped up as a leader, because now that Khaled is gone it’s our turn,” Martinez said. “You have to have someone fill that role on a team, and I feel like that’s what me and Kevin have done on the offensive line. We have the experience to lead them and to show them the path to take.”

“I’m not going to be here forever, and John isn’t going to be here forever, so when the time comes for us to leave, the younger guys need to be ready,” Graf said.

Following the lead of Graf and Martinez, there are signs the offensive line is slowly starting to come together. The two vets are part of a starting unit that features Marcus Martin at center, Max Tuerk at left guard and Walker at left tackle. Over the past two weeks of practice, there has been a noticeable improvement in the group’s level of play.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride, but I feel like everything is starting to come together now,” Martinez said. “Spring break is over, we’ve got all of the jitters out and everyone is here to play ball. That’s what we need to do, because the offensive line had a decent season last year, and now we need to make a point to everyone else that we’re the foundation of the offense.”

If the offensive line does fulfill Martinez’s goal in establishing that mindset, it’s not far-fetched to imagine both he, as well as Graf, capping their USC careers off on the right note in 2013.

“Finishing off strong is important for us as seniors,” Martinez said. “I definitely think that we’re going to make a point to everybody that we mean business, and we’re going to hold down that right side.”

Saturday's scrimmage report

March, 30, 2013
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LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans held a scrimmage on Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with the offense having the most balanced day of the spring.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesReceiver Nelson Agholor proved last season that he can be a deep threat for USC.
“I thought this was the best day for the offense in terms of having a good balance of running the ball and throwing the ball downfield,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Both of the quarterbacks were accurate, they handled things well, and I thought the offensive line has put together two of their best practices in a row.”

There was plenty of scoring in the scrimmage, including two touchdowns each from Nelson Agholor (four catches for 93 yards) and Justin Davis (11 rushes, 54 yards).

Agholor has scored at least one long touchdown in each of the three spring scrimmages so far. Today, it was a 59-yard effort on the opening series on a pretty pass from Cody Kessler down the right sideline.

It was the second eye-opening practice in a row for Davis. Not only did he get into the end zone twice but his most impressive run might have been when he bowled over Leon McQuay III on an 11-yard gain in the red zone.

Both quarterbacks did well too. In addition to the opening touchdown to Agholor, Kessler also had a scoring pass courtesy of a great effort from Victor Blackwell. With the offense at the 25-yard line Kessler lofted a pass into the right corner of the end zone, where Torin Harris had solid coverage on Blackwell, only to see Blackwell simply leap up and get the ball for the score.

As a side note, Blackwell’s high school coach, Bruce Rollinson from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, was standing on the sidelines near the play and had a big smile on his face for his former star. Kessler ended the day completing five of nine passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns.

Wittek, who also played for Rollinson at Mater Dei, hit Agholor for a 15-yard score, but his best throw of the day came when he threw down the right sideline to George Farmer for a 47-yard gain. Wittek completed three of five passes for 84 yards and one touchdown, he also had one potential touchdown pass dropped by Blackwell.

On defense, the two most active players were J.R. Tavai and Josh Shaw.

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Robert Woods, Matt Barkley AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillRobert Woods and Matt Barkley put their best foot forward in front of scouts from 31 NFL teams during USC's pro day Wednesday.
The Trojans held their annual NFL Pro Day on Wednesday with plenty of buzz surrounding the workout of quarterback Matt Barkley.

Not only is Barkley a high-profile prospect at the most high-profile position, but pro day marked the first time Barkley had an opportunity to throw for scouts since injuring his shoulder in late November. Since the end of the season Barkley has been spending his time in the South getting treatment on the shoulder and working with former FSU quarterback Chris Weinke at the IMG Academy in Florida.

Before he could get to his throwing work, Barkley ran the 40-yard dash (a hand-timed mark of 4.87) and the shuttle drill, although he slipped in one shuttle rep and came up flexing his right hand. By the time his throwing session started, the hand was fine and all eyes were focused on him.

Barkley threw to a group of five primary players; wide receivers Robert Woods, Brandon Carswell and Travon Patterson, tight end Dominique Byrd and running back Curtis McNeal. It took about three or four throws to realize the shoulder strength was not an issue. There was zip on his passes and he was moving well on a variety of throws. There will always be nitpicking as part of the scouting process for little things that might not have gone as well, but for the most part it was a successful session, with Barkley hitting on 46 of 50 throws.

“It was a great day just to come out and throw the ball around,” Barkley said. “It’s good to be back on SC’s campus for something like this. The shoulder felt fine. The ball slipped on a couple but no worries about that. I’m not worried about anything.”

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The Trojans will hold their annual NFL pro day on Wednesday, a showcase for all draft-eligible players, but the spotlight will be shining brightest on the workout of Matt Barkley.

After not being able to take part in the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine due to an injured shoulder, this will be the opportunity for Barkley to prove to coaches and scouts that he is healthy and deserving of a first-round selection.

Because Barkley hasn't thrown since getting injured against UCLA, there are many questions about his draft status. Will he be a first-day pick or will he fall into the second round? So much will depend upon the health of the shoulder and how he performs in the roughly 60 throws he will make to Robert Woods. There are no questions about his leadership and character but, in the end, an NFL quarterback needs to be able to make the throws, and that is what Barkley will need to show.

Woods will be looking to prove something himself, as well. This is a deep receiver draft and most mock drafts have him going in the second round, but a recent mock draft from Charley Casserly at NFL.com had Woods as a first-round pick. The main goal for Woods in this workout is to get a 40 time below 4.5. He ran 4.51 at the combine and getting into the 4.4 range would mean a lot in the constant jockeying for draft position.

This will also be the first opportunity to conduct a workout for center Khaled Holmes, who withdrew from the Senior Bowl and then got hurt during the weightlifting portion of the combine.

Others working out will include a trio of defensive backs in T.J. McDonald, Nickell Robey and Jawanza Starling along with defensive end Wes Horton and running back Curtis McNeal.

The USC Pro Day will be shown live on ESPN3 at 11:15 a.m. PT.

WeAreSC Roundtable 

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
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The Trojans opened spring practice on Tuesday and the WeAreSC staff gives its impressions from the first day.

Name three players who jumped out at you

Garry Paskwietz: Josh Shaw would be at the top of the list. He has moved to strong safety this spring, the same position that T.J. McDonald had last season when it was designated as free safety. Shaw looks much more active and comfortable in this role so far.
LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans opened up the 2013 spring ball practice session with a spirited workout, which is typical for the first day of spring.

“I thought things looked good today,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “That is usually the case in spring, guys are fired up to get out here and start going to work. I also liked what I saw from our coaches, especially since some of them have only been with us for a short time. They were really ready to go.”

One of the new items to watch for the Trojans this spring is the 5-2 defense which is run by new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Kiffin said that getting the new defense set is the top priority of spring and the highlight play of the day was an example of how the defense can shine. Jabari Ruffin -- who was lined up at defensive end -- had an interception of a Cody Kessler pass after dropping back into coverage and leaping in the air to make the play.

Kessler is part of what is expected to be an intense quarterback competition along with Max Wittek and Max Browne. Kiffin said Kessler was on schedule to be named MVP of the day until the interception and he also liked what he saw from his true freshman.

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Former USC center Khaled Holmes was unable to take part in the on-field testing drills for offensive linemen on Saturday at the NFL combine.

Holmes suffered a strained pec during the bench press portion of the combine on Friday when he put up 13 reps before being forced to withdraw due to the injury.

The timing of this latest injury -- which forced him to sit out the 40-yard dash and other drills -- is unfortunate for Holmes after being forced to withdraw from the Senior Bowl due to an undisclosed injury. Holmes had battled through an ankle injury in 2012 and neck/stinger issues earlier in his career at USC so there are questions about his durability from the NFL scouts.

There will still be a chance for Holmes to make a strong impression at the USC pro day on March 27, which figures to draw a large continent of coaches and personnel evaluators.

Holmes is ranked as the No. 4 center prospect by Mel Kiper from ESPN.
Once lauded as the preseason No. 1 with the Heisman Trophy favorite at quarterback, the USC football program sank to historic depths in 2012. What's the state of the program and is the sky falling on USC? Your bloggers debate:

Ted Miller: Is the sky falling for USC? Maybe just a little, at least if you believe in momentum.

In August, the Trojans were ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. They were rolling with the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. Quarterback Matt Barkley was the golden boy of the preseason, the top Heisman candidate, lauded for his unselfish decision to return for his senior season. And coach Lane Kiffin, after leading the Trojans to a 10-2 finish in 2011, seemed to be well on his way to proving his skeptics wrong and rewriting the story of his coaching career.

Now, in February, USC is coming off a 7-6 season, the first time a preseason No. 1 team lost six games. It lost five of its final six games, including an execrable performance against middling Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. After the game, there was a locker-room altercation that involved some players bad-mouthing Barkley. Further, Kiffin has been -- fairly -- blamed for the collapse, and many of his actions during the season served to reinforce his image as a guy obsessed with working the angles instead of focusing on the details. All this serves to put Kiffin on perhaps the hottest seat in the nation heading into 2013.

Further, the recruiting class, the one constant during the surprising losing, ended up ranked 14th in the nation after several players decommitted. A handful of those decommitted players added salt to the Trojans' wounds by signing with rivals UCLA and Notre Dame.

Why did they decommit? The reasons are likely to be specific to the individual athlete, but it's fair to say that the program's fall from grace and Kiffin's uncertain status played a role.

The program was perceived in a much different way in August than it is today. The considerable momentum of the preseason has reversed. Considerably.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP PhotoLane Kiffin might be on the hot seat in 2013, but perhaps a dimmer spotlight will help his Trojans.
Of course, USC still signed an outstanding recruiting class, with 12 of the 13 members earning four stars and nine ranking among the nation's top 150 players. The present negative momentum can be quickly reversed with a fast start to the season. If Kiffin wins nine or 10 games, he'll probably be back in 2014, especially if he can beat UCLA and Notre Dame in the process -- and the Bruins in particular.

So, really, the sky is not falling over Heritage Hall.

But it is definitely blocked by dark, threatening clouds no USC fan likes to see.

Kevin Gemmell: No, the sky is not falling on USC. And I'll tell you why. There aren't many schools in the country that finish 7-6 and can bring in a recruiting haul -- considered by some to actually be a disappointment -- like the Trojans did earlier this week. There aren't a lot of schools that can look as bad as the Trojans did in 2012 and still ink six players rated in the top six for their positions nationally -- including the Nos. 1 and 3 safeties, the No. 2 pocket passer and the No. 3 defensive tackle. USC is a brand name and is always going to attract elite recruits. Even in the worst of times. And it can't get much worse than it did last season.

I've been very critical of the 2012 edition of USC football. In a word, it stunk. It was like watching a train wreck crash into a train wreck that crashed into a manure pile. For whatever reason, despite an abundance of talent, the chemistry proved toxic. Kiffin has, rightfully so, shouldered the lion's share of the blame.

All that said, with the talent USC has on its roster as of today, the Trojans can win at least nine games in 2013 (pause for laughter). I say again, the Trojans can win more games in 2013 than the team with Barkley, Robert Woods, Khaled Holmes, Nickell Robey and T.J. McDonald.

Bad years -- for whatever reason -- happen. But folks weren't screaming to fire Kiffin when he took over a program on probation and went 18-7 in his first two seasons -- including the aforementioned 10-win campaign in 2011. People weren't calling for his head when the Trojans won at Autzen Stadium in 2011 -- something only one other Pac-12 team has been able to do since 2008.

What made 2012 so much worse than it should have been were the off-field issues that came across as bush league. Those are easily corrected. You know how? Stop doing stupid things off the field! That should do the trick. And while we're at it, stupid things on the field don't work that well either. Free tip.

The spotlight won't be nearly as bright in 2013 as it was in 2012. The Trojans will probably start off in the preseason top 25. Maybe they even sneak into the top 20. That's a lot more psychologically manageable than No. 1. The schedule sets up nicely with four very winnable games before the Trojans travel to Arizona State at the end of September for their first Pac-12 South showdown. Then they get a week and a half to prep for Arizona and an extra two days to prep for Notre Dame. More importantly, it gets a lot of young players time to get acclimated. There is also a lot of returning talent that saw a great deal of playing time in 2012 -- for better or worse.

As of Feb. 8, 2013, I'm not sure who is going to win the Pac-12 South. I might give a slight edge to either Arizona State or UCLA. But discounting the Trojans is just foolishness. No, USC fans, the sky is not falling. Sometimes you just have to put the past behind you and -- as you folks say -- fight on.

USC roundtable: 2013 offensive line 

January, 24, 2013
1/24/13
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The Trojans only lose one player on the offensive line, but there could be a lot of shuffling in spring ball. Give your thoughts on how you think the two-deep along the line will shake out.

Garry Paskwietz:

LT – Aundrey Walker, Chad Wheeler; LG – Max Tuerk, Marcus Martin; C – Cyrus Hobbi or Marcus Martin; RG – John Martinez, Jordan Simmons; RT – Kevin Graf, Zach Banner

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Khaled Holmes is one of two USC players, along with T.J. McDonald, who will be taking part in the Senior Bowl this week in an effort to shine in front of NFL scouts.

[+] EnlargeAlex Holmes
Garry Paskwietz/WeAreSC.comUSC senior center Khaled Holmes speaks after receiving the Jess Hill Award last week.
Prior to heading to Mobile, Ala., for the week-long event, Holmes was honored at a dinner on January 16 as the winner of the Jess Hill Award, presented by the San Gabriel Valley Trojan Club to a deserving student-athlete who represents the USC motto of “Faithful, Scholarly, Skillful, Courageous, Ambitious.”

Holmes was a three-year starter for the Trojans -- he played right guard in 2010 and center from 2011-12 -- and was named All-Pac-12 first team in 2012.

Holmes had a cumulative 3.31 GPA at USC, received a bachelor’s degree in spring of 2011 in communications and finished his master’s degree in communication management in fall of 2012.

“It’s an incredible honor to receive this award,” Khaled said while accepting the award. “To be the first brothers to win the award is pretty awesome.”

Khaled’s brother, Alex, had been named the Jess Hill Award winner in 2005 after his career as a USC tight end. Alex Holmes was in attendance at the dinner, as was former USC fullback/tight end Rhett Ellison, who now plays for the Minnesota Vikings, and the award was presented to Holmes by current USC running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu.

“This night showcases how real the Trojan family is,” Polamalu said. “You have Alex and Khaled, two brothers who have won this award. Their sister, Theodora, is married to my nephew, Troy, who also played at USC. Then you have Rhett Ellison, whose dad, Riki, was my teammate when I played at USC.”

It was Alex Holmes who summed up the night with the tribute to his brother when he said, “Khaled is the most impressive person I’ve ever met in my life.”

Holmes (6-foot-4, 310) was ranked as the No. 2 senior center by Mel Kiper of ESPN in his most recent position rankings.
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.

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Roundtable: Moments with most impact 

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
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For this week's roundtable, the WeAreSC staff got together to compile a list of the 10 moments of the 2012 season that had the most impact.

1. Decision to shelve the black shoes
The USC uniform is one of the most traditional in college football, and that includes the black shoes that had long represented the blue-collar nature of the program. At some point in the offseason the decision was made to go with a flashier style of shoe for the 2012 season, a look that was more Oregon than USC. The change was roundly panned within the USC community, particularly by the former players who had worn the black shoes with so much pride through the years.

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Taking part in their final practice of the season on the USC campus on Saturday morning, the Trojans continued to gear up for the team’s Sun Bowl clash with Georgia Tech with an energetic workout in helmets and shorts.

“I think we were pretty fired up,” said redshirt freshman quarterback Max Wittek, who took the majority of the snaps with the first team offense on the day. “All of the guys out here, we came out hot, we had great tempo, and that just carried throughout the rest of practice. People were flying around and making plays, and it was a lot of fun.”

The team will now take a few days off for the holidays before traveling to El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 26, where they will pick up their preparation for the Dec. 31 contest.

Senior farewell

Saturday’s workout marked the last time that USC seniors such as safety T.J. McDonald and center Khaled Holmes took part in a Trojans’ practice on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field. A day for reflection, USC coach Lane Kiffin talked about the incredible amount of adversity that this year’s graduating unit has faced in their time on campus.

“I can’t imagine a group of seniors that have been through so many ups and downs,” Kiffin said. “You know, the story that we’ve told so many times in coming here at the program’s highest [point], coming off of seven straight BCS games, and then maybe the program’s lowest with the sanctions and the probation, and a great season two years ago. So they’ve been through a lot, and it’s a little bit sad that it’s their last practice here, but we still have more practices, fortunately.”

Added McDonald, who was one of the last players to leave the field on Saturday: “I don’t know if it’s hit me yet. I’m just so thankful for all of the opportunities that I’ve had here, for the players that I’ve been able to play with, for the coaches … I’m definitely appreciate of everything in my time here. From Pat Haden, the athletic director, on down, everybody has been so good to me. I’m definitely going to miss this place a lot.”

Looking forward to taking part in his first bowl game since 2009 – when he was just a freshman – McDonald is focused on ending his career on the right note.

“For me, it’s my last game in the cardinal and gold as a Trojan, so you definitely want to go out there and you want to represent – leave a lasting impression, not just on your fans or on your family, but on this team,” McDonald said. “This is the last time that this team is going to be together, so we’re going to go out there and do it one last time.”

Martin growing comfortable at center

Since switching over from guard to center last week – a move made with an eye to the future as the coaches search for a replacement for Holmes – sophomore Marcus Martin has made great strides, with his biggest obstacle coming in learning how to snap the ball out of the shotgun formation.

“It’s real comfortable,” Martin said of the position switch. “First it threw me off because I’m like, ‘I’m playing center. What?’ It’s just one of those things where you just have to learn, and once you learn how to get the hand-to-hand snap, that’s probably the easiest one. The challenging part is the shotgun, because you don’t have any idea where it’s going to go. You’ve got to kind of just trust your hand and faith in God – that’s it.”

And it’s precisely for that reason that Martin could be found following practice on Saturday spending extra time working on his shotgun snapping technique with special teams coach John Baxter.

“He’s been a real big help,” Martin said of Baxter. “Him, Coach Helton, Coach Cregg, Coach Polamalu … everybody. They’ve taught me the pro-style and they taught me the lace-style, so I’ve just got to see which one I like better.”

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