July 24, 2008

Trojans pass on leadership

When you play football at USC, you're never too far away from the past.

It starts inside the doors at Heritage Hall, where Heisman Trophies and framed jerseys greet players.

Names like Carson, Matt, Reggie, LenDale, Sam, Lawrence and Keith still resonate in the locker room and on the field.

Head coach Pete Carroll likes it that way, and in senior linebacker Brian Cushing, he's found someone who's bought in.

"Coming into this program, I knew one day my goal was to be a leader of this football team," Cushing said. " Learning from the older guys, it's a kind of competitive leadership. It was unbelievable traits they showed, helping me understand the philosophy Coach Carroll preaches."

It's music to Carroll's coaching ears.

"When you hear Brian talk, he's so well versed in what we think and what we believe. He's absorbed the mentality we want," Carroll said. "He's taken the mantle, and it's really cool to see that. A year ago, he wouldn't have presented himself like that. It wasn't his calling.

"Now, he knows it's serious business."

Cushing will have plenty of help leading the Trojans this season. On the defensive side of the ball, guys like Fili Moala, Kyle Moore, Rey Maualuga and Kevin Ellison should have the rest of the Trojans falling in behind them.

Having so many different players ready and willing to lead, Carroll and the Trojans could be in the uncomfortable situation of those strong personalities pulling in different directions.

But having spent four, and in some cases, five years with these guys, Carroll's confident everything will fall in place.

"They'll take their spots. They'll fit together. Rey doesn't say a whole lot. He's not going to be very outspoken - at least he never has. Kevin Ellison doesn't say a whole lot either. They're just hard-as-nails football players," Carroll said. "Cushing, he's going to speak up. He's not afraid to say something. Fili will be a little outspoken; so is Kyle Moore a little bit.

"I don't worry about it at all."

And according to Cushing, this isn't by mistake.

"I think it goes along with the kind of guy Coach Carroll recruits. He knows what characteristics he wants in a player. He's been able to get it that," Cushing said. "The kinds of guys he has in the locker room right now are unselfish guys who want to do what's best for the team - no matter what that is.

"You know it because you understand it from the guys who came before you. It's been a great opportunity learning to become one of those guys."

And that meant, last year, that they had to defer.

"There was no place for them. It wasn't their time," Carroll said. "I'm not complaining at all about (last year's senior's) leadership. Those guys worked hard forever. It's just different.

"I can feel that there's a difference in the makeup of our team. I don't know how it translates; this group is going to be fun to coach though."

The traits have always been there, and over time, the leadership just surfaces. Soon, it'll be passed on again.

"They know they have to raise them up, almost like their little brothers," Carroll said. "They have to care about them, respect them and help them. It's a very cool part of the culture."

The new leadership also breathes new life into Carroll, who attended his eighth Pac-10 Media Day Thursday.

"It seems like the first time for us even though it's the eighth," he said. "We have a chance to do something special with a kind of changing of the guard."

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