where the writers are



2002 - 2003, 2005


Was USC everything that I thought it would be? I think without a doubt it was, but to be frank with you, they were 6-6 in my senior year of high school. Obviously it was USC, but it was a gut decision to come there. Academics was my thing so I took a three-tiered approach to how much a degree from here means. I looked at the social environment, the weather, and the demographics. I have family in Southern California, which played in my favor, but basically I wanted the chance to win a national title. It was between Stanford or USC. Stanford's an academic juggernaut on the West Coast, but they've never assembled a team that could win a national title or a BCS bowl game. Maybe 20 years ago I would have made a different decision, but in the last 15 years under Dr. Sample, USC has narrowed the academic gap with Stanford so much that it's the best of both worlds now.

I graduated from Clovis West High in Fresno a semester early. Well, we went from 6-6 to 11-2 my freshman year, then 12-1, 13-0, 12-1 my senior year; and 11-2 since. Three Heisman winners, BCS bowl wins. Wow. Are you kidding me? That said, with two national titles and five Pac-10 championship rings, the way the school lived up to the hype for me was the fact I got my bachelor's degree, my secondary minor and a master's paid for by my scholarship. Academically the school provided me everything and more. With no NFL team in Los Angeles, we're a big-ticket atmosphere. The college life, the quality of school, the weather, beautiful girls, business opportunities; USC provided me all I could dream of and beyond. It's a good time to be Trojan!

Dallas Sartz was my teammate and good friend. The Los Angeles Times ran a funny human interest story about how Dallas lived in a place with four good-looking girls, how they'd model their clothes for him and ask for his opinion before they went out. "Is this too suggestive, Dallas?" "Do guys like this, Dallas?" It was like that old sit-com Three's Company.

I tried to call him to hang out as much as I could, but it's a tough call because I had a chance to live with a couple of attractive girls. Sunny Byrd was like 25 or 26 years old, he was a senior and a wiser man than me, and he says, "Chicks can be crazy." They're cleaner, yeah, but you gotta put up with so much stuff, and you don't wanna make a mess where you eat, so to speak. But Dallas, he got in touch with his feminine side. He's a ladies man and he was like the queen bee in reverse. Besides, he had his buddies living across the hall so anytime he wanted a break from that he could just walk over there for the chips and the beer.

What they say about Pete Carroll is all true. Coach has an incredible gift for powerful rhetoric. He understands the power of words and conveys a message that is readily perceived. He's persuasive, he comes to your house and sits in your living room, and he gets your attention. He thinks about things you say, he listens, and the next thing is, "Wow, what just happened there?" I was committed to Stanford but after I went to USC and met him - and he didn't even have his record then - he's a great story teller and can go to a house in inner city L.A., Compton, or a house next to a golf course in the suburbs of Marin County; Carroll can identify with any audience. He's like a politician or an attorney or whatever. He studies this stuff. I walk into his office and he's watching tape of himself. I say, "What are you doing, Coach?" and he says he's going over this again, and it's always, "How can I do this better?"

Guys from every state come to USC because What It Means to Be a Trojan is something Carroll conveys and guys want to be a part of. That's absolutely right. Carroll has a unique take on what's hip. So many guys are stoic or archaic like your grandfather, but this guy knows who the hottest rapper is at the time. He knows this stuff. He has a keen memory and doesn't operate a run of the mill meat market. He embraces our parents, our family and makes you feel like an important person. I sat with Lloyd Carr of Michigan and it was booorring.

Pete Carroll possesses the kind of charisma that gets guys to want to compete. A Mitch Mustain wants to be a part of it with no guarantee he'll start. Pete recruits players who are competitive. These guys are competitive athletes who like to think you are a guy who, with proper mentoring, can beat anybody out. We had seven tailbacks, all five-star "blue chip" kids, and none of those guys were thinking, "I'm not good enough." Chris Carlisle works those guys hard. You work hard at football and at school, and guys learn to be model Trojans, to earn their stripes on the field. Sometimes they fade away but others embrace it and make the most out of them. Stafon Johnson was almost ready to hang it up and go someplace else, but he stuck it out.

The guys who have what it takes to be Trojans are the ones who look at this situation and it fuels their fire. I'll be the best. Matt Cassel was phenomenal, plus a pitcher on the baseball team. He was drafted without playing much baseball. A Matt Cassel stays in the program, he was a great quarterback, but he never played but still had a legitimate shot with the New England Patriots. He had a good pre-season with New England's and ran some good offensive series and with Tom Brady out now he has a chance to shine. Our system's crazy but prepares you. Brandon Hance was the front-runner with Cassel and Matt Leinart the third-string dark horse. We're stockpiled with talent on talent, but he allows freshmen to play. He guarantees them a shot. Some schools don't play freshmen, but 80 percent of our incoming freshmen play. I don't know how he does it. I'd coach myself if I knew how to sell this idea that you can be part of something big.

Sometimes we have guys who get hurt because of the way we practice, which is unique in its intensity and tempo. We pretty much scrimmage every day, one-on-one at full speed, double-sword, go hard, compete at a high level. On Saturday you almost slow down after the week. There's a risk of injury. Every fall camp there's 13 or 14 hamstring pulls. At one practice guys were dropping off like flies, but he recruits by a philosophy in which the depth chart is etched in sand, and there's not a lot of drop-off. I was the starting fullback, but it was no big deal when I tore my ACL. Ryan Powdrell just came in and kicked butt. He got hurt and Stanley Havili was an incredible athlete until he broke his leg. It goes to what former assistant coach Ed Orgeron said, which was that football's like war:

"When you're on the firing line and the guy next to you takes a bullet in the chest, you just pick up his musket and keep on marching."

Ex-coach John Robinson used to talk about how the fan base at USC was a "politician's dream." I was attracted by the school's demographics. I took my first recruiting trip to UCLA with Bob Toledo. The school's surrounded by Westwood. It's pristine, it's so nice with Brentwood, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica beach; heck, the Hugh Hefner mansion's a couple blocks away. That experience, though, you know what, it feels soft, like a country club. It's too nice. It's not roughneck, hardcore football.

 USC is an island in the ghetto. They've brought it up to speed along with downtown L.A., "L.A. Alive," the building of STAPLES and Galen Center, new condos, businesses, restaurants, and nightlife. We've expanded student housing, professor's housing, cleaned the streets, decreased crime, even cleaned up the smog a lot.

 Downtown was a ghost town when I first got there. Back then you didn't cross Exposition Boulevard, but now you have a cross-section of demographics, of all kinds of people. They call it the "University of Spoiled Children," but that's a fallacy. You got these rich kids who pay $1,000 to live in a "roach motel." There's really good security, but being there, there's this diversity of contact with all kinds of people, and you enjoy the academic experience. It's a diverse pool of people and I thoroughly enjoyed that facet of it. Our fans are a wide-ranging group, from the super elite wealthy, old school alumni. These are the people who drink wine and eat cheese at Stanford, but they come to the Coliseum and are part of the scene.

Then you have you're more hardcore crowd. Mark Sanchez and his Latino heritage; the fans embrace him already. If you're a gal walking across campus in the middle of the night, there's a little fear factor. Guys a little less. We've had stuff happen. Some bricks got thrown through a window once. I've seen cholos run through 28th Street with guns pulled. I'm not sure about all the students, but it makes you appreciate it more than if you're in this sheltered environment.

We have tennis players at SC from rich families. A lot of these kids are not on campus on weekends. Some are commuter kids. You have wealthy Jewish kids whose father's are big-time movie producers, or girls whose dad's live in the wealthiest part of Orange County, in Emerald Bay. It humbles them a little bit, but for me, coming from my family, this is a place where I was able to look at life and appreciate what I have.

We had a lot of fun at USC. There's a couple of choices as at any college. You have your "animal house" fraternities. During the fall, nightlife is the best. That's when a college becomes a social arena, what with concerts on campus, on Thursday nights the frats would blow up, there's rush, but if you're a football player you kind of lock it down and miss that experience. In the spring there's some of that but you never really know until your last year what the experience of game day is like; the barbecues, the tailgating.

Most of the guys had fun, but it was so much different when USC became a Hollywood-type environment with Matt Leinart. He's hanging with Paris Hilton and all these beautiful models and starlets, and we're all a part of that. We'd go to these Hollywood blowouts, and you're rolling it out with Reggie Bush or someone, and I'm telling you we were the biggest thing in town. A lot of guys would lock it down during the season, but after the 1990s, when Pete Carroll got here and the pro teams were gone, USC football became a celebrity scene. Some of the stuff that went on is still infamous. You take your licks on a Thursday, then get in a plane Friday, or stay in the team hotel, and play on Saturday, then the rest of the week is practice. During the season people kept it close to home.

Some guys don't like being gawked at by chicks. Most want to get away and concentrate on being a starter. That walk from the locker room to practice could be a gauntlet of autographs, cameramen and reporters. You'd be late to class because a camera crew wants a quick interview. Most players live with each other. In the off-season we'd get around to L.A., the south bay, Manhattan and Hermosa Beach. Maybe a quick trip to Vegas.

I live in Manhattan Beach and there's a lot of cardinal and gold down there. The Trojans are huge there. It's a great place to live your senior year and then after you graduate, but you like that roughneck situation near campus. There were kids with no clue, they'd never been exposed to that lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, Westwood's nice and you can't say it's not an advantage for UCLA, but I honestly mean it when I say the neighborhood surrounding USC was part of the broader educational experience, and I was glad to have it. 


Brandon Hancock was one of the most popular Trojans of the Pete Carroll era; a hard-nosed fullback who sacrificed for the good of the team. Had he played at another school, like Sam "Bam" Cunningham in the 1970s Brandon might have been singled-out for superstarstardom. Hancock was part of two national champions, two Rose Bowl teams, and the 2003 Orange Bowl champions. He won the Howard Jones Football/Alumni Club award for the highest G.P.A., and the John Wayne Memorial Scholarship given to the player aspiring to higher education beyond graduation, who does not go into pro football. After injuries ended his career, Brandon became a respected radio football analyst.