When you're a running back at USC, you have to be a "pro."
Preparation. Readiness. Opportunity. The combination stands for "pro," a motto Trojan running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu uses to instill character and toughness into his players.
"You have to prepare like you're the starter, you have to be ready like you're the starter and then you are going to get that opportunity."
The mentality has produced five capable backs for the Trojans in 2011. If injuries hadn't riddled players like dominant power back Marc Tyler or ball security hadn't pushed D.J. Morgan to the back of the line, USC might have been able to keep redshirts on two true freshmen Amir Carlisle and George Farmer.
But, as seen in the Colorado game where Carlisle showed flashes of the abilities he had in fall camp, the diversity of these running backs has proven a useful threat to compliment the Trojans' already-scary passing attack.
"People haven't seen him when he's 100 percent," Polamalu said of Carlisle. "Which he hasn't been all year."
"Nobody knew but he's already [been] good. He's just been hurt," Morgan added. "So when he got in, he showed everybody what he can do."
As did Morgan. Working to erase the memories of putting the ball on the ground early in the season, Morgan came into the Colorado game like he had every other week. This time around he was more successful.
"I just had to get that monkey off my back," Morgan said.
"[It just took] getting back in the game, not making any mistakes. And I had the opportunity and I think I did pretty good."
"D.J. is getting there. He had nine carries with no incident and he made some plays. He converted some third downs and that's confidence for him. He's got to get to that part of doing little things right," Polamalu said.
And that's good news for USC, facing a Washington defense that ranks 101st in points against. Even without Tyler, true freshman Farmer and a "not 100 percent" Carlisle, USC can still produce a solid running game against the Huskies, who gave up 298 rushing yards last year to the Trojans.
The shining star of late has been rags-to-riches (wealth on the field, that is) Curtis McNeal. Despite his unfortunate fumble in the triple-overtime of the USC-Stanford game, McNeal has proved to be the Trojans' most reliable back the past three games.
"He's doing the best that he can and he's producing. You can't be mad at a guy who is producing and doing the right things when you're not playing," Morgan said.
It seems as though all five of these USC backs are capable of doing some ‘right' thing.
In Tyler, the Trojans have power.
In Farmer, a versatility.
In Morgan, a hurdler.
In McNeal, a downhill star.
And in Carlisle, an explosion.
But off the field, these five young men also bring their own unique personality to the group that helps them see collective success.
In Tyler, it's experience.
In Morgan, resilience.
In Farmer, naivety.
In Carlisle, tenacity.
And in McNeal, a fighter.
Five weapons, all unique, allow the Trojans to continue pounding in the trenches. Which, of course, allows this team to continue fighting on.