Through two seasons of bowl bans and the loss of 30 scholarships, Coach Lane Kiffin is still finding a way to see the silver lining of the NCAA sanctions placed on the Trojans.
USC is allowed to travel 70 players to each road game. Given the current numbers on the team due to scholarship limitations, that means guys who wouldn’t normally travel get to do so.
“Someday we’ll get back to the point where there will be 70 players to play in the game” Kiffin explained to reporters on Wednesday. “We’re not at that point, so we take some guys that never play.”
This weekend it is freshman Zach Banner who gets to climb aboard the team plane to Seattle. The offensive tackle is from Tacoma (Wash.) Lakes High School, about 30 minutes south of the city.
“That’s the good thing about (sanctions),” Kiffin said behind a chuckle, “the good thing about the sanctions is that Zach gets to go on a trip home.”
“I get to see family but it’s business week,” Banner said. “I mean this is going to be my first time traveling to an away game, Coach (Kiffin) said this is a good time for me to go home.”
Banner, who normally wouldn’t be traveling this season due to his intention of redshirting, admits the opportunity is a bit out of the norm.
“(Kiffin) kind of threw me a bone on that,” he said. “But it’s also a good time for me to realize what I’m going to be doing all the time next year.”
When the 6-foot-7 Banner is not catching bones from his head coach and traveling with the team, he’s making the most of his redshirt season.
He’s down from 347 pounds when he first arrived on campus this summer to 325 and is constantly in the weight room, given his teammates have been on the road four of the first six weeks.
“This is my learning season and training camp was a big reality check for me,” he said. “So this is my get better season. I’m actually having fun and I’m getting better every day, working on my flexibility and technique.”
Quickly becoming a media favorite for his outspoken personality, he’s also had some time to showcase his joking manner to the Twitter world.
On Tuesday, Banner told a reporter he wouldn’t play nice if greeted by the Washington Husky mascot while in Seattle, “I aint going to pet it. I might kick it,” he said wearing a smile.
Via Twitter, the Seattle media caught wind of the statement and wasted no time tweeting digs at Banner, which he wittily threw right back... as though the Pac-12 rivalry between USC and Washington needed another spark.
The Tacoma-native already chose USC over the hometown Huskies.
“I mean I had a good relationship with (Coach Steve Sarkisian and (Coach Lorenzo Romar)up there at UW, but as for feelings, that was recruiting,” Banner said. “I respectfully called them instead of just throwing them to the side and I said ‘Hey, I’m going to make my choice to go to USC thank you for recruiting me’.” And for that, they have my respect, so maybe there will be some love taps after the game.”
Love taps after the game. Maybe Kiffin isn't the only one looking for silver lining.