O/NSO: Grunts and Groans edition

Pete Carroll

As the final grunts and groans of the recent Rising Stars Camp were exhaled, you couldn't help but notice a smiling Pete Carroll, who knew the Trojans had found some nuggets, especially when there was a group photo of committed Cardinal and Gold California offensive linemen Matt Kalil, Matt Meyer, Tyron Smith, and prospective Texas recruit Daniel Campbell.

The Obvious – As the final grunts and groans of the recent Rising Stars Camp were exhaled, you couldn't help but notice a smiling Pete Carroll, who knew the Trojans had found some nuggets, especially when there was a group photo of committed Cardinal and Gold California offensive linemen Matt Kalil, Matt Meyer, Tyron Smith, and prospective Texas recruit Daniel Campbell.

The Not So Obvious – If there was one conclusion those in attendance could make, it was the spectacle of seeing the potential accumulation of offensive line talent that could be one for the cardinal and gold ages. More than a number of fans standing on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field were not only in awe at the shear talent being photographed, but the enormous size of these alleged teenagers. While Trojan fans will have to be patient with the recruiting twists and turns of Daniel Campbell, there is no denying that Kalil, Meyer, and Smith have laid a star-studded foundation and with the potential to add three more studs for offensive line coach Pat Ruel, the only intrigue left is who will get the final three spots?

The Obvious – Without question, the fan favorite of the Rising Stars Camp was the competition between the offensive and defensive line prospects.

The Not So Obvious – As the offensive line was going through its final techniques before defensive line coach Nick Holt brought over his charges for competition, the O/NSO had a chance to have a few words with Alatini "Tiny" Malu, Trojans' senior offensive lineman. Among other things, Tiny told us that he was interested in watching the one-on-one stuff because his cousin, Hemet center hopeful Hamani Stevens, was competing for a Trojan scholarship. Tiny revealed some additional family information that Stevens' father attended USC. The gentle giant also volunteered some complimentary words for offensive line coach Pat Ruel by saying, "He has taught me so much about the technique of my position. Coach is really a great teacher and I have learned so much."

The Obvious – Armond Armstead (6-6, 290), a physical defensive lineman out of the Pleasant Grove High in Elk Grove, has been offered a scholarship by Pete Carroll.

The Not So Obvious – You can't coach 6-feet-6 and this man-child looks as though he could easily play the college game even higher than his listed 290. You have to give Armond, who also plays basketball, all the credit in the world because despite a tender back issue from an earlier week basketball incident, he showed how much he wanted a Trojan scholarship by participating in both the Rising Stars Camp and the Linemen Camp. As reported by WeAreSC's Brian Mathews, Armond's goal of receiving a USC scholarship has been achieved. The O/NSO felt the kid was really jacked to prove a point on the final day of the Rising Stars Camp by virtually running over and flattening Texas offensive guard prospect Daniel Campbell, who was obviously not prepared for the unceremonious welcome. FYI, Armond comes from the same city, Elk Grove, which produced former NBA performer Bill Cartwright.

The Obvious – There was much anticipation over the appearance of Texas offensive lineman Daniel Campbell (6-5, 320), who is also considering LSU and Florida.

The Not So Obvious – Let's begin with this Texas giant by saying that although he was taken to the Pancake House by Armond Armstead on the first morning session last Friday, he did come back on the very next play to hold his own and showed some fire. To be honest, the O/NSO feels the jury is still out on where Campbell stands because he wasn't as advanced or in shape as we hoped he would be. Considering the hype for this kid, you have to look at a John Drake bigger picture. We wondered just how much competitive fire this kid has and while he looked to be having a good time, his performance may have left more questions than answers. The Trojan coaching staff will have some interesting decisions to make on this kid.

The Obvious – The surprise defensive lineman at the Rising Seniors Camp was Solomon Koehler (6-2, 305) from Hawaii.

The Not So Obvious – Solomon's performance was inspiring and this kid is deep in the recruiting mix. There were strong indications that if he didn't immediately find himself knocking at the door for a Trojan ride, he did get the attention of ESPN's Tom Luginbill, who was also doing some scouting for the ESPNU High School All-American Game to be played at Disney World January 5 on ABC. Academic concerns could be the only thing that prevents this Island stud from perhaps returning to the Coliseum in 2008 dressed in cardinal and gold.

The Obvious – A number of players at the Trojan camps have also participated at other college camps.

The Not So Obvious – One of those players was Capistrano Valley lineman Kyle Caldwell, who was the MVP at the Arizona State camp earlier. According to Kevin Caldwell, Kyle's father, the Trojan camp was much more intense, but then again, "It might have had a lot to due with the 108 temperature in Tempe." Yeah, that'll do it.

The Obvious – There were number of players at the Rising Stars Camp that could be best classified as on the "bubble" in terms of a scholarship.

The Not So Obvious - One player we believe deserves strong "bubble" consideration is Carson High offensive guard Matt Hunt. A Carson coach in attendance told the O/NSO that "once he gets intense, he is as good as there is in the interior of the line." Matt looked plenty motivated to us during the one-on-one competition and, hey, if the Trojans already have two "Matt O-linemen" in Kalil and Meyer, so why not a third? As they say…good things come in three's.

The Obvious – Hemet's Hamani Stevens (6-2, 290) was the subject of some confusing recruiting intelligence due to the fact that he appeared to have recently pledged to UCLA and a couple of days later admitted he no longer had tied the knot with the Westwooders.

The Not So Obvious – So how did Stevens do in the Rising Stars Camp? Well, for the most part, the O/NSO thought did quite well and is certainly in the mix at the center spot. He did himself well by attending and showing he wasn't afraid to compete and compete he did. The real recruiting question at the center position is how long will the Trojans wait on Corona lineman Max Tuioti-Mariner, who has been injured and did not participate in either the Linemen Camp or Rising Stars Camp. The Trojans coaches feel their best evaluations of players are at their camps and in watching the Rising Stars Camp, this was especially true this year with so many solid offensive line candidates. There were enough unyielding defensive line recruits to allow the coaching staff to make some serious evaluations. If the Trojans take six offensive linemen, that sixth spot is going to be wildly competitive.

The Obvious – According to his high school coach, Portland defensive tackle Ethan Johnson has given a verbal commitment to Notre Dame.

The Not So Obvious – You knew something was in the works when Johnson did not attend the Trojans' Rising Stars Camp, even though his Lincoln High coach, Chad Carlson, was working the camp. Carlson was asked during the camp about where his star defensive tackle was and the respected coach said he did not know and appeared to be uneasy about Johnson's absence. There are many rules in recruiting and one of them is if a star player doesn't show up when his own high school is a counselor, there is something rotten in Denmark or in this case on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field. It seemed like only a short while ago the O/NSO saw a Johnson who seemed to be happy and content about a Trojan future. It's once again an unpleasant reminder that recruiting can be as stable as a weather forecast.

The Obvious – Retired quarterback Joe Montana, an NFL and College Football Hall of Famer, is a beloved Notre Dame icon.

The Not So Obvious – As most are now aware, Joe was in attendance with his two boys, and a number of fans got a kick out of the Notre Dame legend's offspring wearing USC shirts. His oldest son, Nathaniel Montana, is rumored to be a potential walk-on quarterback at Troy. Those in attendance tried to allow Joe Montana some privacy, but the 49er and Irish legend was very cordial for those that wanted a picture. Two fans actually tried to get Joe to give the two-fingered "Fight On" sign, but the Irish legend understandably politely declined. We'll admit, it was quite a sight watching this Irish all-timer playing catch with his Trojan T-shirt-wearing son. Has it been that long when we watched Montana rip up a Trojan defense in the Coliseum so many years ago…even in defeat?

The Obvious – The Rising Stars Camp, an open to the public camp, always brings in friends and sometimes foes alike, who like to see who some of the future Trojans might be.

The Not So Obvious – A major surprise at the Rising Seniors Camp was the appearance of starting UCLA defensive tackle Kevin Brown, who was wearing a blue and gold T-shirt. Now before there is a meltdown, the shirt was a Verbum Dei High shirt and Brown, who once desperately wanted to be a Trojan, was treated well and was well behaved on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field. Kevin was with his brother, Owen Brown, an admitted big Trojan fan, who is an assistant coach at Verbum Dei. Owen came by to see if there were any drills he could take back to VD. A little trivia, Kevin Brown was not offered by the Trojans as a defensive lineman because the staff felt he was best suited for the offensive line and that ride went to Ryan Watson, a defensive tackle from Louisiana who no longer on the team. For the record, Watson was an Ed Orgeron recruit.

The Obvious – If you have been by the University lately, you may have noticed a number of new eating establishments located along Figueroa near Exposition.

The Not So Obvious – The WeAreSC staff that attended the previous week's camps did lunch at some of the various establishments in the area. As a public service, a number of our staff enjoyed Chipotle, a Mexican fast food enterprise, although your humble columnist and recruiting writers Scott Schrader and Brian Mathews found the food way too spicy. There was a Quizno's located next to Chipotle that Mathews and yours truly found very acceptable and satisfactory. There was also a trip during the Skill's Camp to that old reliable, The Sizzler, on Figueroa, which got a unanimous thumbs up. However, the surprise eating establishment to the O/NSO was the on-campus King Dining Hall. The O/NSO found the salmon for $5.95 pretty darn good, which included a selection of two option items, and we went for the mashed potatoes and veggies.

The Obvious – Trojan verbal and Servite preseason All-America WR/RB D.J. Shoemate played with great intensity at the Rising Stars Camp.

The Not So Obvious – There was a rumor going around that D.J. had re-injured his foot during camp competition. Not so worry, D.J. said he had food poisoning or a touch of the "Oh-No" during the camp and his jumpy stomach was the cause for concern. The Servite senior said his foot held up nicely and he just had to gut it out. After watching him workout, although he may be an outstanding college receiver, we tend to lean to the school of thought that his "big picture" position is at running back.

The Obvious – One of the most famous family television shows of all time was "Father Knows Best," the story of the near perfect family starring Robert Young as the near perfect dad.

The Not So Obvious – Well it appears that father knows best when it came to the surprise visit to the Rising Stars Camp by All-World DB Patrick Johnson of Pompano Beach, Florida. Our Brian Mathews recent story confirms that it was dad's decision to fly cross-country for the Trojan camp, despite the fact that Patrick is currently a Miami Hurricane verbal. Johnson, who we watched personally make a leaping interception, is a physical specimen and is perfectly built for a defensive back. It was quite apparent son and dad were both blown away by their Trojan "vacation." In his conversation Mathews, Patrick said, "Oh my God yeah! This was better then anything I could've expected, it was through the roof." Despite early post-camp rumors to the contrary, son and dad said they'd be back for an official visit in the fall. One thing is safe to say, when new Miami coach Randy Shannon found out about Patrick's cardinal and gold experience, he, too, privately went through the roof.

The Obvious – Not all Rising Star Campers participated both days.

The Not So Obvious – Outstanding Long Beach Poly nose tackle Jurrell Casey participated the first day and was a no-show the second. Didn't make much difference in terms of Jurrell's stock. Casey was relentless against the top competition and now it probably gets down to the selecting the Trojans or the Oregon Ducks. This one could get down to family considerations and the Ducks are definitely in the ballgame. Casey may indeed head to the Northwest, but you know Pete Carroll's record when it comes to competition.

The Obvious – The Trojans have a verbal from Notre Dame High defensive end standout Wes Horton.

The Not So Obvious – Big picture and upside is a good tag to place upon the athletic Horton. Although he competed at the Rising Stars Camp for one day, he no doubt left impressed with Trojan offensive line recruits like Matt Kalil, who had a major size advantage on Wes during one-on-one competition. We give Horton credit for coming and competing, despite already pledged to the Cardinal and Gold, and probably leaving knowing what he needs to do to be a successful Trojan in the future. The top issue for Wes in the future will be adding weight and getting stronger. That is usually called maturing within the Trojans' dramatic strength and conditioning program.

The Obvious – Trojan tailback verbal Curtis McNeal from Venice High participated on the second day of the Rising Stars Camp.

The Not So Obvious – Once you overcome the surprise over the diminutive stature of Curtis and observe his lightening quickness and moves, you are reminded that although Curtis is listed at 5-feet-6 and about a buck and change in weight, the Trojans first Heisman Trophy winner Mike Garrett was also politely listed at 5-9 and 185. Although Iron Mike was a larger physical presence than Curtis, it's the old football adage that "it's not how big you are but how big you play," and Pete Carroll obviously feels that Curtis is big enough, especially as a dangerous punt return specialist.

The Obvious – Trojan defensive line coach and DC Nick Holt is much like all the Trojan coaches, a whirlwind of energy emulating Pete Carroll.

The Not So Obvious – During a break in the hot Friday afternoon sun last week, the O/NSO was walking across the middle of the field and a smiling Nick Holt came up and said, "How can you even understand what you have written on that notepad?" We replied, "How can Nick Holt take a break in the middle of an intense camp and run around the University in this heat and still have energy left for the hot afternoon session?" Holt paused for a second in serious thought and we quickly replied, "The answer is because you're Nick Holt." The charismatic coach showed a fine sense of humor and started laughing. We exchanged some camp observations, and then it was time to ramp up his remaining energy to complete the camp. Wouldn't have shocked us if Holt did another lap of the University after the camp.

The Obvious – The Trojans continue to heavily recruit Mater Dei senior lineman Khaled Holmes.

The Not So Obvious – While many feel it's a matter of time before Holmes commits to the Trojans, it was still disappointing that the brother of Alex, the former Trojan tight end, did not make either the Linemen or Rising Stars Camps. Whether this has any real affect on the recruiting process is debatable, but it sure would have been interesting to watch Holmes match up against the likes of Hawaii defensive tackle Solomon Koehler and/or Armand Armstead. Khaled might have had perfectly legit reasons not to show, but it did leave one wondering from a competition standpoint.

The Obvious – ESPN released a huge amount of information on Monday concerning their January prep all-star game.

The Not So Obvious – ESPNU's Tom Luginbill was at both days of the Rising Stars Camp selling the virtues of the new ESPNU National All-America game. Tom, whose dad, Al, a former college and pro coach, was also in attendance on the second day, continued to pump the game. Don't know about you, but when Tom mentioned that each player might get a front-of-the-line pass to ride Disney World attractions, it might have been enough for the O/NSO to commit to the game. Now if the players are staying at Disney World's Wilderness Lodge, we're in.

The Obvious – ESPNU is rapidly becoming the home of ESPN college sports.

The Not So Obvious – FYI, ESPNU does not operate out of Bristol, Connecticut, but actually broadcasts out of Charlotte, North Carolina. There are rumors out there that the original ESPN could matriculate more to pro sports and that ESPNU could become be a major carrier of college competition.

The Obvious – The Trojan family is still mourning the loss of place kicker Mario Danelo, who tragically passed away some months ago.

The Not So Obvious – Trojans' reserve offensive lineman Thomas Herring was walking around the Rising Stars Camp wearing a black shirt with a color picture of the late Mario Danelo kicking. Above the picture were the words "Rest in Peace."

The Obvious – Pete Carroll is the current Trojan head coach, who also coached in the NFL.

The Not So Obvious – What a difference in addressing your players about their football future at each level. In the NFL, when you were asked to see coach Carroll and bring your playbook, it meant the end was at hand. In college, when an assistant coach tells you after a camp that Coach Carroll would like to see you in his office, it generally mean you're getting a scholarship and a future playbook.

The Obvious – The Trojan team continues to have its "voluntary" summer workouts and a number of the heralded freshmen are participating.

The Not So Obvious – According to a number of veteran players, the word on tailback Joe McKnight is that the kid is simply "out of this world."

The Obvious – It would be safe to say that most Trojan fans dream of one day traveling back to South Bend to watch the Cardinal and Gold play the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium.

The Not So Obvious – So you can't make it to Notre Dame Stadium on Oct. 20 but still want a souvenir program from this cherished rivalry? Well, my friends, Notre Dame Publications is offering the official ND vs USC game program to be sold ($10) on that autumn Saturday afternoon. Interested Trojan fans can go to und.cstv.com/store/publications/?partner_id=13176, or call 270-926-0008.

The Obvious – There is pretty much consensus that the 2007 Trojans offense needs to develop a home run hitter, a Reggie Bush sort of threat, from their well-stocked collection of tailback talent.

The Not So Obvious – Speaking of old No. 5, Reggie will help open the NFL season with a nationally televised game at Indianapolis on Thursday evening, Sept. 6. Reggie's Saints will battle the NFL champion Colts on NBC.

The Obvious – Trojan All-Pac-10 quarterback John David Booty hopes to have the type of Heisman season that brought home the award to Matt Leinart.

The Not So Obvious – While Trojan fans can watch Reggie Bush on Sept. 6, Matt Leinart's Arizona club will face off at San Francisco on Monday Night, Sept 10. What makes it a Trojan moment is that Pete Carroll's club has a bye week between the Bush/Leinart appearances.

The Obvious – The Trojans use every opportunity to make the Coliseum their home.

The Not So Obvious – It was noticed in our most recent visit into the depths of the Coliseum that when one enters the Trojan locker room, there is a colorful picture of a sold out Coliseum and a sign which reads "Our House."

The Obvious - And finally, our friend Steve Bisheff, the former Orange County Register award winning columnist, author, and current 710ESPN.com blogger, wrote that he recently took his son to Wrigley Field, a first time for both father and son.

The Not So Obvious – It was surprising when "Bish" told the O/NSO during the dog days of spring ball that in all his writing day, he had never been to Wrigley Field. We got into a discussion over which ballpark was better, Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. He was curious because he hadn't been to Wrigley. We told him we have a little routine going every trip back for the Notre Dame Weekender. After our arrival at Chicago O'Hare Airport, we take the freeway and get off at Addison Avenue, which takes you directly to Wrigley Field. We then proceed to do a couple of 360's around this piece of Americana and then head into ChiTown. Come to think of it, it really isn't a routine; it's a tradition, much like the Notre Dame Weekender. See if it works for some of you lucky Trojan travelers next October, so help me Ernie Banks.

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