The Paul Hackett Era Begins for USC Football

by Tim Tessalone

e has walked the corridors of Heritage Hall, paced the sidelines of Howard Jones Field, marched down the tunnel at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The time was the late 1970s – a period when USC won a national championship and four bowl games – and he was a Trojan assistant coach then.
Now, as the 1998 season dawns, Paul Hackett will revisit those sites, this time as Troy’s new head football coach. He will be trying to restore some of the luster on a USC program that has suffered through consecutive six-win, no-bowl seasons.

Chris Claiborne, among the nation's premier middle linebackers.

Getting the Trojans back into the Rose Bowl hunt is Hackett’s mission in 1998. To do that, he’ll call upon 15 returning starters (seven on offense and eight on defense), plus the place-kicker, from John Robinson’s 1997 squad that went 6-5 overall (4-4 for a fifth-place tie in the Pacific-10 Conference). Back are 80 squadmen from 1997, including 48 who saw action last fall and 30 who have started at least once in their career. Thirty-two players return from USC’s 1997 season-ending 2-deep chart.
Hackett also signed 18 high school and junior college recruits (13 were All-Americans), including five who enrolled at USC this past spring and participated in spring practice. Despite being on the job less than a month, Hackett signed a class last February that was ranked in the nation’s Top 20 by many recruiting publications.
USC was not far from having a successful season in 1997. Playing the nation’s second-most difficult schedule while facing seven bowl-bound teams, all of the Trojans’ five losses came against teams ranked in the final AP Top 18 and whose combined record was 48-12. Three of USC’s defeats were by just a touchdown, including two coming in the fourth quarter.

SO HACKETT DOES have a team that has tickled with triumph. But he says USC’s objectives in 1998 are clear.
“First, we must earn back our respect,” says Hackett, who most recently was the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. “Our next goal is to go to the Rose Bowl. When that happens, then you set yourself up for good things. Until we reach those goals, though, we won’t be satisfied and we won’t be able to rest.
“Rebuilding is not part of my philosophy. We are planning and expecting to win.”
Hackett has a number of talented players to help in that quest. Three in particular are poised for All-American honors in 1998:
• Linebacker Chris Claiborne is among the nation’s premier middle linebackers. Now a Butkus Award candidate, he won All-Pac-10 first team honors as a sophomore last season after being named a Freshman All-American in 1996. In his brief career, he already has made 192 tackles.
• Cornerback Daylon McCutcheon, a 1996 All-Pac-10 first teamer who was a pre-season All-American last fall, is a multi-dimensional player. Besides his superb coverage ability on defense (in his career he has seven interceptions, 31 deflections and 143 tackles), he is a dangerous kickoff returner (19.9 career average) and has also played wide receiver and tailback on offense. About to start for his fourth season, he is a candidate for the Thorpe Award.
• Wide receiver R. Jay Soward might be the nation’s most exciting player. He averages a touchdown every 5.6 times he has touched the ball at USC (18 TDs on 107 plays) and those scores average 53.5 yards in length. In his two-year career, this Biletnikoff Award candidate has 13 scoring catches (including eight in 1997 on 48 receptions) and has three scoring kick runbacks (half-way to the NCAA record).

USC HAS SOME other offensive weapons in 1998. Wide receiver Billy Miller led the team in receptions (56) last fall. Antoine Harris was the first true freshman ever to start at tight end at USC and earned Freshman All-American second team notice last year. Quarterback Mike Van Raaphorst started twice in 1997 and fellow signal-caller John Fox started the other nine games. Three offensive linemen – guard Travis Claridge, a 1996 Freshman All-American who is on the verge of all-star honors in 1998, and tackles Ken Bowen and Rome Douglas – return after starting last fall.
Among the other noteworthy Trojan offensive players with career starts to their name are wide receivers Mike Bastianelli (58 career catches, including 33 in 1997) and Larry Parker (a 1995 starter with 49 career receptions, but redshirted last year because of injury), tailbacks Chad Morton (the converted defensive back averages 6.9 yards per carry and also is a threat as a punt returner) and Malaefou MacKenzie (he had 332 rushing yards in 1997 and became just USC’s third true frosh to start at tailback), fullbacks Ted Iacenda and Marvin Powell III, and guard-center David Pratchard.

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Cornerback/kickreturner Daylon McCutcheon

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AUGUST 30
Purdue (Pigskin Classic)

SEPTEMBER 12
San Diego State

SEPTEMBER 19
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SEPTEMBER 26
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NOVEMBER 28
Notre Dame
Banner by Long Photography / Photo of Claiborne by Arnold Frankel

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