||USC'S DEFENSE features some key returnees in addition to Claiborne and McCutcheon. Linebacker Mark Cusano, who has 198 career stops, has played a pivotal role in USCs victories over Notre Dame the past two years. He is in line for 1998 all-star acclaim. Safety Rashard Cook topped the Trojans in tackles (79) and interceptions (3) last fall. End Sultan Abdul-Malik (26 tackles in 1997, including a team-best seven sacks) and cornerback Antuan Simmons (71 tackles last season) are coming off campaigns in which they were named Freshman All-American first teamers. Safety David Gibson, who made 66 tackles last season, led USC in tackles for losses in 1997 (20) and the Pac-10 in forced fumbles (5). Tackle Marc Matock had 26 stops in 1997.
Other defenders on the roster who have started during their career include safety Grant Pearsall (he redshirted with an injury last fall, but notched 66 tackles as a starter in 1996), tackle Aaron Williams, end Lawrence Larry, cornerback Ken Haslip (a 1996 starter) and safety Darnell Lacy.
Place-kicker Adam Abrams, who was the Pac-10s most accurate field goal kicker in 1997 (90.9 percent on 10-of-11 field goals), is back for his fourth season handling the kicking duties. His field goals beat Notre Dame last year and Northwestern in the 1996 Rose Bowl. He also stars in the classroom (he was named to the 1997 Pac-10 All-Academic first team) and could be in line for Academic All-American honors with his 3.36 GPA in business administration.
We will play to our strengths, says Hackett, who has been coaching in the college and pro ranks for 29 years, including three seasons as the head coach at Pitt and three as an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers when they won the 1984 Super Bowl. Our main strength is our experience on defense, particularly in the secondary. Offensively, there is an excitement of the unknown, of who will come to the front in key positions. And on special teams, Im excited about the attacking, pressing style well deploy.
THE 1998 SCHEDULE presents the challenges that USC fans have come to expect (the Trojans have played slates ranked among the nations Top 5 in four of the past five years), but it is a bit more palatable than past years. Thats because Troy plays seven home games including five of its first six in the Coliseum in 1998, the 75th anniversary of Trojan football in that historic stadium. Playing so many games in familiar confines could be critical to this Trojan squad as it gets used to a new coaching staff.
Hacketts debut will come in front of a national audience as USC hosts Purdue on Aug. 30 in the Pigskin Classic. Other home contests see Troy playing Notre Dame (which USC has defeated the past two years), likely Pac-10 favorites Washington and Arizona State, plus California, Oregon State (as former USC assistant Mike Riley makes his return to the Coliseum) and San Diego State (coached by ex-USC head coach Ted Tollner).
USC doesnt take to the road until its fourth game of the year, but it will be demanding at Florida State. The other away games are at UCLA (which owns a 7-game winning streak over Troy), defending Pac-10 champion Washington State, Stan-ford and Oregon.
After our primary goal of going to the Rose Bowl, defeating UCLA and Notre Dame are the principal focus of this team, says Hackett. We must find a way to continue the momentum against Notre Dame and turn the tide against UCLA.
Hackett cant wait to once again march down the Coliseum tunnel.
I love our players attitudes and their willingness to do what it takes, he says. I saw that right away in the winter and summer conditioning program and also in spring practice. If they are as receptive to our coaching in the fall as they were in conditioning and spring ball, Ill be a very happy coach when all is said and done.
Tim Tessalone is director of sports information at USC.