Forget about Y2K. The 1999 USC football team is preparing for Y2H. Thats Year Two: Hackett.
Coach Paul Hackett
The newness and ensuing indeterminacy of Hacketts first year as Troys head coach are in the past. Now its time for the Trojans to up their level of play.
This is a very important year for us, says Hackett, who saw his 1998 squad go 8-5 overall (5-3 for a third-place tie in the Pacific-10), claim a shutout victory over Notre Dame and advance to the Sun Bowl.
Last years uncertainties behind him, the former offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs declares that this season is about making a great leap individually and collectively as a team. We need to raise our level of performance in Year Two.
In 1999, Hackett will have the services of 68 returning squadmen (39 were lettermen), including 16 returning starters (nine on offense, six on defense, plus the punter). Back are 43 Trojans who saw action last year and 28 who have started at least once in their career. Twenty-nine players return from USCs 1998 Sun Bowl two-deep.
Hackett also will be able to call upon 21 high school and junior college signees (one enrolled at USC this past spring and participated in spring drills), including nine who were All-Americans.
UNLIKE A YEAR AGO, when Troys strength was on defense, the experienced Trojan offense will be asked to lead the way in 99.
With the shift of our teams experience from defense to offense, I anticipate well struggle a bit early in the season, says Hackett, who was a Trojan assistant from 1976 to 1980 and has served on the coaching staffs of both national championship- and Super Bowl-winning squads. But by mid-season, I feel well be a contender.
The Trojan offense features three of the top skill position players in the country: senior tailback Chad Morton, senior wide receiver R. Jay Soward and sophomore quarterback Carson Palmer.
Morton, one of USCs quickest and most exciting players, ran for a team-best 985 yards in 1998 and ranked second in the Pac-10 in yards per game. He averages 5.4 yards per carry in his career and has rushed for 100 yards eight times in just 17 games as a tailback at USC. Also a fine student who has been a Pac-10 All-Academic first teamer each of his three years, Morton is an Academic All-American candidate in 1999.
Chad is one of the premier backs in the country, says Hackett. His performance has been remarkable, considering hes only been a running back here for two years. His best is ahead of him.
As for Soward, there may not be a more potent player in the country than this 1999 pre-season All-American and Biletnikoff Award candidate. He has scored a touchdown every 6.9 times he has to
uched the ball at Troy (27 TDs on 186 plays). Those scores which have come four different ways (19 on receptions, three on kickoff returns, three on reverses and two on punt returns) have averaged 49.5 yards. Al-ready eighth on USCs career reception list (110 grabs), he caught 44 passes in 1998. And hes third on Troys all-time kickoff return chart.
Chad Morton, one of USCs quickest and most exciting players, is an Academic All-American candidate.
Theres nobody more explosive or exciting than R. Jay, says Hackett. We have to find more ways to get him the football this year. And hell go into his senior year catching passes from an established quarterback for the first time in his career, which should really help him.
The precocious Palmer had an impressive 1998 campaign while starting the last five games to become only the second true freshman to start at quarterback for USC. He hit 55.3 percent of his passes (130-of-235) for 1,755 yards and seven TDs overall while appearing in all 13 games of 1998.
There isnt a younger yet more experienced quarterback in the country than Carson, says Hackett. The 19-year-old has already played against some of the nations top teams, including Florida State, Notre Dame and UCLA. His pure passing ability sets him apart, the head coach says. His development as an overall quarterback, particularly in his decision making, will be the key to his progress.
The entire offensive line guards Travis Claridge and Jason Grain, both seniors; tackles Brent McCaffrey and Matt Welch, both juniors; and center Matt McShane, a senior returns intact, as does the tight end position with junior Antoine Harris. Claridge, who has started all 36 games in his Trojan football career, is a 1999 pre-season All-American after earning All-Pac-10 first team notice in 1998. He might be used at tackle in 1999. Harris has 25 catches in his two years as a starter, including 13 in 1998.
We have a veteran offensive line that should be much improved, says Hackett. This group holds the key to our offensive success because well ask a great deal of them. Well ask them to be outstanding pass protectors and much better run blockers.
The head coach likewise expects tight end Harris to play his best football in 1999. He was somewhat inconsistent last year, Hackett says, but if he regains his dominance as a blocker and improves his versatility as a receiver, he will be a key in the expansion of our offense in 1999.
Returning are several other key offensive performers, including junior quarterback Mike Van Raaphorst, Troys starter for the first eight games of 1998 (he was 77-of-155 for 1,066 yards and eight TDs).
Returning linebacker-end Sultan Abdul-Malik
The coach also has high hopes for his plethora of backup tailbacks: seniors Petros Papadakis (who ran for 365 yards with a team-best eight rushing touchdowns in 1998 as a part-time starter) and power runner Jabari Jackson; sophomores Malaefou MacKenzie, a short yardage specialist who was USCs No. 2 rusher in 1997 (332 yards) before he red-shirted last fall with a knee injury, and Frank Strong (37 carries, 193 yards, 5.2 average in 1998), who became just the fourth USC first-year freshman to start at tailback when he did so versus California last season; plus red-shirt freshman Sultan McCullough, the fastest player in Trojan football history (running for the USC track team this past spring, he was the Pac-10 100-meters champion and twice won 100-meters races in 10.17, good for No. 5 all-time on Troys vaunted sprinting list). Its likely that more than one tailback will be employed at times in 1999, whether in split back formations or as a slot receiver.
Other offensive players to watch, according to Hackett, are senior wide receiver Windrell Hayes (who had 24 catches and two scores in 1998); and three linemen: junior Eric Denmon, senior Donta Kendrick and junior Faaesea Mailo, a three-game starter in 1996 who recently returned from a two-year Mormon mission.
Manning the traditional fullback role, replacing the graduated Marvin Powell, likely will be junior Brennan Ochs, who started the 1998 season opener and then was Powells backup and a special teamer.
The running back corps is clearly our strongest area on offense, says Hackett. Were going to have to be creative here. We will use multiple groups of players. And I wouldnt be surprised if we saw three or four backs on the field at the same time because of the lack of depth we have at wide receiver.
Overall, that lack of depth and experience makes wide receiver a scary position, in Hacketts view. But there are lots of opportunities for people to step up. Were expecting immediate contributions from some new players who will arrive with great speed and credentials. Our wide receiver recruiting class is as good as any in the country.
USCs main offensive losses from the 1998 team are two-year starting wide receiver Billy Miller, who ended his career as the schools No. 4 all-time receiver with 125 catches (including a team-best 49 in 1998), starting fullback Powell, often-used wide receivers Larry Parker (78 career receptions, including 29 last year) and Mike Bastianelli (68 career catches), and offensive linemen Ken Bowen, Rome Douglas and David Pratchard, who between them had 45 career starts.