July 8, 2008

Players approach expectations differently

Just steps inside the doors of Heritage Hall on the USC campus, a reminder to all Trojan athletes isn't too subtle.

Heisman trophies, national titles and framed jerseys and photos remind Trojan athletes of the greatness that preceded them.

And, it reminds them that at USC, expectations are high.

Matching the internal expectations, football clubs and writers across America have placed a number of Trojans on preseason watch lists for college football's most prestigious awards.

Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight, Mark Sanchez and Patrick Turner are all on the Maxwell Award list, which is awarded to the nation's most outstanding college football player. Defenders Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Taylor Mays, Kevin Ellison and Fili Moala are all on the Chuck Bednarik Award watch list. The Bednarik Award goes to the top defensive player each year.

Jeff Byers and Moala are recognized on the Outland Trophy watch list, ranking them among the top linemen in the country. Mays and Ellison are candidates for the Jim Thorpe Award, and Maualuga's on the Lombardi Award watch list.

With all the accolades and recognition comes pressure, and every player deals with it differently.

Some of the players on the watch lists have addressed this specifically throughout the summer.

Mays said the hype is impossible to ignore, but he does his best to stay humble and motivated.

"It's something that's hard not to pay attention to. People are in your ear telling you all of that stuff," Mays said. "I try to take the opposite approach. I think that I'm at the bottom of the totem pole. Then, I have to work my way up.

"I'm still trying to work for everything I get, never being satisfied with anything."

Others don't let the outside chatter get into their heads, fearing it could make them someone they're not.

"Everything outside of football, I'm just leaving it out there," he said. "All the talk and all the expectations, I don't let that get to me because it could push me to become someone I'm not."

Some, though, strive off the added pressure, playing their best football when every thing they do is closely magnified and scrutinized - even if they don't waste any time scouring the hordes of preseason award lists.

"Honestly, I wasn't really aware of too much of it. My family members and my coaches mention it," Moala said. It's flattering to be mentioned as one of the best in the nation. You can only take that so far because it's preseason. It doesn't really mean anything.

"I apply it as motivation. I like having the pressure on me."

Others still try to just ignore it, choosing to solely speak about team goals.

Regardless of how they handle the pressure, plenty members of the Trojan football team will have to deal with the added expectations.

It's a price of greatness.

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