INDIANAPOLIS—Standing at 6-foot-5, 265 lbs with luscious locks of hair resembling those of former Trojan and Packers sack-specialist Clay Matthews, former USC linebacker Porter Gustin struck fear into the eyes of Pac-12 offensive lines and quarterbacks — at least for the games he was able to play in.
In his final two seasons at USC, several injuries severely limited Gustin’s ability to play. With the NFL Scouting Combine just months after the season, Gustin did not know if he was going to be able to showcase his athletic ability.
“Initially, I was thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to do the running or some of the events,” he said. “But these last couple weeks I took the braces off and I was running on it and it felt pretty great, so I decided I was going to go ahead and do everything.”
The day before running his 40-yard dash, Gustin had no doubts about his ability.
“I’m excited to show that I’m healthy,” he said. “My ankle isn’t bothering me anymore.”
On Sunday, Gustin exhibited exactly how healthy his foot was when he ran a 4.69-second 40-yard dash — .01 seconds faster than NFL analyst Gil Brandt’s target results for an outside linebacker. A day prior at the bench press, Gustin posted 31 reps, tied for the most of any linebacker and the fifth most of the entire combine.
In his Combine press conference, Gustin told reporters that his injuries are not what people make them out to be.
“A lot of people, for a decent reason, think I get hurt a lot and that I’m fragile,” he said. “But when it comes down to it, it’s two really unfortunate injuries. One wasn’t even on the field, and bones take a lot of time to heal.”
In his junior season, Gustin played in just four contests of the Trojans’ 13-game season. He would have played in even fewer games if it weren’t for his, “play through the pain” policy. Gustin played the first half of USC’s Texas matchup with two screws in his big toe. Though he likely could have declared for the 2018 NFL Draft following his junior season, he felt like he had to return.
“I missed too many games my junior year, and that’s just the bottom line,” Gustin said. “I missed 10 [sic] games. I don’t think it was really a question at the point; I needed to come back.”
Halfway through the 2018 season, injury once again took Gustin out of commission. The big man went down with an ankle injury in USC’s contest against Colorado. Before he was carted off for the remainder of the season, a broken Gustin stood at the center of the Coliseum with a beet red, swollen right foot.
“There’s nothing worse than [sitting on the sideline],” Gustin said. “You’re sitting there watching, you know you can help. You’re watching the guys play that you grinded with in the offseason, you played with for years. You have to sit there and watch what turned out to be six out of seven games lost in a row.”
The linebacker went on to say that his frequent injuries make his training frustrating since he dedicates so much time to ensure he is in peak physical condition.
“I spend a lot of time in the training room and do a lot of things to get my body right,” he said. “I work on the little things 95 percent of players don’t even think about.”
Gustin’s gym rat lifestyle is sustained by limiting the time it takes to do mundane activities. For example, he blends all of his meals so he doesn’t waste time eating.
At the end of the day, he is relieved that his injuries, for the most part, have been bone injuries because “bones grow back” unlike muscular or soft-tissue damage.
Though he couldn’t take the field, or walk, Gustin’s leadership was never hampered by his injury. The next home game, donning a USC emblazoned cape, Gustin hobbled out of the tunnel on crutches with the Trojans and continued to support his team as a captain.
“It’s tough, but you learn a lot. You help, stay involved and try to pass down your knowledge as best you can. [You] just try to do whatever you can to help the team win.”
Gustin attributes his ability to move past his injuries to the work ethic his parents instilled in him at a young age.
“Growing up my parents [a hard work ethic] is one thing my parents always emphasized,” Gustin said.
His hard work has already paid off in the few months after the conclusion of the season, as he outperformed projected first overall draft pick Nick Bosa in the bench press and ran a very solid 40-yard dash, just weeks after taking off his brace.
Gustin has more than enough time to continue rehabbing from his injury and improving his skills, as Pro Day and the NFL Draft are on the horizon.
Watch Porter Gustin's full NFL Combine Interview here.