“T-Time” is a column by Trevor Denton about football.
The Trojans’ biggest challenges this spring were supposed to be learning a new system under defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and ramping up their physicality in practice.
Instead, players are stuck at home for the foreseeable future. For the coaching staff, the biggest hurdle now is communication with players around the country and making sure players are staying in shape.
The silver lining is that every college football team has been dealt the same hand. But naturally, the disruptiveness of the coronavirus panic favors teams with stability from year to year, teams whose offseason routines have become second nature. Think of the Clemson’s of the world, who have been able to retain key assistant coaches year after year. Or Alabama, where head coach Nick Saban deals with staff turnover annually but rarely misses a beat.
USC has not had the luxury of stability in its coaching ranks. The offensive staff is entering its second offseason under Graham Harrell, while the defensive staff has been completely overhauled. No assistant coach remains from when head coach Clay Helton took over the job permanently in 2016.
That’s why it’s especially important that USC remains creative in staying connected with its players. The coaching staff is doing so primarily through team-wide and position-specific Zoom meetings and social media. Strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus has been posting daily workouts for players on a private Instagram account. So far the reception from players has been encouraging, despite the circumstances.
“I look at it every day,” redshirt junior center Brett Neilon said. “ I see what kind of workout he wants us to do. It’s encouraging to see teammates post on the story they have. That just kind of motivates you that you have to put in the work.”
Ausmus views social media as a natural way to reach players during this challenging time.
“[Social media is] such a part of athletes’ lives now,” Ausmus said on the Trojans Live radio show Tuesday. “It’s something that you can update immediately. Anything that’s an idea, a video, a motivational quote, you can quickly get that to them through social media outlets.”
The team also uses a group chat to stay in touch. While technology helps the team stay connected, there are still many challenges in keeping everyone on the same regimen. One is that many players live in different time zones. USC has seven players from Hawaii (3 hours behind), five from the Central time zone (2 hours ahead) and four from the Southeast (3 hours ahead).
“A lot of guys are just all over the place, different time zones,” Neilon said. “But you know, people are trying to do the best they can. Some guys don’t have access to the gym while other guys might have some weights at home.”
At this point, it’s impossible to predict whether the college football season will be postponed (or whether fans will even be allowed to attend games). But if the season goes on as scheduled, the Trojans are set for a Week One matchup against Alabama on Sept. 5. Playing a competitive game with the Crimson Tide would be a monumental enough task without losing all of spring practice. But at least now the team can begin its preparation early.
“Obviously in spring ball, you try to work on your team and you’re not really worried about who’s on the first game of the schedule,” Neilon said. “But I’ll probably start watching film on [Alabama].”
The team’s response to this pandemic will be a massive indicator of how successful this new-look coaching will be. If the coaching staff can keep players connected without being able to have physical practices, they can no doubt lead this team to new heights during the season.
For now, they just have to stay creative.
“T-Time” typically runs every other Wednesday.