The previous four athletes highlighted as "rising stars" might be better suited than an offensive lineman, but there might not be a more important player in the entire conference than Matt Kalil.
Firstly, Kalil is the starting left tackle for the USC Trojans and valiant protector of Matt Barkley's blind side. Standing at 6'7" and 295 pounds, Barkley should feel fairly secure with the presence of Kalil nearby.
However, the other four line positions are the dread of Trojan coaches, placing even more of a burden on USC's anchor, Kalil.
Other than Kalil, USC returns one other starter on the offensive line from 2010, center Khaled Holmes. All other possible candidates up front for the Trojans will be green, fresh-faced rookies to the Division 1-A trenches.
During spring drills, Kalil, a redshirt junior, found himself mentoring the younger linemen both on the field and in film session, to ease the transition from high school and junior college fields to the Pac-12 gridiron.
Mistakes will inevitably be made by the youngsters, but Kalil is hopeful his leadership and coaching tips in the huddle will keep errors to a minimum in the fall.
Kalil believes his lessons will be put to use this upcoming season, as well as enhancing his own game, mentally and physically. Last fall was Kalil's first as a full-time starter on the Trojans' offensive line, and is looking to improve his game, as well.
“I did well, but I can always improve,” Kalil said. “I want to be more aggressive. Definitely finish more. Get more knockdowns. Study defenses more. Just improve my overall game.”
As a coach, Lane Kiffin received a gift with the mentality Kalil possesses. Throughout Kalil's career, he has always improved. From his days at Anaheim Servite, Kalil was garnering national attention at just 15 years old.
In 2005, Kalil was named to the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Sophomore first team. As the sophomore became a junior, then a senior, the accolades never ran dry. Virtually every national publication tabbed Kalil as an All-American offensive lineman.
It is now 2011, and Kalil has continued to improve his game. No awards were handed out last fall for the Trojans or Kalil, but eventually Kalil will be graced by one NFL organization in the near future.
By that time, everyone will take note of Matt Kalil. Until then, Matt Barkley will keep him close, as his personal bodyguard in 2011.