USC Football: 10 Toughest Players on the Team

Rick McMahan@@RickMcMahanSenior Writer IJune 30, 2011

USC Football: 10 Toughest Players on the Team

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    Toughness comes in many forms.

    There is physical toughness, the mental sort and even emotional toughness.

    But what constitutes "toughness?"

    Is it the ability to suffer an injury on the field, shake it off and come back for the good of the team?

    What about the mental toughness of throwing an interception, fumbling a handoff or dropping a sure touchdown pass and then, with boos raining down upon you, hitching up your pants and making a big play when the squad is depending on you?

    To put it simply, the short answer is yes to both scenarios.

    Yet, it is so much more.

    How about playing out of your natural position for the sake of the team?

    Or coming back the next year after a season ending debilitating injury and an offseason of grueling rehab?

    Yes and yes.

    This years USC Trojans has its share of tough players too.

    And they will have to be tough because the powers that be in college football have done the team no favors by denying their appeal related to the Reggie Bush scandal.

    That means the Trojans will be playing for nothing but pride in 2011. No bowl games for this year's men of Troy.

    That is tough too.

    So who are these tough Trojans?

    Lets find out.

No. 10: Tony Burnett

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    This is about mental toughness and a desire to be the best you can be despite the odds.

    Tony Burnett, a walk-on corner back from Los Angeles Southwest college, wasn't really even at USC to play football.

    No, Burnett was there to run track.

    A very good long and triple-jumper, Burnett decided last year he would give football a try.

    And with the Trojans needing bodies just to implement practices, head coach Lane Kiffin gave Burnett the go ahead.

    And boy is he glad he did.

    All Burnett did was appear in every game last year for the Trojans and as spring practice camp broke this year, he was listed as the starting corner for USC.

    That's not what makes Tony Burnett tough though.

    What makes him a  tough guy is that he still runs track and often will come right from his practices long jumping, climb into his uniform, and hit guys with all ferociousness that Kiffin and the coaches love.

    Its a busy life for a kid who had little in the way of gridiron aspirations when he came to USC.

    Hopefully he is too busy to notice just how tough that life is.

No. 9: Patrick Hall

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    Sadly, this is a tale of toughness that is still being written.

    Patrick Hall, a 5-star safety from St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, was a can't-miss prospect coming to the Trojans in 2009.

    Then in fall camp that year, Hall tore ligaments and while on the mend, was declared academically ineligible.

    After qualifying academically in 2010, Hall ran afoul of head coach Lane Kiffin and was suspended for a semester.

    It would have been easy for Hall to say hell with it and transfer but he didn't.

    Instead, he and Kiffin worked out a plan for him to come back and to his credit, Hall fulfilled all of the requirements and was reinstated to the team.

    While Hall was working to get back on the team, he was also working to be the best athlete he could be.

    And he was succeeding.

    One of the 2011 spring surprises was Patrick Hall who consistently made enough plays in camp to generate talk of a lot of playing time when the season started.

    Then the voluntary summer players only workouts took place and Hall once again tore ligaments in his knee.

    Now he will be out this season and the road ahead to recovery will be tough to say the least.

    But Hall has seen this script before and he knows how to play the part.

    Good luck Patrick.

No. 8: Kyle Prater

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    When USC secured a top ten recruiting class for the 2010 season, it was thought that the Trojans had signed a pair of young wide receivers who would be making headlines almost immediately.

    Well, they were half right.

    Robert Woods, one of those fabulous prep wideouts, delivered big time in 2010 and for his trouble, was named a freshman All-American.

    The other one, 6'5", 215-pound Kyle Prater, has had a more difficult time of it.

    After redshirting in 2010 due to a thumb and chronic hamstring injury, Prater worked his way back and seemed prime for a breakout 2011 season.

    Then in the spring, Prater was hobbled by a foot injury which he is still battling.

    So why is Prater on this list when he hasn't come back from anything yet?

    Because Prater's injuries were significant and it hasn't been a lack of desire that has kept him out.

    He has worked hard to return and unfortunately, it appears that he just might be snake bitten at this point in his career.

    For a young guy to come back from such an auspicious start will require toughness to be certain.

    Now we just have to wait to be sure.

No. 7: Khaled Holmes

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    Forget for a moment that Khaled Holmes is nursing a neck injury which is always bad for an offensive lineman.

    Holmes is included in this list because he is taking one for the team.

    Last year as an offensive guard, Holmes made honorable mention all Pac-10 for the Trojans.

    Now, despite an obvious upward trajectory in his chosen position, Holmes will slide one spot over and take over the critical center position which was vacated when Kris O'Dowd graduated.

    Obviously, this is a move that was necessitated by the need to fill a vacated position but there is more to it than that.

    Holmes has the physical ability but also the mental capacity to take charge of a line that is in a period of flux.

    As a center, Holmes will be responsible for barking out the defensive alignment to his O-line cohorts as well as getting the snap to quarterback Matt Barkley.

    Changing positions requires mental toughness but moving to center requires even more.

    And it is that mental toughness, along with his high football acumen that has the coaching staff secure with the move.

    Then combine that with the nagging neck injury and it is easy to see why Holmes is included in this list of tough guys.

No. 6: Brian Baucham

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    At one time Brian Baucham was a shoo-in to see a lot of playing time at cornerback for the Trojans.

    Then the injuries started.

    First, in 2009, Baucham got into a motorcycle accident and missed three games, then later that same year, sprained an ankle and toe and missed the last three games.

    Then in 2010, Baucham suffered another injury, again to his toe, and missed spring camp.

    However, he battled back from that injury and appeared in 12 games last year appearing most often as a nickel back in passing situations.

    Baucham will enter 2011 vying for a starting cornerback position and if his ability on the field approaches his determination to come back from the multitude of injuries he has already suffered, I wouldn't count him out.

    Baucham is tough indeed...

No. 5: Matt Barkley

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    Of course, you have to be tough to play quarterback at a major college football program.

    But to do it at USC, as a true freshman, well, you have to be really tough.

    In the case of quarterback Matt Barkley, he fits the bill by any definition.

    Starting as Pete Carroll's "wonder kid" in 2009, Barkley found himself the target of criticism simply by being a favorite of the head coach.

    And, at that young age, garnering the respect of older teammates meant that Barkley had to earn his way..

    And earn it he did.

    Part of the way that respect was garnered took place in a nationally televised game on the road at Ohio State in 2009 where the young quarterback led the Trojans to victory despite playing with an injured shoulder.

    Barkley's physical toughness in that game has led to his being named a captain of the team and the unquestioned leader of the offense.

    Not to say Barkley is perfect and he will be the first to admit it.

    Upon occasion, he will still try to force balls where they shouldn't go and that far too often results in an interception.

    But Barkley has the mental toughness to shrug it off and get back to the game.

    Its his physical talent and toughness which will direct USC's fortunes this year.

    He has both in spades.

No. 4: Nickell Robey

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    So how tough do you have to be to start at cornerback for the USC Trojans as a true freshman?

    Pretty tough.

    How about doing that as a true freshman while only standing a charitable 5'8" and weighing 165 lbs.?

    Tough as nails.

    And that is why Nickell Robey, the diminutive corner from Frostproof, Fl., makes this list.

    Robey didn't just take up space while starting all 13 games for the Trojans last year either.

    No, all he did was lead the Trojans in interceptions while being named as a freshman All-American by several post season magazines.

    Also, as reader Mac D points out, Robey lost his mother to a heart attack just before he left for USC.

    Lord knows how tough that is.

    Head coach Lane Kiffin loves tough players.

    Guess who is one of Kiffin's favorites on the Trojans?

    Yep, Nickell Robey.

No. 3: Christian Tupou

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    Christian Tupou has been with the Trojans since 2007 and in that time he has waited patiently for his time to come at the defensive tackle position.

    When he finally got his chance in 2009, Tupou excelled starting 11 games and appearing in all 13 while being named an honorable mention Pac-10 conference.

    He was also named the Trojans co-defensive line player of the year and received the Bob Chandler award which celebrates, among other things, courage, tenacity, leadership and loyalty.

    Toughness is one of the first things that teammates attribute to Tupou and it seemed going into 2010, the sky was the limit.

    However, in the spring game at the end of camp that year, Tupou tore ligaments in his knee and was sidelined the whole year.

    Did that stop Tupou from contributing to the team? No.

    Even while sidelined, Tupou managed to support the team through his hard work and involvement.

    Ever the hard worker, he managed to win USC's Courage award and co-lifter of the year award.

    Tenacious? You bet. Tough? No doubt.

    Now Tupou will try to come back from that hellacious injury to provide depth in 2011.

    Don't bet against him.

No. 2: DJ Morgan

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    For some positions a knee injury is bad, for others, it is simply devastating.

    Tailback is one of those positions where a knee injury can stop further aspirations on the field dead in its track.

    And this is even more true when you are a 5'10", 190-pound relatively small running back—rather than the bigger, bruising type.

    Such is the case with redshirt freshman DJ Morgan.

    Morgan, who came to the Trojans last year from Taft high school in Van Nuys, Ca., had all the makings of a big time runner until he tore ligaments at the end of his senior year.

    For a running back whose speed is his main calling card, that type of injury can be all she wrote baby

    But young DJ worked hard throughout rehab and not only returned the health to his knee, but contributed to the team by being named the offensive service team's offensive player of the year.

    Now in 2011, Morgan is back and better than ever.

    Possibly the fastest player on the team, Morgan will look to crack into the running back rotation in the upcoming year.

    With that kind of speed and toughness, expect his name to be called a lot in 2011.

No. 1: Chris Galippo

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    As anyone who has suffered back problems knows, just standing for extended periods of time can be excruciating.

    Now try playing football after two back surgeries.

    After suffering a herniated disc in 2007, Chris Galippo went under the knife to repair the disc and followed that up in 2008 with yet another surgery to repair his back.

    Those back surgeries didn't stop Galippo from contributing to the linebacker unit in 2009 when he was appeared in all 13 games was named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award.

    Last year Galippo once again appeared in all 13 games and although the defense in general and the linebackers specifically did not play well, Galippo was probably the most steady of his unit.

    Now he will be asked to anchor a very inexperienced group of linebackers in 2011 and once again, his back is acting up.

    Because of his balky back, Galippo missed the spring portion of practice and with his history, there has to be concern on the part of the coaching staff.

    But to bet against Chris Galippo being in the starting lineup against Minnesota for the first game would be folly.

    Because if there is one thing we know...Galippo is as tough as nails.

Conclusion

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    Everyone knows that just to step on the gridiron for a football game, you have to be tough.

    And USC has a roster full of guys who are poster boys for toughness.

    Even guys who were not mentioned here, such as offensive lineman Kevin Graf, who is nursing chronic injuries, have to shrug off pain just to play the game.

    This slide show featured 10 Trojans who have made toughness their personal credo and it is that ability to get past the physical hurting that is part of their player DNA.

    But it is so much more than that.

    For a guy like Chris Galippo, knowing that any tackle could result in a return to the surgery table, the mental aspects of taking the field must be extraordinary.

    if the Trojans expect to be successful in 2011, every member of the team, and the coaching staff as well, must display toughness.

    So exactly how tough are the 2011 USC Trojans?

    We'll know after the UCLA game.

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