Commentary

Former Trojans happy to be reunited with Kiffin

It's a USC reunion this week at the Senior Bowl, where former Trojans assistant and current Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin is coaching nine USC seniors on the North squad.

Updated: January 22, 2008, 1:52 PM ET
By Chris Low | ESPN.com

MOBILE, Ala. -- So what if Tommy Trojan was nowhere to be found?

And, no, the Southern California band wasn't blaring "Fight on for ol' SC" over and over again, nor was Pete Carroll coolly strolling the sidelines.

Make no mistake, though. This year's Senior Bowl might as well be one big party for the Men of Troy.

[+] EnlargeUSC seniors
Dan Anderson for ESPN.comWith Lawrence Jackson and eight other Trojans at the Senior Bowl, USC helmets are everywhere.
Nine players from USC -- that's right, nine -- dot the North team's roster. No matter what end of the practice field you were watching Monday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, invariably there was a USC helmet somewhere in the middle of things.

"We've known what kind of talent they had, because we had to play them every year," California running back Justin Forsett said of the Bears' annual Pac-10 battles with the Trojans. "But you get out here and see nine guys all from the same school, and it really hits home.

"That's not even counting their younger talent that's not here."

The nine USC players are the most from one team in the Senior Bowl since Auburn sent nine players in 1988. The record is 10 players (Alabama in 1987).

To be fair, that was a different time in terms of the selection process. Local seniors from Alabama and Auburn were more likely to get an invite to play in the game back then.

But with the Trojans' contingent this year, there were no "sponsor's exemptions."

"All these guys that are here are well-deserving, and there probably are a few more back home that deserve it, as well," USC quarterback John David Booty said.

If the nine USC players aren't enough, there's also a Trojans flavor to the coaching staff.

Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin, the former USC offensive coordinator, is coaching the North team along with the rest of the Raiders' staff.

"It's crazy to see him as a head coach," USC offensive tackle Sam Baker said of the 32-year-old Kiffin, who became the youngest head coach in NFL history when Al Davis hired him to lead the Raiders on Jan. 23, 2007 . "Now he's leading this group of professionals. You see a different side of him.

"He was kind of the guru at SC who sat back and was real cerebral. Now, he's running the ship. He's leading the group. I didn't get to see a lot of that at SC."

Kiffin's reunion with his former players has been all business to this point. Then again, he doesn't have to stray far on the practice field to find one.

In addition to Booty and Baker, tight end Fred Davis, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, defensive end Lawrence Jackson, offensive guard Drew Radovich, linebacker Keith Rivers, cornerback Terrell Thomas and running back Chauncey Washington are all playing in the game.

Wide receiver and kicker are the only two position groupings that don't feature a former Trojan.

One NFL scout joked Monday that they could almost hold their own 7-on-7 workout.

"It goes back to recruiting," Booty said. "Coach Carroll does a fabulous job of getting guys in there and then teaching them a system. Guys really buy into it and believe in it and never waver from it.

"You throw all that and good talent together, and that's why so many guys end up here."

Baker said Monday's practice was reminiscent of what the Trojans faced daily back on the West Coast.

"It's just the way we practice at SC, the best against the best," said Baker, a three-time All-American. "You've got me going against Lawrence Jackson, Chauncey versus Keith everyday and on and on. It just makes you better."

Even with the loss of so many quality seniors, Booty doesn't see USC's run ending anytime soon. At least, not as long as Carroll stays put.

"Everybody loves him," Booty said. "You watch TV, and everybody goes, 'I want to go play for that guy' with the way he carries himself. He's always like that. It's not a front. It's the way he is every day, and then you're in Los Angeles where everybody wants to live with Hollywood, the beach and everything.

"You have everything in the world around you, and there's no NFL team. You have the whole market, and we play for an historic institution. It's a win-win situation.

"As long as Coach Carroll is there, I don't see it changing."

Booty's only regret was that the Trojans' midseason slide cost them a chance to play for the national championship this season. They inexplicably lost to 40-point underdog Stanford at home on Oct. 6, and three weeks later, lost again on the road at Oregon.

The Oregon game was the third straight that Booty missed after breaking the tip of the middle finger on his right (throwing) hand against Stanford. He managed to finish that game but was out for the next three weeks.

The Trojans (11-2) capped the season with a crushing 49-17 rout of Illinois in the Rose Bowl, but they had to watch the BCS National Championship game between LSU and Ohio State on television.

"After the Rose Bowl, we knew and a lot of people around the country knew that we should have been in that game," Booty said. "We would have, too, if we hadn't hit that rough patch during the middle of the season.

"You make the best of it and move on."

For nine of the USC seniors, they get one final shot together Saturday in the Senior Bowl before spreading out around the NFL and leaving a dizzying legacy of winning at Troy. The past six years have produced two national championships, five BCS bowl victories and a 70-8 record.

"We'll take that next step, and SC will do what they always do ... reload," Baker said.

Chris Low is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Chris at espnclow@aol.com.

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