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USC safety Su'a Cravens eager for leadership role

Su'a Cravens made a bold debut last season.

The USC safety intercepted a pass in the opener and went on to earn recognition as a freshman All-American.

Cravens is aiming higher in 2014.

He strives for first-team All-American honors. He seeks inclusion on the list for the Thorpe Award, presented annually to the top defensive back in college football.

"I'm shooting for the stars," Cravens said Thursday. "You won't go anywhere if you don't."

The 6-1, 215-pound Cravens started all but one game and intercepted four passes last season.

He and sophomore Leon McQuay III are expected to help anchor a secondary that also includes junior cornerback Kevon Seymour and senior Josh Shaw, who is sitting out spring workouts because of an ankle injury.

Cravens is ready for a leadership role.

"I want to be one of those guys, when we need a big play in the secondary, they look to me to make that play," he said.

Last season, former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast coached defensive backs.

New Coach Steve Sarkisian's staff includes secondary coach Keith Heyward.

"It's more hands on," Cravens said of Heyward's style. "We get a guy who teaches us techniques and teaches us where we need to be and line up.

"Last year it was more 'learn the playbook and go out and play to the best of your ability.'"

Ready to tackle

The Trojans will be in full pads and will tackle for the first time this spring when they practice Saturday at the Coliseum.

Sarkisian said the "live" portion of the workout will probably last about 10 minutes and encompass 25 to 30 plays.

After five practices and walk-throughs, he said defensive players "want to go tackle guys. I don't blame them."

The practice is open to the public. It begins at 11 a.m.

Quick hits

Sarkisian said he was aware of the ruling by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board that said Northwestern football players have the right to form a union. Sarkisian said USC "has always been at the forefront of doing everything in the best interest of our student-athletes" and that moving forward he would pay more attention to the Northwestern case, which will be appealed. Quipped Sarkisian: "I've got to figure out which one of our players is going to come to me as our union rep."… Sarkisian said the Trojans would practice from 8:15 a.m. to about 10:15 a.m. during the fall. Under former coach Lane Kiffin, the Trojans practiced in the afternoon in 2010 and at 7:15 a.m. in 2011 and 2012. The Trojans returned to afternoon workouts in 2013. Kiffin had said players' academic performance in fall 2010 was better than during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He also said players had spoken of being fatigued in classes after morning practices.

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

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