Shortly after arriving at their hotel for the Holiday Bowl, USC linebacker Hayes Pullard sought out tight end Randall Telfer.
Seniors get their own rooms during the bowl stay, so it was an opportunity for the fifth-year veterans to visit and reflect.
"We only have four or five days left," Pullard said to his teammate.
"I know," Telfer said. "It's on to real life."
Both players are hoping for an NFL opportunity after their USC careers end Saturday against Nebraska.
They will leave USC as proud college graduates, with advanced experience in dealing with adversity.
Pullard and Telfer came to USC in the summer of 2010, and their careers spanned the most tumultuous period in the school's storied football history.
• They were recruited by Pete Carroll but never got a chance to play for him because he left for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks after the 2009 season.
• NCAA sanctions in 2010 banned the Trojans from conference championship games and bowl games for two seasons, and scholarship limitations thinned a roster it will take several more years to rebuild.
• They played for a 2011 team that claimed a historic victory at Oregon, and for a 2012 team that began the season ranked No. 1 but finished 7-6, with teammates arguing in the locker room after a Sun Bowl loss.
• They rode the emotional waves that followed the firing of coach Lane Kiffin, the rejuvenation of spirit under interim coach Ed Orgeron, the wrenching aftermath of Orgeron's abrupt departure, and the most recent season under new Coach Steve Sarkisian.
"Eventful," Telfer said when asked to sum up his time at USC in one word.
Pullard and Telfer intend to exit on a winning note Saturday at Qualcomm Stadium. Teammates are eager to accommodate them.
"They never made excuses," junior quarterback Cody Kessler said. "They could have transferred. They could have gone somewhere else, but they stuck it out."
Pullard came to USC from Los Angeles Crenshaw High. He redshirted the 2010 season after suffering a knee injury, and then became a four-year starter.
He is on pace to become the first USC player since Dennis Johnson in 1977-79 to lead the Trojans in tackles for three seasons.
Pullard has consistently produced despite playing for three defensive coordinators and four position coaches.
"We battled in the ups and we battled in the downs," he said. "We just kept fighting."
Some of Pullard's best moments came in the aftermath of one of his lowest.
On Oct. 4, Pullard was one of several players in position to make a play on the ball when Arizona State tried a last-second Hail Mary pass. Sun Devils receiver Jaelen Strong caught the ball uncontested and scored to win the game.
"I've never been an athlete to sit there and watch something," Pullard said, "but it just happened."
Pullard, who absorbed the brunt of criticism from fans and the media, did not shy from questions that followed.
"I apologized to the team but I just kept moving forward," he said. "They couldn't see their leader down. It was like I was their general. I wanted to come out and continue to show leadership so we could finish the season stronger."
Pullard has graduated with a degree in policy, planning and development. After the Holiday Bowl, he will begin preparing for NFL draft workouts.
Regardless of Saturday's outcome, he said he would treasure his USC experience.
"All the fun moments I had with some of my best friends," he said, citing T.J. McDonald, Nickell Robey, Stanley Havili and Matt Barkley as some of the teammates who helped him "blossom into the leader I am today."
Telfer also said he "relished" his time at USC, including the experience of weathering so much adversity.
The former Rancho Cucamonga High standout redshirted his first season, then caught 26 passes, five for touchdowns, in 2011.
Injuries slowed or sidelined Telfer at times during the next three seasons, but coaches and teammates marveled at his mental toughness and work ethic.
He has 63 career receptions, 12 for touchdowns.
Telfer graduated with a political science degree and is working on a masters in marketing management. He said he never considered transferring when the NCAA punished USC with sanctions.
"I didn't want to be looked at as that guy who left when times got rough," he said.
Telfer felt the weight of the penalties in more ways than one.
"When my body started to get dinged up and I realized that our numbers were low, and I was the only scholarship tight end at one point, that's when it sunk in," he said.
One of Telfer's fondest memories was USC's 38-35 victory at Oregon in 2011. He caught a touchdown pass to help the Trojans end the Ducks' 21-game home winning streak.
Sarkisian praised Pullard and Telfer for helping ease his transition back to USC.
"Both of those guys have been so willing to accept the things we brought," Sarkisian said. "And not just accept it, but be at the forefront of the leadership of it."
Telfer said he cannot believe how quickly five seasons went by. And neither can Pullard.
"I still think I have a whole season ahead of me," Pullard said, adding, "I'm just enjoying every moment with my teammates."