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USC linemen Toa Lobendahn and Damien Mama could make history in opener

FootballSteve SarkisianUSC TrojansLane Kiffin
Toa Lobendahn and Damien Mama could be first two freshman offensive linemen to start opener for USC Trojans
Cody Kessler and Leonard Williams are among the USC Trojans' team captains, elected by the players on Saturday

Toa Lobendahn and Damien Mama have not been on campus long, but they could make history when USC plays Fresno State in its opener Saturday at the Coliseum.

The freshman offensive linemen appear on track to be the starting guards. If that happens, it would mark the first time that two freshman offensive linemen have started an opener for the Trojans.

Mama said this week that it would be “an honor and a blessing,” adding that “I love contributing to the team. If that means starting, I wouldn't mind.”

Lobendahn, 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds, enrolled at USC in January and participated in spring practice. He opened training camp atop the depth chart at left guard and has cemented his status while also working as the backup center.

Mama, 6-foot-5 and 377 pounds, moved into a possible starting role at right guard after redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers suffered a knee sprain during a scrimmage Monday night.

Coach Steve Sarkisian said Saturday that “ideally” he would prefer not to start two freshmen. Over time, as USC's recruiting classes return to the maximum of 25, the Trojans will have more depth.

“This is the situation we're in -- these are quality players,” Sarkisian said, adding that freshman lineman Viane Talamaivao also would play this season.

“They're going to go out and play really good football for us. Are they perfect? No, they're going to make some mistakes. But the goal is that they gradually get better as the season continues to go on and they play their best football in November.”

Sarkisian said the staff would “play a lot of youth in general,” estimating that 10 or 11 freshmen would play and seven or eight would redshirt. “It's not etched in stone.”

Captains elected

Quarterback Cody Kessler, center Max Tuerk, receiver Nelson Agholor, defensive lineman Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard and cornerback Josh Shaw were elected team captains by players.

“These are quality guys,” Sarkisian said. “They represent the team really well, they represent the university well, I think they make great decisions.”

Pullard, a fifth-year senior, was a captain last season.

Haden absent

Athletic Director Pat Haden was absent from the annual “Salute to Troy” event Saturday night on campus.

Haden had been hospitalized twice in the last two days after complaining he was not feeling well, a person with knowledge of the situation said. An athletic department official declined to comment.

Morning practices

USC will practice during the morning this season.

The Trojans practiced in the morning under former coach Lane Kiffin before reverting to afternoon workouts.

Sarkisian said he conducted morning practices at Washington and that his teams produced better on the field and in the classroom.

The Trojans will practice at 8 a.m. They have been reporting for training camp meetings at 7 a.m. “This isn't like we had the guys show up in the afternoon and now all of a sudden they have to show up at 7 a.m.,” Sarkisian said.

Quick hits

The Trojans went through a mock game at the Coliseum, which was closed to the media. Players were not made available after the workout. The dress rehearsal -- from meetings at the team hotel to a scrimmage with no tackling -- went well, Sarkisian said. “The first time we got to sing 'Fight On' together in the locker room, so it all went great,” he said.

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Running back Tre Madden, who will probably sit out the opener because of a toe injury, wore a protective boot on his right foot as he boarded the team bus after the mock game.

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The Trojans are off from practice Sunday and Monday, the first day of classes. They begin game-week preparations for Fresno State on Tuesday.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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FootballSteve SarkisianUSC TrojansLane Kiffin
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