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USC’s 248-Pound Todd Steele Is a Real Blockbuster

Times Staff Writer

Todd Steele, USC’s senior fullback, smashes into a linebacker on almost every running play. But he seldom takes the ball with him.

The Trojan fullback traditionally has been the blue-collar guy in the backfield. He clears a path for the tailback, who gets yards, recognition and, sometimes, a Heisman Trophy.

All the fullback gets is his lumps.

Steele had aspirations of playing tailback when he came to USC in 1982. He certainly had the credentials. At Kingsburg High, near Fresno, he averaged 7.1 yards a carry and scored 21 touchdowns his senior year. In one game, he was the entire offense, gaining 333 yards in 40 carries.

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After redshirting in 1982, however, Steele was moved to fullback, where he has stayed through an injury-plagued career.

“USC had a lot of tailbacks--Michael Harper, Todd Spencer and Fred Crutcher--and looking at them, they were better than I was,” Steele said. “The move to fullback bothered me for a while but not for too long.

“I’d come off the field feeling happy after making a great block for a tailback who had gained 20 yards and scored a touchdown. But everybody on the sidelines would congratulate the tailback and nobody said anything to the fullback, or the offensive linemen.

“But I’ve learned that any time the tailback scores, the whole team scores. I’m happy now where I am.”

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Because the fullback is primarily a blocker, Steele had to gain more weight. As he says, a 215-pound back doesn’t make much of a dent in a 240-pound linebacker. He played last year at 235 to 240 pounds and came into camp this season weighing 248.

Steele figured he would lose weight during the two-a-day practices that precede the season but he’s still at 248.

He also showed the coaching staff that he was in the best shape of his career by scoring 92% on a 40-yard test that every healthy player has to take.

“We run 10 40-yard dashes with only a 20-second interval between each one,” Steele said. “My target time was 4.7 seconds. My time after the 10 sprints didn’t vary much. The coaches want you to score 90% or better, but I had only scored in the high 80s until this season.”

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Steele said he needs all the strength he can muster to play fullback and he must share the position out of necessity with his backup, redshirt freshman Leroy Holt.

“You need that extra weight because the linebackers get bigger and bigger each year,” he said. “It’s a pounding position. I can’t see either Leroy, or myself, playing a whole game, especially when you’re blocking head-on in a 14-play drive and then carrying the ball once in a while. It drains you.”

USC fullbacks carry the ball only as a diversion. For example, Steele had 5 carries for 20 yards in USC’s season-opening, 31-16 victory over Illinois last Saturday.

Steele has carried the ball only 55 times in the last three seasons but has a 4.6-yard average, and Coach Ted Tollner said he wants Steele and Holt to carry more often.

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Steele might have been more productive had it not been for injuries. He hurt his back against Stanford as a freshman in 1983 and didn’t play much the rest of the season.

He went down again against Stanford in 1984, tearing ligaments in his right ankle.

Last year, as Kennedy Pola’s backup, he made it through the Stanford game but then broke his left shoulder against UCLA.

Steele said his shoulder doesn’t bother him now and he’s looking forward to what he hopes will be his first injury-free season.

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USC is diversifying its offense this season with a split-back formation to complement the traditional I and single-back alignments.

“I once thought that if we had too many variations we wouldn’t get good at any one of them, but I don’t feel that way now,” Steele said. “There are some plays that have worked every single time against our defense in practice and, if they work against our defense that knows our plays, they should be able to work in a game.

“We had only four or five plays that we ran in a game out of the I, and our opponents knew the plays. It was just ‘Here it comes!’ and they just had to find a way to stop it. But things are evening up in the Pac-10 now since the scholarship limitations and we’re not the overpowering team that we used to be. So the split-backs formation will give us a little something extra. We can run almost everything out of split backs that you can in the I.”

Steele grew up in the farming community of Lindsay, Calif., moving to Kingsburg, another rural area, for his senior season in high school.

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A public administration major, he said he eventually wants to earn enough money to buy his own farm. Right now, though, he’s the workhorse of the backfield and the biggest Trojan horse at that.

Trojan Notes Todd Steele earned the team’s award as decleater of the week for his blocking. A decleater is knocking an opponent off his feet. He buried some Illinois defensive backs last week, according to Ted Tollner. .. . The temperature in Waco, Tex., where the Trojans play Baylor Saturday, has been holding steady at 90 degrees with almost matching humidity. Tollner said that large cooling fans will be available on the sideline where the temperature reaches 110 degrees on the AstroTurf field. . . . Tollner on linebackers Marcus Cotton and Sam Anno against Illinois: “They played as well as you can play.” Cotton had 10 tackles, 2 of them quarterback sacks for losses, deflected 4 passes and forced a fumble. Anno was in on 21 tackles and deflected 2 passes. . . . Tollner said that tailback Aaron Emanuel gained most of his 78 yards against Illinois after being hit. “One tackle didn’t bring him down,” Tollner said, adding that he will continue to alternate his tailbacks, Ryan Knight and Emanuel, with Knight starting against Baylor as he did in the Illinois game. . . . USC last played in Waco in 1960, John McKay’s first year as coach. The Trojans were trounced, 35-14.


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