Rex Moore has a clone at USC in Scott Ross, who is, of course, a linebacker. It has been said that you don’t have to be crazy to play linebacker, but it helps.
Remember Moore? He’s the former Trojan linebacker who threw a clump of mud in running back Allen Pinkett’s face during a nationally televised USC-Notre Dame game here in 1984.
Ross, a sophomore inside linebacker, hasn’t splattered a running back with mud yet.
However, he has admitted to fighting in practice to stir up his teammates; getting hit over the head with a beer bottle while serving as a guard at a rock concert, and choosing USC over UCLA because he fancied the neighborhood. Really.
It isn’t surprising, then, that Moore has counseled Ross, who became a starter last year as a freshman while sparring with his teammates and being admonished by the coaching staff.
“Rex taught me a lot and coached me, and that’s how I made it through as a freshman,” Ross said. “I got chewed out so much, it was ridiculous. I’d go over to Rex’s house, and he’d give me encouragement. He was playing with me. That’s what he said.”
The 6-foot 2-inch, 225-pound Ross is part of a young linebacking corps that is versatile and, perhaps, underrated. Ross and Brian Tuliau, another sophomore, are the inside men, with Michael (Tex) Williams and Craig Hartsuyker, both sophomores, on the outside. They’re backed up by Delmar Chesley, a junior, and Junior Seau, a sophomore, among others.
“We rotate a lot of guys, and that gives us a rest,” Ross said. “We’re all eager to play.
Ross said that Bob Johnson, his coach at El Toro High School, and others had tried to influence him to enroll at UCLA but that Moore had been more influential.
“This is real life here,” Ross said of USC. “Rex lived here and made it.”
Said Hartsuyker: “I think it’s a different type of person that comes here and goes to UCLA, too.”
Ross interrupted his teammate, saying: “A person who comes here has to be able to live in a bad part of town. A lot of people can’t deal with that, like a lot of people from Orange County.”
Those who live near USC might disagree that they are in “a bad part” of town, but Ross said the area was maligned while he was on a recruiting visit to UCLA.
He said that UCLA nose guard Jim Wahler had been the most outspoken critic of USC. (Wahler was suspended last week for a few days after he was quoted in The Times as making critical remarks about UCLA coaching.)
“I don’t know how to comment on him,” Ross said. “I met him on a recruiting trip and saw then he was very cocky, very sure of himself. He absolutely hated USC people.
“They (some UCLA players) were all bad-mouthing the USC guys so much, saying, ‘How can you live in an area like that?’ They came across to me as really snobby.”
Ross is doing his own recruiting now. He said that he influenced Jeff Pease, a freshman linebacker from Mission Viejo High School, to come to USC because of the area.
“I told him that if you can live here, you can live anywhere,” Ross said. “You’ll be a tough person when you come out of here.”
Ross put that theory to a test last year as a freshman.
“I had a hard time when I first came here, with Marcus Cotton and a couple of other seniors,” he said. “I’d call the huddle (getting defensive signals from the sideline), and I got harassed for a long time. Some seniors were saying, ‘Why should a freshman be calling the huddle?’ ”
He also said that he got into a couple of fights with Michael Moody, a 300-pound offensive tackle who was also a freshman.
“We were partners on that,” said Ross, smiling. “At the time I thought, ‘Why should I take anything from that guy? He’s the same age as me.’ ”
Hartsuyker, a rangy athlete at 6-4 and 212 pounds who is from Orange Glen High School in Escondido, said of Ross’ scraps in practice: “It’s not too bad now. We’re all together on the starting unit. Last year, he got a little boisterous once in a while.”
Ross gets high marks from Chris Allen, USC’s defensive coordinator.
“He’s the epitome of a linebacker in terms of his mental, emotional and competitive nature,” Allen said. “He’s a shark. He’s going to get you. He really accelerates and gets to places he’s not supposed to get to, based on his times in the 40-yard dash. We have a category called ‘knock-'em-backs,’ and he leads it. He has even knocked guards backwards.”
However, when Ross was a guard, he was on the receiving end of a knock-'em-back.
“I was a security guard, while in high school, at Irvine Meadows, and things were incredible at a concert of the Grateful Dead,” Ross said. “People were jumping from the balcony, and we (security guards) were catching them and throwing them back.
“One guy was giving me a hard time and I told him to go back to his seat. He threw a beer bottle that cracked over my head. I was out. I thought to myself, ‘Wait a minute. I’m only being paid $4.50 an hour. This isn’t worth it.’ ”
Ross is distinguished by a gold hoop earring in his left ear. He formerly wore a diamond stud there, but he said he passed it on to Matt Gee, a freshman linebacker.
He became a starter at mid-season last year and now he and strong safety Cleveland Colter are the leading tacklers on the team, with 57 each.
Hartsuyker, who is calm compared to Ross, is a big-play linebacker, according to Coach Larry Smith. He has 5 sacks in 5 games, sharing the lead in that category with tackle Dan Owens.
USC running backs continue to be plagued by injuries. Tailback Steven Webster, who is making a comeback from knee surgery, has a hip injury now and is doubtful for Saturday’s game with Washington at the Coliseum. Ricky Ervins hurt a hamstring against Oregon on his first carry and didn’t play again. Scott Lockwood, who played extensively against Oregon, has tendinitis in his Achilles’ tendon. Aaron Emanuel is already grounded with a sprained ankle, and fullback Leroy Holt also has been hobbled.