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Hartsuyker Makes Definition Clear : College football: Confused with Marinovich and obscured by Seau last season, he stamps image on USC’s young defense.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s bad enough that Craig Hartsuyker, a senior outside linebacker at USC, is best known as the player who replaced Junior Seau, last season’s defensive player of the year in the Pacific 10 Conference.

But Hartsuyker (HART-sigh-ker) also has been mistaken for Todd Marinovich.

Hartsuyker and the Trojan quarterback bear little resemblance, but both are redheads, which was enough last season to confuse fans seeking autographs and out-of-town reporters seeking postgame comments.

“It hasn’t happened this year, and I’m thankful for that,” Hartsuyker said. “I’d rather be known as me than someone else.”

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He has made headway.

Hartsuyker was chosen as player of the game by USC officials last Saturday for his role in the Trojans’ 19-14 victory over Penn State.

Although he made only four tackles, three were for losses, one of those a sack of Penn State’s Tony Sacca.

And it was Hartsuyker and Kurt Barber, his opposite number on the strong side, who chased Sacca out of the pocket on fourth and goal from the one-yard line during a fourth-quarter goal-line stand by the Trojans.

Barber knocked the ball from Sacca’s hand, officials ruled the play an incomplete pass and the Penn State drive fizzled.

Hartsuyker made similar plays in his first three seasons at USC, mostly without fanfare.

“At USC, there are a lot of good players,” said Chris Allen, who coaches the Trojans’ outside linebackers and is also defensive coordinator. “To get recognition, you have to be something special. And he is something special.”

The problem was, after being selected by Football News to its sophomore All-American team two years ago, Hartsuyker lost his starting job last season to Seau, who was extra special.

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Seau forfeited his senior season to make himself available for the NFL draft and was the fifth player taken.

But it wasn’t as if Hartsuyker was relegated to the bench.

Used mostly in passing situations--he considered himself the Trojans’ 12th man--Hartsuyker had nine sacks.

On the last, he combined with Seau to bring down Michigan’s Michael Taylor on fourth down with less than a minute to play in the Rose Bowl game, sealing the Trojans’ 17-10 victory.

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“It was almost like I was a starter because I was in there so much,” Hartsuyker said.

This season, he has been asked to play a more visible role in the absence of Seau and linemen Tim Ryan and Dan Owens, the Trojans’ sack leaders last year.

“He’s got a lot of pressure on him,” Allen said.

It was a different type of pressure that brought Hartsuyker to USC.

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An All-San Diego Section player at Orange Glen High in Escondido, Hartsuyker said he made an oral commitment to UCLA, but the Bruins wanted the yes in writing.

“They just kept hounding me, to the point where they called me at my girlfriend’s house one night,” he said. “I just didn’t like that attitude--the way they went after players.

“I found the people at USC much more to my liking.”

He signed with the Trojans, a decision he has not regretted.

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“I think I made an excellent choice,” he said. “We’ve been to three Rose Bowls.”

With help, of course, from a certain redheaded linebacker.

A backup as a redshirt freshman, Hartsuyker was a starter in all 12 games his sophomore season, making 13 of his 63 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, despite playing the last six games with a stress fracture in his left foot.

After a 22-14 loss to Michigan in the 1989 Rose Bowl game, he spent the next three months with his foot in a cast and missed spring practice, losing his starting position to Seau, who had been his backup the previous season.

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Hartsuyker was disappointed, but as he told a reporter last spring: “It feels better when the guy who starts ahead of you winds up being the fifth guy picked in the NFL draft.”

The odds are that Hartsuyker won’t be the fifth player taken in next year’s NFL draft.

Hartsuyker, 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, has had problems maintaining his weight at USC. Two years ago, he started the season at 223 pounds and ended it at 206.

“I guess he’s one of those guys who has a high rate of metabolism,” Allen said.

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“It’s kind of a joke, but I’m always talking to him about eating. He had a summer job this year and I called his employer and said, ‘I don’t care what you pay him, but just make sure you give him time to eat lunch.’ ”

Still, Allen believes that Hartsuyker will make it to the NFL.

“He has the quickness and the speed, and he’s intelligent,” Allen said.

Hartsuyker isn’t counting on it.

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“I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on myself,” he said.

For now, he will put pressure on opposing quarterbacks to keep them from exploiting the Trojans’ inexperienced secondary.

And he will keep fans and reporters seeking Marinovich pointed in the right direction.


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