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Ministers of the Interior : USC: All-American Boselli slims to 295 pounds, increases his quickness as he moves to left offensive tackle.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mountains and trees tremble when these two collide. Helmets crash, the combatants emit explosive grunts and screams, and divots fly.

It happens nearly every afternoon at USC football practices.

The lineup:

--Tony Boselli, USC’s All-American offensive tackle, 6 feet 8, 295 pounds.

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--Willie McGinest, USC’s All-American candidate at defensive end, 6-6, 245.

Mike Barry, the Trojans’ offensive line coach, was asked what it’s like when those two have at each other.

“It’s Jurassic Park,” he said.

And he was asked about Boselli, a junior.

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“He’s maybe the best I ever coached,” said Barry, 46 and a coach for 21 years.

“Tony played at about 305 pounds last year, and he’s down to 292-293 right now. He’s never looked better. He’s actually zipping by people.”

Coach John Robinson and Barry have talked frequently about Boselli’s work ethic, about how impressed they are with his effort in practices.

But football practice, Boselli says, is sometimes not as tough as was working for some nuns for two summers at a convent near his hometown, Boulder, Colo.

“Jeff Kopp (a Trojan linebacker) and I worked for these nuns in their farm fields,” he said.

“It was volunteer work--the nuns raised alfalfa, corn and cattle. We did just about everything, from building fences to baling hay to dehorning calves.

“Jeff and I would tackle the calves and hold them down, while a nun would burn off the horns. That way, they never grow back. There were days at that convent when those nuns worked us harder than the SC coaching staff.”

Robinson, in his first year back at USC, has already seen enough of Boselli to be impressed.

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“A defensive player can make two great plays in a game and people can remember them for years--it’s like hitting home runs,” he said.

“But an offensive lineman can only be recognized as a great player by a long stretch of consistently great play, and Tony’s on his way to doing that.

“He’s got great balance, great work habits and he’s a great competitor. And as he matures, he’ll become stronger and quicker.”

As a sophomore last year, Boselli became the 25th All-American USC offensive lineman, and only the fifth sophomore to make a first-team All-American team.

He was also one of only three Pac-10 players last year to make both the All-Pac-10 team and the All-Pac-10 academic team.

Offensive linemen aren’t tracked much by statistics, but USC keeps one that illustrates what happens when Boselli applies a clean block. It’s called a “decleater,” when an offensive lineman knocks his man flat on his back.

Boselli did it 24 times last year.

Boselli is at USC because Notre Dame wasn’t interested.

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“Tony wanted badly to go Notre Dame, but they wouldn’t even offer him a visit,” said his Fairview High coach, Sam Pagano, in Boulder.

“He sat in my office one day while I called Notre Dame and talked to Jim Strong (a Notre Dame assistant then, now head coach at Nevada Las Vegas).

“They just weren’t interested . . . I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t even talk him into a visit. Tony was terribly disappointed, but we still talk a lot and he couldn’t be happier at USC.”

It wasn’t the only time Pagano had seen Boselli disappointed.

“I’ve known the kid since he was a seventh-grader, when he was a ball boy for the Fairview varsity,” he said.

“He came out for football expecting to play quarterback as a sophomore here, when he was about 6-2 and over 200 pounds. I took one look at him and said: ‘You’re a tackle.’ He was upset and went home and complained to his father.

“He was always a great kid. Once I explained to him that with his size, strength and speed he’d be an outstanding offensive lineman, he was happy. Of course, I had no way then of knowing he’d become 6-8.”

Barry, Boselli’s position coach, tried to recruit Boselli for Colorado in 1989.

“Coach Barry’s son (linebacker Joe Barry, a senior at USC) and I went to high school together and I spent a lot of time at his house,” Boselli says.

“I just didn’t want to go to Colorado. After John Robinson was hired and I heard that Coach Barry had flown to USC to be interviewed, I was ecstatic.”

Of his scrimmage battles with McGinest, Boselli said both become coaches.

“Willie McGinest will be the best player I play against all season,” Boselli said.

“He’s the best pass rusher I’ll see and the best defender against the run. And I get to play against him every day. We make each other better. We coach each other. If one of us makes a mistake, we tell each other what it was.”

How did he become a 300 pounder? No secret there. His father and uncle own 11 fast-food restaurants, all in northern Denver.

“I started out flipping burgers, but they stopped that after they noticed I was eating more than they were paying me,” he said. “After that, I was put in charge of landscaping.”

At one point last season, when he sat out the last two games because of a sprained ankle, his weight went to 320. In the weight room, he is the second-strongest man on the team.

Sophomore Norberto Garrido, 6-7 and 295, bench-pressed 225 pounds 34 times last spring to win the strongest-Trojan award. Boselli was runner-up at 27.

It is because the coaching staff wants Garrido to start this year that Boselli has been moved from right to left offensive tackle.

“It was awkward for me in the spring, but I’ve got it down now,” he said.

“Now, I’ll be protecting (quarterback) Rob Johnson’s weak side. That’s how quarterbacks get killed--from their back side. So the pass blocking is different. The running plays are the same for me. My job is to knock people on their back.”

Shortly after Robinson was hired, he spoke at a meeting of offensive linemen.

“He told us that we will be responsible for us winning games,” Boselli said. “He said our skill players will make the big plays and make the 11 o’clock news, but that it’s up to us to get us going.

“Between the hash marks, he wants us to beat on people until they quit.”


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