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After Long Wait, Walker Gets His Shot at Starting

Times Staff Writer

After waiting more than four seasons for the opportunity, John Walker said he is ready to start at cornerback for top-ranked USC.

Walker, a fifth-year senior from North Hills, will play in place of injured sophomore Terrell Thomas in the Trojans’ Pacific 10 Conference opener on Saturday at No. 24 Oregon.

Thomas tore ligaments in his right knee during USC’s victory over Arkansas last Saturday. Doctors confirmed Tuesday that Thomas’ knee would require surgery when swelling subsides. His rehabilitation is expected to take nine months.

Walker said he was prepared to start.

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“I’m looking forward to this challenge, particularly against Oregon because I have some friends that play over there,” said Walker, who played as the third cornerback in USC’s victories over Hawaii and Arkansas.

Although Arkansas receiver Marcus Monk beat him for a touchdown, Walker said he thought he had played “solid enough,” in the routs over nonconference opponents. Now the Trojans play an unbeaten Oregon team at Autzen Stadium.

“There’s some things I can definitely improve at but overall I’m OK,” Walker said. “I definitely feel like I could have played better in both games.”

Walker said he was eager to play against Oregon receiver Demetrius Williams, whom he met at a high school all-star game five years ago.

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Because of depth issues, receiver William Buchanon continued to work at cornerback. Coach Pete Carroll said the senior would switch between defense and offense this week.

Carroll said he dismissed flanker Steve Smith’s offer to play both ways because he did not want to take away from the “factor” that Smith has become on offense.

“He was great corner and [defensive back] in high school, but that has nothing to do with what we are doing right now,” Carroll said.

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Sophomore Thomas Williams said, “It was a shame the way it had to happen,” but he was ready to start at strong-side linebacker in place of injured Dallas Sartz, who dislocated his left shoulder against Arkansas.

A doctor reviewed Sartz’s MRI exam Tuesday. The senior is expected to miss three weeks.

“I’m going to approach it the same way I have every time I’ve gotten an opportunity on special teams or to come in a game,” Williams said.

Freshman Brian Cushing, who was No. 2 on the depth chart, suffered a dislocated shoulder during practice last week. Cushing said he hoped to return in time for USC’s game on Oct. 1 at Arizona State.

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Pacific 10 rules permit a maximum of 64 players to travel for conference games.

With Tom Malone still nursing a hip injury, Carroll said he had not decided whether to take more than one punter to Oregon. The Trojans are averaging nearly 67 points and have punted only once in each game.

“I don’t feel comfortable at all with taking just one punter with what has happened with Tom until he really shows that he’s back,” Carroll said.

If only one punter travels, running back Reggie Bush would serve as the backup.

Carroll also said he was not sure which backup quarterback other than John David Booty would travel. Freshman Mark Sanchez is listed as No. 3 on the depth chart, but the Trojans are hoping that he will not be needed this season so he can redshirt.

Michael McDonald, a redshirt sophomore, passed for a touchdown against Arkansas.

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Linebacker Ryan Powdrell, who missed the first two games because of an NCAA penalty that accompanied the reinstatement of a year of eligibility, will travel to Oregon, Carroll said.... As the Trojans moved from one drill to another at the start of practice, Sanchez ran to the sideline and hugged and kissed his father, Nick, a captain in the Orange County Fire Department who returned Monday from the Gulf Coast. He and about 80 members of a Southland search-and-rescue team had been working to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina.


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