USC cornerback Terrell Thomas started last season’s home opener against Arkansas hoping to match up against receiver Marcus Monk.
But Thomas’ season ended midway through the first quarter when he tore ligaments in his right knee.
The junior from Alta Loma had surgery in October and worked diligently to return so he could start Saturday when the sixth-ranked Trojans play Arkansas in the opener at Fayetteville, Ark.
Monk, a 6-foot-6 junior, caught two touchdown passes in the Razorbacks’ 70-17 loss to the Trojans.
“I was really excited about that first game at the Coliseum and getting to go up against one of the premier wide receivers in the nation, so I’m just looking forward again to that challenge,” Thomas said Wednesday.
Thomas thought he might have lost his chance early in Wednesday’s practice when a bone in his left shoulder shifted out of alignment during a one-on-one drill with flanker Steve Smith.
“At first I was like, ‘Why? Going into the day before we leave?’ ” Thomas said. “I just said the hell with it. Take it as a challenge.”
Thomas participated in light drills the rest of the day and said he would be ready for kickoff Saturday.
“I’ll just keep going to rehab and everything will play out,” he said.
The competition for the starting middle linebacker spot is expected to be decided today.
Senior Oscar Lua, a team captain who started 11 games last season and led the Trojans in tackles, has taken early repetitions with the first-team defense throughout the week. Sophomore Rey Maualuga, regarded as a potential star, also has worked with the first unit.
“I know that it’s important to them,” Coach Pete Carroll said of starting.
Lua reiterated that starting carries symbolic significance.
“Absolutely it does,” he said. “I wouldn’t be much of a competitor if it didn’t. It’s a lot of an ego thing to be just the No. 1 guy.”
Running back Chauncey Washington participated in the entire practice and said he felt no discomfort in the left hamstring that slowed him for about three weeks.
On Tuesday, Carroll said he did not think that Washington could start against Arkansas. But on Wednesday he said the junior might play.
“He took the hits and has done everything to make a pitch for himself that he’s back,” Carroll said. “If he has a good day [today] we can count on him.”
After a practice during which all three fumbled, freshman tailbacks C.J. Gable, Allen Bradford and Emmanuel Moody clutched footballs while meeting with running backs coach Todd McNair. The three backs then went through a series of punitive drills to remind them of the consequences of fumbling. Moody was still holding onto a ball when he emerged from the locker room to go to dinner.... Linebackers Brian Cushing (back) and Dallas Sartz (lower body) returned to practice.... The Trojans will have a light workout this morning and then depart to the airport for a charter flight to Arkansas.