Trial by fire for freshmen

Times Staff Writer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- USC lures top recruiting classes each year with the siren song of immediate playing time, or at least the chance to compete for it.

Today, in the No. 3 Trojans’ opener against Virginia, the bill comes due for Coach Pete Carroll and his staff.

Carroll said this week that as many as eight first-year players would play against the Cavaliers.

Senior guard Jeff Byers learned in 2004 against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field that nothing could really prepare a freshman for playing in an opener on the road.


“It was scary, to be honest with you, walking out of the tunnel in a stadium against a bunch of crazy fans,” Byers said. “It was the rush of a lifetime . . . but you just have to be able to control your nerves and play football.”

Keep off

USC arrived at Scott Stadium for its walk-through Friday but could only pace the perimeter of the field because the grass was still being painted.

Though it was hot, sunny and muggy, team officials said they were told that rain in previous days had soaked the field, necessitating the late paint job after the grass dried.


“I’m disappointed that we don’t get to get onto the field, but we understand with the elements and all,” Carroll said.

Wet grass, and an apparent need for privacy, also forced the Trojans to change practice plans earlier Friday.

Last year before a game at Nebraska, a throng of Cornhuskers fans turned out at an Omaha high school and stood on a hillside overlooking the stadium where the Trojans were scheduled to practice. Carroll directed his team to an auxiliary field that was shielded from view.

On Friday, the Trojans were scheduled to practice at a public high school but traveled instead to a small, secluded private school that featured a field shielded by trees.


A group of children, who emerged from a classroom heading to a playground, were about the only spectators as USC went through a one-hour workout in shorts and T-shirts.

“We canvassed the area,” Carroll joked. “We’ve had kids going to school here for years just for this moment.”

Asked if he had decided who would start at tailback, Carroll said, “You have to wait and see. Where’s Waldo?”

Quick kicks


This is the first time Virginia has played host to a Pacific 10 Conference opponent. The Cavaliers lost at Washington, 38-17, in their 1976 opener. . . . USC is 10-6 against current Atlantic Coast Conference teams. . . . Walk-on running back Chris Fornataro is the only USC player from Virginia. Quarterback Scott Deke, from Loyola High, and linebacker Darren Childs from San Diego Mission Bay High are the Cavaliers’ only Californians.