USC Sports

USC football players rally around Coach Steve Sarkisian

Steve Sarkisian

USC Coach Steve Sarkisian watches from behind the line of scrimmage during the annual spring game at the Coliseum on April 11.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

USC players are accustomed to playing through distractions. They did it after the midseason firing of coach Lane Kiffin in 2013 and after the Josh Shaw imbroglio last season.

And they are prepared to do it again in the wake of unsettling actions by Coach Steve Sarkisian, who apparently was intoxicated at a booster event last weekend and told reporters that he would seek treatment to find out whether he has a drinking problem.

“We’re not allowed to talk about that situation; we’re on to football,” offensive lineman Zach Banner told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “You guys got any football questions?”

Most of the questions continue to be about Sarkisian, who said his condition at the “Salute to Troy” event resulted from mixing an unspecified amount of alcohol with an unspecified medication.


Speaking generally, Banner said that in Los Angeles, “it’s a big news media outlet, everything’s going to get out, everything’s going to get blown up.”

But USC players are rallying around Sarkisian.

“People make mistakes in life,” sophomore cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said. “We’re just going to move forward with it and back up our coach 100%.”

Senior cornerback Kevon Seymour predicted the situation would bring the Trojans closer together and that, just as he learned from a costly mistake made in last season’s USC loss to Arizona State, Sarkisian would not repeat his.


“It just won’t happen again,” he said, “because you learn from it.”

Sarkisian appeared worn Tuesday during a news conference, and also at practice. A day later, he was more energetic.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said of the news conference. “When you have to take on things and you have to give things up about yourself, I don’t think it’s easy for anybody.”

Sarkisian said Tuesday that he had tried to reach out to USC President C.L. Max Nikias. On Wednesday, Sarkisian said they had connected.

“It went great,” he said, offering no details.

Nikias did not respond to a request for comment.

Sarkisian was happy to be back on the field and preparing for the Sept. 5 opener against Arkansas State.

“I felt like I was back at home again, coaching football,” he said, adding, “moving forward with our team, moving forward with myself. Trying to take all the right and necessary steps to be positive and to go out and have a really good season.”


Chad Wheeler returns

Offensive lineman Chad Wheeler returned to full participation in practice, having been cleared for a concussion and also his surgically repaired right knee.

Wheeler suffered a concussion last week when he was accidentally hit in the head with a medicine ball.

“Oddest injury I’ve ever been subject to,” he said.

Wheeler, a fourth-year junior, said he was on the practice field and “just walked in the way” before he was accidentally hit in the temple. He was not wearing his helmet at the time.

“I didn’t see it coming,” he said.

Wheeler had knee surgery after he was injured during the Trojans’ Oct. 25 loss at Utah. He was limited during training camp but was cleared Tuesday for live contact drills.

“I felt good,” he said after the Trojans’ workout Wednesday. “I just have to get in better shape.”


Wheeler said he would be ready for the Trojans’ opener.

Sophomore Toa Lobendahn has been playing left tackle in Wheeler’s place.

Not welcome

Parents of players, allowed to attend practice for years, are no longer able to watch their sons prepare for games.

USC informed parents Aug. 15 that, starting this week, they would not be admitted.

“I want to give our players the best chance to come out here every day, perform really well and not worry about outside distractions,” Sarkisian said, adding, “I just feel like, in the best interest of our team, it was the right thing to do. Time will tell. We’ll see what happens.”

Quick hits

Tailback Justin Davis and linebacker Lamar Dawson remain sidelined because of rib injuries. Freshman tailback Ronald Jones II did not finish practice for the second day because he was not feeling well, Sarkisian said. ... The Trojans practice Thursday at the Coliseum.

Get our daily Sports Report newsletter