After his injuries, USC’s Tre Madden is happy to be up and running

USC tailback Tre Madden looks for running room against Arizona during the 2013 season.

USC tailback Tre Madden looks for running room against Arizona during the 2013 season.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Tre Madden’s grandfather scouts for the St. Louis Rams. His uncle coaches for the New York Jets. So when the USC tailback seeks counsel about preparing for the NFL, he has a knowledgeable sounding board.

Madden thinks the key to his NFL future is not complicated: “Being available to be on the field,” he said.

Productivity has never been a problem for Madden. Availability has proved a challenge.

The fifth-year senior played well as a freshman reserve linebacker in 2011, and he was a dynamic tailback at the start of the 2013 season.


But he was sidelined in 2012 while recovering from knee surgery, was slowed or sidelined for the second half of the 2013 season, and he sat out in 2014 because of a foot injury.

Perhaps no USC player will be happier to run onto the field Saturday against Arkansas State. Madden is expected to start for a Trojans team that is ranked eighth in the Associated Press media poll and 10th in the coaches’ poll.

Junior tailback Justin Davis, the leading returning rusher from last season, is sidelined because of a rib injury.

“It feels good to have the coaches rely on me and be able to put me on the field to start the game,” Madden said, “but I feel like the first play is not going to win the game. I want them to rely on me in crunch times and lean on me for the first downs.”

The Trojans’ other scholarship tailbacks are freshmen Ronald Jones II, Dominic Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware.

Coach Steve Sarkisian, who is beginning his second season at USC, said he expected Madden to be “our workhorse” in the opener.


“He’s a little more explosive than I probably gave him credit for,” Sarkisian said, adding, “His football IQ is about as high as a running back as I’ve been around.”

Madden, 6 feet 1, 225 pounds, is the grandson of former Los Angeles Rams running back Lawrence McCutcheon and nephew of former USC and NFL cornerback Daylon McCutcheon. His father, Curtis, played running back at Kansas State.

Running backs coach Johnny Nansen never has to look far to find Madden after practices.

“He’s always in the film room,” Nansen said. “In all my years of coaching, I haven’t seen that type of kid that committed to being great.”

Madden’s USC career got off to a fast start when he arrived from Mission Viejo High in the fall of 2011. He played linebacker in 12 games — including a start against Colorado — and appeared on his way to starting for the next three seasons.

But before spring practice began, he ran an impressive 40-yard dash. Former coach Lane Kiffin summoned him to his office.

“I’m thinking, ‘Did I do anything wrong?’” Madden said, laughing. “He said, ‘I’m thinking about trying you at running back.’ I was definitely all for it.”


Madden was impressive during spring practice, but suffered torn knee ligaments near the end of workouts.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson suffered a similar injury late in the 2011 NFL season and came back to start the 2012 opener. “He came back really fast, like nine months, and that really motivated me to come back with no excuses,” Madden said.

Madden burst onto the scene in 2013, starting the opener and rushing for more than 100 yards in the first three games, a feat not achieved at USC since Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen did it in 1981.

“It was great getting compared to Marcus Allen,” Madden said. “It was a cool little deal.”

Madden rushed for more than 100 yards again in the fifth game, a Trojans loss at Arizona State. It was a performance lost in the end of the Kiffin era.

The next week, while preparing for Arizona, Madden suffered what he thought was a minor hamstring injury. He scored a touchdown in the first half against the Wildcats, but he made a move early in the second half and felt a pop.

He was slowed or sidelined the rest of the season.

Madden returned for spring practice and, once again, performed well. But during the final scrimmage, he felt pain in his foot.


When training camp started in August, Sarkisian said Madden was dealing with a sprained toe. Madden sat out the early part of the season, then tried to practice in late September.

“They said I looked good, but it was feeling so bad it was not going to happen,” he said.

Madden had surgery to repair a bone embedded in a foot tendon and set his sights on his fifth and final season.

He has looked nimble and fast running with the ball and catching it out of the backfield.

“He’s really agile,” defensive lineman Greg Townsend Jr. said. “He jumps in and out of gaps.”

Quarterback Cody Kessler said Madden is “the same Tre” that was so productive when he was physically sound. Kessler appreciates Madden’s versatility and, perhaps more important, the protection provided against the blitzes.

“I know he’s going to pick it up,” Kessler said. “And even if it’s my blindside, I can always trust him that protection is always going to be there.”

Madden is looking forward to his final season.

“I want to make an impact,” he said. “I want to get through the season, be healthy, and make a statement in every game.


“And have my name remembered at ‘SC.”

Twitter: @latimesklein