He reminds himself of the moment often.
Ykili Ross was a high school senior when he announced during a nationally televised All-American bowl game that he would play the next three seasons at USC.
Ross didn’t misspeak. The highly sought recruit already was looking ahead to leaving college early for the NFL.
“I always tell myself I could have been more humble,” Ross said Thursday after the Trojans’ eighth spring practice. “But then I always tell myself that you have to stay confident.”
More than three years later, Ross is battling for the starting safety position that was occupied the last three seasons by Leon McQuay III and Chris Hawkins.
McQuay now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs. Hawkins exhausted his eligibility after five seasons.
“Y.K., being the elder statesman, has had a lot of reps and a lot of experience,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “You see that on the field.”
A shoulder injury slowed then sidelined Ross after the opener his freshman season. He’s played in 24 games, making two starts, and has two interceptions.
Among safeties competing for the spot opposite of Marvell Tell is sophomore Bubba Bolden, senior Isaiah Langley, third-year sophomore C.J. Pollard and freshman Talanoa Hufanga.
“Knowing you can get that starting spot at any time and knowing that you’re working hard every day and getting better,” said Bolden, who played mostly on special teams last season. “I love it.”
Ross, a fourth-year junior, split repetitions with Bolden when practices began, but has taken over a majority of the reps with the starters.
“I’m just having fun,” Ross said. “I’m not really even thinking about it like a competition.”
As for his plan to leave early for the NFL, Ross said it was still in play.
“I’ve still got the [date] marked off on my calendar,” Ross said. “I just had to move the date a little bit.”
Inside and out
Christian Rector was promoted to starting outside linebacker last season when Porter Gustin was sidelined because of a toe and biceps injury.
With Gustin’s return, coaches have asked Rector to play on the inside and outside of the defensive line.
“He’s still going to be in multiple spots for us,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. “It will all be predicated off game planning and how we feel about our matchups .”
Rector made 35 tackles, including 11 for a loss, had 7 1/2 sacks, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles last season.
The fourth-year junior said he preferred to play on the outside, but that playing inside would broaden his skill set.
“The action happens faster on the inside and you have a little more time to read the tackle on the outside,” Rector said, adding, “I think NFL teams definitely see that as a plus.”