USC’s Christian Rector thought being on the field was the best way he could help his team. A talk with his coaches convinced the senior defensive end otherwise.
“I just feel like I was hurting myself trying to fight through injury,” said Rector, who sat out USC’s last two games because of a high-ankle sprain. “I just wasn’t helping out the team.”
After coaches convinced him to rest for two weeks and recover fully, Rector is in position to do what he always wanted. The Pasadena native said after practice Wednesday that he’s feeling 100% healthy.
USC plays No. 7 Oregon on Saturday at the Coliseum.
Rector said he hasn’t felt this good since USC’s second game of the season, against Stanford, when he first suffered the injury. He sat out the season’s third game, against Brigham Young, after getting injured against the Cardinal.
“In the long term, I think it was the smartest decision for me to try to get healthy these [last] two weeks so I could be good for the next four games,” said Rector, who conceded it was difficult to accept the coaching staff’s recommendation to rest. “Four to six games.”
With four regular-season games left, the Trojans (5-3, 4-1 Pac-12 Conference) are in the hunt for a berth in the conference championship game.
Rector’s possible return would start replenishing a defense that’s still without end Drake Jackson (ankle) and safety Talanoa Hufanga (shoulder). Neither starter practiced as USC prepares to face an Oregon offense that ranks second in the Pac-12 in scoring at 36 points per game.
Cornerback Chris Steele (knee) and inside linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV (ankle) returned to practice this week. Steele sat out USC’s 35-31 win over Colorado on Friday. Gaoteote, who suffered a high-ankle sprain against Notre Dame, participated in practice.
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast shied away from projecting which of the injured players could return this weekend, but he couldn’t help but perk up at the thought of having Rector back on the field.
“It would be huge,” Pendergast said. “He’s a big part of a lot of success that we’ve had. Played in a lot of big games and he’s obviously an important part of not only our team but our defense.”
Throughout the injury, Rector remained a vocal leader from the sideline, pointing out corrections to teammates.
Rector has struggled to regain his form from last season, when he earned All-Pac-12 second-team honors. His four tackles in the opener against Fresno State are still his season high. Last season, he averaged four tackles per game with a season high of 10.
But Rector’s effort against Utah, Washington and Notre Dame, in which he fought through the injury to total six tackles, wasn’t lost on his teammates.
“That’s all you can ask for a person that’s trying to fight for his team and trying to fight for his teammates,” linebacker John Houston Jr. said.