USC’s Eric Gentry feeling confident and healthy ahead of Cotton Bowl

USC linebacker Eric Gentry runs on the field during a win over Oregon State in September.
USC linebacker Eric Gentry runs on the field during a win over Oregon State in September. Gentry says the mid-season ankle sprain he sustained was still causing him issues even after his return to the field.
(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

Eleven weeks after he burst from the injury tent in Utah on a severely sprained ankle, hopping his way into USC’s defensive huddle for an impassioned, impromptu speech, Eric Gentry said his ailing ankle was finally back to normal.

The USC sophomore linebacker still gutted his way through games against Notre Dame and Utah at the end of the season, never letting on that the injury was still seriously bothering him. But Gentry acknowledged he wasn’t the same when he returned from a four-game absence.

“[The injury] was way worse than people understood,” Gentry said. “And it was a mental toll, just trying to fight back. It was really hard not being able to play against UCLA. Notre Dame, it was bothering. Utah, it was bothering. Just maybe, like, two weeks ago, it started to feel like I was 100% able to plant off of it and do stuff. I won’t make excuses for the performance or any of that, but getting back the confidence with my ankle is helping me with my play, being able to tackle, being able to burst with speed, stuff like that.”


With most of USC’s starters on the offensive line playing in their final game Monday in the Cotton Bowl, major changes will be coming to the unit next season.

Dec. 31, 2022

The injury derailed what began as a bright season for the Arizona State transfer. Doubt crept in soon after.

“I didn’t feel like I was as good as I guess I was before,” he said.

But the last month has been rejuvenating, both for Gentry’s ankle and his confidence. Already, he said, he has formulated a plan for the offseason with strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie, one that starts with gaining as much weight as he can.

“It’s really needed this year,” Gentry said of gaining weight.

Whether the plan includes a position change remains to be seen. Shane Lee is returning for another season, and USC has already added All-Big 12 inside linebacker Mason Cobb via the transfer portal. Impressive true freshman Tackett Curtis could also factor in at the position next season, making the depth chart much more crowded.

USC defensive players says the defense improved greatly from last season, however, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is honest how it went this season.

Dec. 30, 2022

Gentry has already spoken with both since they signed with USC. In Cobb’s case, Gentry was already familiar with his film.

“Mason is an amazing player, man,” Gentry said. “There’s a lot of talent coming in.”

Gentry rushed off the edge regularly in high school and has the length to potentially be a game-changer in the pass rush. But he has been focused on inside linebacker since coming to USC.

“I’m a football player, man,” Gentry said. “It doesn’t matter where the coach puts me.”

After more than two months of battling an injury, he’s just happy to be back to normal for the bowl.


Figueroa’s future

USC defensive lineman Nick Figueroa talks to reporters at media day in August.
(Wesley Lapointe / Los Angeles Times)

Nick Figueroa isn’t surewhat his future holds. But after his USC career comes to a close in the Cotton Bowl, the redshirt senior defensive end — and first team academic All-American — has plenty of options.

He could continue pursuing football, training for a shot with an NFL team. Or he could take the position he has lined up in investment banking, which would start next summer.

USC’s struggles on defense played a big part in its loss to Utah in the Pac-12 title game. The Trojans want to prove they aren’t “overrated” vs. Tulane.

Dec. 23, 2022

Either way, Figueroa has plenty of time to determine his next steps. He has a trip to the mountains booked in the coming weeks to decompress.

He said his final season at USC had taught him a lot about himself.

“There have been points in my career where maybe I lost confidence or I dealt with injury and the goal was to just be healthy,” Figueroa said. “But I just think you have to keep your goals lofty.”