Chances are pretty good that you won’t be attending too many USC track meets this spring, but if you do, chances are also pretty good you’ll see a few familiar faces. That’s because, rather than choosing the regular offseason extracurriculars (you know, like working out, making up coursework or getting arrested) a handful of Lane Kiffin’s best football players have traded in their cleats for track spikes this spring.
That’s right. Marquise Lee, Nickell Robey, D.J. Morgan and Tony Burnett have all joined USC’s track team this spring (Burnett ran last year too), and are coming to a race near you. And make no mistake about it, they aren't coming for second place.
Here’s a little insight into the foursome’s exploits from ESPNLA’s Pedro Moura:
The four all competed at Saturday's Rossi Relays on the campus of Claremont McKenna, the first track meet of the 2012 season for the Trojans. Running as USC's 'C' team in the 4x100-meter relays, they finished third among 16 competing teams with a time of 41.05, two-thirds of a second off the pace of the winners, USC's 'A' team.
In other events, Lee finished second in the long jump with a mark of 24 feet, four inches. The first-place holder in that category was Giorgio Bryant, the Division II long-jump champion in 2011. Robey was sixth with his 22 feet, nine inch mark and Burnett fouled on all four of his attempts.
Now, it’s nothing new for major college football players to take up a second sport in the offseason, especially track and field, where so many of the skills needed to compete on the gridiron transition over well. To play college football at the highest levels, you’ve got to be able to run, jump and in a lot of cases throw, so it only seems fit that some kids would try to put those skills to work on the track. In recent years we’ve seen a lot of guys across the country take it up as a second sport, including Florida running back Jeff Demps, who is now competing for a spot on the 2012 Olympic team, and former Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin, who was a Big XII hurdles champion back in 2008.
Still, the move of the USC four is a little surprising, given how high profile three of them are. As easy as it is to compare them to Demps and Griffin, that’s not entirely fair, considering that neither was as established in football when they ran track as a couple of the USC guys are now. Demps entered Florida as much a “track guy playing football” than the other way around, and is now preparing for a professional life on the track, not for the NFL Draft. Meanwhile, Griffin never really ran track once he was named the starting quarterback at Baylor, helping out but rarely competing after his first year on the team.
At USC, there is a lot more on the line, as three players are potential stars for next year’s probable No. 1 team in the country.
Lee could be a potential first team All-American in 2012, after finishing 2011 with 73 catches for over 1,100 yards, and will be a key cog to one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Same with Morgan, who will enter spring ball as the only reliable backup at running back to Curtis McNeal. And Robey, well he’s just as valuable as any of them, as an All-Pac 12 cornerback, and cog on a talented but thin defense.
Of course if there is one place to participate in both sports, USC- one of the elite track programs in the country- seems like the place to do it. According to USC’s official athletics website, the school has taken home 29 NCAA Championships, set 61 world records, had 96 Olympians, 41 Olympic gold medals, and 16 athletes inducted into the Track and Field Hall of Fame. Not too shabby huh? Plus, it’s not like the track program hasn’t been used as a benefit to football before. Remember when Ted Ginn over nearly chose the Trojans over Ohio State back in 2004 specifically so he could run track? It didn’t work out, but at the time, it was one of Pete Carroll’s selling points to try to get Ginn out West.
Where it will get most interesting though, is how the four are able to balance their track exploits with spring football responsibilities. USC opens spring practice next week, and double-dipping won’t be easy. According to Moura’s report, Burnett- who was on the team last year- sometimes had to double-dip and go to practice and run track on some Saturday’s last spring.
Either way, it’s a good problem for some of USC’s best football players to have. And a good way for Lane Kiffin to keep some of his best players out of trouble this offseason.
For all his opinion, insight and analysis on college football and beyond, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.
Aaron, these kids are high character and some of the hardest working members of the football team. These young men are focused, and will take full advantage of the athletic and academic opportunities available to them at the University of Southern California. Couldn't be prouder of these kids. Fight On!