It is as much a Southern California football tradtion as the "Fight On" fight song, the bent two-fingered V sign and, of course, the "student-body right" play.
But USC head coach Lane Kiffin’s decision to forgo the customary walk-through at Aloha Stadium yesterday — instead practicing on the Ihilani Resort’s lawn in final preparation for today’s season opener against Hawaii — was yet another stamp on the Trojans’ journey from the past.
The NCAA’s recently imposed sanctions against the Trojans led to the stripping of their 2005 national title, the return of former running back Reggie Bush’s replica Heisman Trophy, and the reduction of the guest list for practices.
In previous years, the Trojans’ grass practice field was a metaphorical red carpet for Los Angeles’ football elite.
"I grew up in California," USC cornerback Shareece Wright said, "and I dreamed of being a Trojan. I used to watch their practices when I was in high school. There were big crowds. Practices are different when there’s nobody there."
USC is barred from the 2010 postseason, and its allotment of scholarships has been pared. In a rare waiver, the NCAA gave USC juniors and seniors the freedom to transfer without having to sit out a season.
Despite those penalties, USC’s roster remains a Who’s Who of high school All-America players. And, according to Wright, the NCAA could not seize the Trojans’ hunger.
"We’re not playing for anything but our pride, and to win games," Wright said. "That’s enough for us. As athletes, we don’t like to lose, regardless of what we’re playing for. That helps us to stay motivated."
Coming off a 6-7 season in 2009, the Warriors look to today’s opener as a fresh start.
"We have a lot of respect for (USC)," UH offensive tackle Austin Hansen said. "We all know if any of the five (starting offensive linemen) wanted a chance to play over there at SC, they would laugh us out of the room. You have to kind of think what that would do to you to have a shot against the guys you’re not good enough to play with. That’s what we have (in the opener)."
The Warriors began preparing for this game during spring training. The coaches have studied game videos of USC and Tennessee, where Kiffin was head coach last year. During training camp, they practiced against plays the Trojans are expected to use.
To offset the rigorous summer conditioning program, head coach Greg McMackin brought in hypnotist Clark Tuitele and singer Henry Kapono to entertain during training camp.
The past two weeks, McMackin set up large amps on the sidelines. Each unit took turns selecting the daily playlist.
"We practice early," McMackin said. "This helps during warm-ups."
In the next-to-last day of training camp, at the end of the morning practice, McMackin gathered the players at midfield. He then went into rage as he implored his players to be ready for a no-holds-barred afternoon practice.
After ordering the players to form a circle, one of the fiercest Warriors, defensive tackle Vaughn Meatoga, was summoned. McMackin then called for a kicker. Both were asked to square off in a one-on-one hitting drill. McMackin then counted down: Ready, set … OK, everybody go to the pool."
The kicker nearly collapsed with relief.
"We work hard, but we have fun, too," Meatoga said.
Meatoga said the defensive players had a camping outing on the North Shore.
"Everybody knew Pai(pai Falemalu)," Meatoga said. "He’s like the mayor there."
The tone changed after Tuesday’s practice, when McMackin reminded the players they were representing a state that is trying to rebound from a difficult economy.
"We know SC is a great team." UH linebacker Corey Paredes said. "Every team has their day. Coming from a school like Castle, we were always the underdogs. I remember in 2006, when we beat Kahuku at the stadium, 23-6. Any team can beat any team. You just have to have your good day. It could happen."