LOS ANGLES >> Southern California administrators are examining the conflicting stories surrounding the injuries of cornerback Josh Shaw, whose heroic tale of rescue has been disputed.
USC coach Steve Sarkisian still wants to know the truth about Shaw’s two high ankle sprains, but has turned over the investigation to school officials while he attempts to focus on his debut against Fresno State on Saturday.
“It’s pretty clear there’s quite a few conflicting stories out there,” Sarkisian said while addressing a mob of national media that dwarfed the usual turnout for a Wednesday practice. “Any information that we’ve been provided up to this point, we’ve pushed along to campus authorities. We’re really going to let it play out in their hands at this point, and quite honestly, we’re in somewhat of a holding pattern.”
Shaw told the school he sprained his ankles last weekend by jumping off a balcony onto concrete to rescue his 7-year-old nephew from drowning. Callers to the football program have disputed Shaw’s version of events, and Sarkisian says USC is still trying to figure out what happened without distracting his team from its task this week.
“We haven’t spent much time on it at all,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve put in too much work in over the last nine months to let a few hours or two of social media or Internet reports distract us from being a great football team.”
Shaw didn’t attend practice Wednesday, missing his second straight day of workouts. He is a starting cornerback and a key component of the USC secondary, expected to be one of the nation’s best.
Sarkisian insisted the situation won’t be a distraction for the Trojans, but still allowed only two of Shaw’s defensive teammates to speak with the media after practice.
Linebacker Hayes Pullard and defensive lineman Leonard Williams both acknowledged surprise at the situation, but remained supportive of their fifth-year senior captain.
“We were pretty shocked,” said Williams, who hasn’t spoken to Shaw. “Josh Shaw is a pretty loyal guy. I would never expect him to make up a story. I would never expect that out of him as a team leader.”
Despite their increasing curiosity about the true circumstances of Shaw’s injuries, Pullard said the Trojans have no worries about a player whose leadership and character were widely praised throughout his first two seasons of play at the school. He transferred back to his native Los Angeles area from Florida, in part to help out his ailing grandfather with the family landscaping business.
“Josh has been a great guy,” Pullard said. “He has great character. I’ve never known him to lie about anything … so it’s surprising. This is exactly when our leadership roles come in. We talk to guys and let them know what’s expected, and we’ll keep us focused on our team.”
Sarkisian hadn’t even coached his first game at USC before the high-profile program presented another challenge for its fourth head coach in less than a year.
Sarkisian, a former USC baseball player and a longtime football assistant coach to Pete Carroll, knows all about the extra attention paid to the Trojans, who are in the final year of extensive NCAA sanctions for violations committed under Carroll, and he remains confident he can handle the latest round of extracurricular troubles.
“My main focus is on going out and playing a great football game Saturday,” Sarkisian said. “As much as we have the situation with Josh, I’ve got another 104 football players in that locker room that I’ve got to get prepared to play.”