USC standouts Woods, Lee share high school roots

Southern California’s downtown campus is just 11 miles north of

Serra High School, a private Catholic institution and an oasis from

nearby urban decay in its tidy Gardena neighborhood.

Although Robert Woods and Marqise Lee made the short trip from

Serra to USC one year apart, the Trojans’ dynamic receiving duo is

blazing quite a path through the Pac-12’s secondaries together.

Woods is on pace for the best season by a receiver in school

history with an NCAA-leading 55 catches through five games of his

sophomore year, while coach Lane Kiffin thinks Lee is bigger,

stronger, just as fast – and ahead of Woods’ growth as a

freshman.

”We’ve got two guys that have the potential to be two of the

best – if not the best – receivers this school has ever seen,”

Kiffin said. ”They’ve got a long way to go, but it’s pretty

special to have that chance.”

They’re both speedy, athletic and tenacious – a trait they

credit partly to each other. They both played defensive back at

Serra, guarding each other during the Cavaliers’ practices, before

teaming up on Friday nights.

”We’ve been teammates for a long time,” Woods said. ”We push

each other to get better every day of our lives.”

They’re likely to be joined by a third Serra graduate, freshman

George Farmer, when the Trojans (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) face California

in San Francisco on Thursday. Farmer, recruited as an elite

receiver, is expected to debut at tailback against the Golden Bears

after a midseason position switch – a nod to the dominance of Woods

and Lee, the only true freshmen ever to start at receiver for

USC.

Kiffin hasn’t been shy about comparing his Serra products,

either. While he profusely praises Woods, the top target of his

offensive play-calling, he clearly has enormous expectations for

Lee, lauding his constant improvement ever since he emerged as the

surprise of training camp.

And though they’ve known each other since adolescence, they

didn’t arrive at USC as a package deal.

Woods grew up idolizing USC receiver Steve Smith and picturing

himself scoring touchdowns in the Coliseum. He chose the Trojans

months before leading a state title run in 2009 at Serra – not to

be confused with the identically named Bay Area school that

produced Barry Bonds, Tom Brady, Lynn Swann and Jim Fregosi.

Lee is a three-sport athlete who never had a ”dream college,”

he says. He came awfully close to choosing Oregon before the

Trojans agreed he had a future at receiver, not cornerback.

”Robert never told me to come here,” Lee said. ”People

thought he did, but not at all. He just told me to pick the best

choice for me.”

Woods has been quarterback Matt Barkley’s favorite target from

their first few weeks together, and he has 747 yards receiving and

six touchdowns in five spectacular games this fall. After setting

the school’s single-game record with 17 catches in the season

opener, Woods fell just shy of the USC single-game record for yards

receiving with 255 against Arizona.

Lee has 21 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns, relishing

his role as the No. 2 option in Kiffin’s aggressive passing

attack.

”Our initial goal is for Robert to get all the attention, and

that frees us up,” Lee said. ”Then, when we start to get some

attention, that frees Robert back up. So far, it’s working out that

way. Robert is extremely amazing. He’s a one-of-a-kind athlete.

I’ve got a lot to learn before I get on his level.”

Woods is a superb athlete, but he’s also a technician, putting

in hours of extra study on defenses and routes, which he works out

with geometric precision.

Lee is an athlete: He’s just under 6 feet tall, yet he can dunk

on an 11-foot rim. He’s thinking about going out for the

injury-depleted USC basketball team several weeks from now, but the

Trojans already have put his vertical leap to use on several tough

catches.

”Robert can go up when he has to, but Marqise can elevate,”

Barkley said. ”It’s pretty cool to watch it.”

Lee believes his multiple interests, which included track,

actually limited his football development in high school,

preventing him from learning a few fine points. He’s picking up

every detail this year, and he’s finding new uses for the

athleticism he developed in basketball.

”Somebody tries to dunk on you, you have to time your jump to

block him,” Lee said. ”That’s just like catching a pass.”

Both receivers give credit for their achievements to Barkley,

who has passed for 1,587 yards with 14 touchdowns and just four

interceptions. The junior quarterback seems likely to head to the

NFL next season, but the bowl-banned Trojans have seven games left

to show off Barkley’s connection with his Serra receivers.

”It’s pretty amazing to have all that talent coming out of one

school,” said Barkley, who’s from Orange County. ”It’s even more

amazing that they keep getting better up here at USC. The future is

bright here.”