McNeal leading the way in Trojans backfield

March 29, 2012

There’s a shortage
of ball carriers at “Tailback U.”

Last week USC head coach Lane Kiffin was forced
to pluck a linebacker, Tre Madden, over to the other side of the ball to add
some depth and bulk to the position. 

A bright spot in the Trojans' backfield, however, is returning senior Curtis McNeal.  Before last season he had just six total carries
but then emerged as the leader of the pack in 2011. But his emergence nearly
never happened. 

“Curtis was almost out of
here,” Kiffin said. 

McNeal struggled, not willing
to buy into the new regime of Kiffin and company.  He was unwilling to do things
“The Trojan Way,” according to the head coach.    

His temperament on the
football field has been a question mark since his days in youth football, landing him the nickname “Moody.”

“He was close
to walking off the field one day, which would have been his last chance and he
didn’t do it,” Kiffin said. 

McNeal was on a downward
spiral after missing the entire 2010 season because he was academically ineligible. 

“I was being young and dumb,”
McNeal said. “(I) didn’t want to go to class, didn’t want to take care of my
responsibilities, and when the new coaching staff came in they just woke me up
and made me step up as a man.

“Life is going to throw
challenges at you and you just going to fight it or you going to run away from
it.  I wanted to fight it.”

McNeal fought to regain his
eligibility and by the end of last season, he was neatly inserted as the Trojans
starting running back.  He led the team in rushing with 1,005 yards and his 6.9
yards per carry were the most by a USC tailback since Reggie Bush averaged 8.7
in 2005. 

He’s the leader of a group
that entered this spring with just three scholarship running backs.  It’s a role
that he’s really embraced.

“I’m the older guy in the
room and I know the offense the best,” McNeal said. “I’ve been here the
longest.  I’m more comfortable with it, so I’m just trying to get the guys up to
speed with me pretty much.”

McNeal’s turnaround is unlike
any Kiffin has seen at USC as the Trojans’ head coach or dating back to his days
as an assistant. 

“He was so far gone from what
our expectations were about competing and doing things right the Trojan Way,”
Kiffin said.  “He’s just come a long way.”