Trojans set to make offensive line history in season opener

Damien Mama, a St. John Bosco product, is set to start the season at right guard for the Trojans.

As far as freshmen classes go this, may be the most game-ready group to come through USC. 

The likes of Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith have garnered the bulk of the attention during fall camp but inside the trenches is where history could be made in the season opener Saturday against Fresno State.

USC released its 2014 depth chart Sunday and slated at both offensive guard positions were two freshmen — Toa Lobendahn at left guard and Damien Mama at right guard. 

Lobendahn, an early enrollee, has been "unbelievable" since he stepped onto campus. He entered fall camp as the favorite to be the team’s opening day starter at left guard. So far he’s done nothing to relinquish his hold on the position. 

In addition to holding down the left guard spot, he’s gotten some work at center with USC’s second unit.  

When Khaliel Rodgers went down with a knee injury last week it opened the door for Mama at right guard. 

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 If this holds up Saturday, it will be the first time in school history two freshmen will start on the offensive line in a season opener. 

"They’re both really mature guys," USC coach Steve Sarkisian says of his projected freshmen starters on the offensive line. "They work at it. We really have been pushing Damien physically the last few practices. (We) have made it hard on him. We’ve left him in for extended reps and he’s responded very well. He’s a big human being in there at right guard and he’s hard to run around."

The 377-pound Mama has slimmed down since he arrived in the summer and his goal is to get down to 360 pounds. With the weight shed, he says he feels better overall. 

"I breathe better," Mama said, "I sleep better. Everything just feels good. I move better."  

Having Mama around has brought back memories of an offensive lineman from USC’s glorious past for Sarkisian — Deuce Lutui. 

"Real mild-mannered, fun-loving guy of the field," Sarkisian said reciting similarities of Mama and Lutui. "He gets between the lines and he’s physical and tough." 

The offensive line was the biggest question mark for the team entering 2014 with just Max Tuerk and Chad Wheeler as key returning starters. That point is driven further home by the fact that there could be two freshmen in the first five on Saturday. 

In the modern era, only three true freshmen have started an opener for USC on the offensive line … the last to do so was Kris O’Dowd in 2007.