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July 19, 2008When senior linebacker Brian Cushing looks around, he knows the faces he sees.
He looks ahead of him, spotting Fili Moala. To his side, Kaluka Maiava and Rey Maualuga. Behind him, Kevin Ellison and Cary Harris.
These are his guys, his teammates, and Cushing's happy they're there.
"That's special," Cushing said. "There's almost silent communication where one person knows what the others thinking. Playing with each other for so many years, having that experience should make this great.
"It's really been a privilege."
Looking for veteran leadership on the USC defense is like looking for water off the side of the boat - it's everywhere. The group learned what it takes to lead when it arrived on campus, learning from guys like Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Darnell Bing.
Cushing said the information passed on from the older group when he arrived at USC has been crucial to his and the team's success.
"We came in to an unbelievable situation, and we couldn't have gotten better guys to show us what SC football is and what it takes," Cushing said. "You have to compete every day to be the best player or the best team - no matter how much talent you have."
It's a message he's trying to convey to the newest Trojans on campus during summer workouts.
"I definitely hope I'm showing them the right things," Cushing said. "If they take anything out of these workouts, I hope it's the work ethic it takes and the desire to be the best. We need to spread the message we learned. One day when they're the guys, they can teach."
With new blood from the incoming freshman paired with some returning players like Josh Pinkard and Kevin Thomas, Cushing's feeling good about the state of the defense.
"It's great on and off the field. You get guys like KeTo and Josh back, and they bring a lot of spark to the locker room," he said. "It's great having them around, and our play is that much more amplified by having them out there. It's really good having them back."
Cushing has seen the team strive for greatness as a whole already.
"Guys have really come out here and really put out a positive effort. I think everyone is working towards the same goal - to be the best team possible," Cushing said. " Guys are coming out, even at 6:30 a.m., and giving incredible effort and showing great dedication. There's a lot of heart out here at these workouts.
"It's a great start and should lead us right into fall camp."
The linebacking crew returns intact this season minus Keith Rivers. And while Rivers was certainly a special player at USC, Cushing is confident Maiava can pick up the slack.
"He's a scrappy player. He's tough and can get sideline-to-sideline," Cushing said. "He's smart, a really heady player. He's not the biggest or the strongest, but he can just play football.
"With his attitude and the toughness he plays with, it just helps the defense out more."
With plenty of familiar faces and some promising new ones, there is little doubt goals are high. And while there are some grumblings of a BCS National Championship, Cushing is keeping everything in perspective.
"Of course, there's always some talk of a national championship in the locker room," Cushing said. "Really, the main goal right now is Virginia. That's the main thing.
"We need to be the best we can be on August 30. That's what we can control. We're not even in camp yet, and then, we'll get a better feel for how the team is."