July 2, 2008

Heberer excited for opportunity at RG

On any particular warm afternoon on the USC campus, kickers David Buehler, Greg Woidneck and Joe Houston might be on the practice field, booting balls.

If they're lucky, their roommate might be out there shagging for them.

But unlike Joe McKnight or Ronald Johnson, this is a different kind of player catching punts. It's offensive guard Zack Heberer.

"Once in a while, I'll help them out," Heberer said. "I like to pretend I'm a returner."

Heberer heads out with his roommates to get in some extra work on his feet in preparation for the upcoming year.

"I'll come out here and do my zone steps and my kick outs just so I can get it all in my head," Heberer said. "Then when it comes time for camp, I can just fire out and not have to think about anything."

Heberer thought he'd be entering his sophomore season backing up Chilo Rachal at right guard. But when Rachal left school early for the NFL, the door opened for Heberer.

"I thought, now it's my time to shine," he said. "I knew I'd have to buckle down and work hard to get to where I want to be.

"That's why I came here - to play football. Now I have my opportunity, and I'm not going to let it past me."

A month into summer workouts, Heberer's taken big steps towards his offseason objectives.

""We're a month in, and we've got a lot more to go. All of us are just working hard," Heberer said. "We all have goals, and we all want to meet those goals. The biggest one for me is sealing down the right guard spot - making it mine.

"When I do that, then, I want to have a great season."

He's getting his body ready by trimming down and firming up.

"I wanted to lose a lot of my excess body fat and get in better shape. I've been working really hard at doing that," Heberer said. "I've been eating a lot healthier. I've spent extra time in the weight room, I've done extra cardio and I've spent extra time out here."

Heberer, who filled in and started twice last season, knows the offensive line will be a crucial part of the team's offensive success. But after losing six linemen to graduation and the NFL, the line will have to overcome its youth.

"We're the youngest part of the offense - the o-line. It all starts with us. We're the front line," Heberer said. "There's no pressure, though. We've all been here. Once you're here for a year or so, you feel like a veteran.

"I learned so much in one year here, more than I ever learned in high school or anything. My game's improved so much."

The unit has already begun to gel on and off the field, and it's not by mistake. Heberer said the unit is very tight.

"We're all buddies, and we all spend time together outside of football. We have that connection already," he said. "We just mold well together. Even with the new guys, we invite them right in, and we want them as part of the Trojan family.

"We always say, 'Stick together and we'll make it through.' That's what we've been doing, and we're doing all right."

A pair of reasons has Heberer confident in the offensive line's future.

First, the unit gets to work against one of the best defensive lines in the country on a daily basis.

"It's always one-on-one battles, and you have to win. It makes you better when you go against the best," Heberer said. "Going against Fili Moala is a great opportunity for me to get better because I doubt I'll go against anyone this year better than him.

"If I can do well against him, I'm confident I can succeed against anyone in the Pac-10 or anywhere else."

Also, the unit has a great leader lining up behind them in Mark Sanchez.

"Mark takes a lot of pride in being a leader and in taking control out here," Heberer said. "He's looking out for all of us.

"I don't want to let him down; none of us do."

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