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November 19, 2008

Insider: The 'D' and rock, paper, scissors

In between plays during some of his biggest games the past two seasons, USC senior defensive tackle Fili Moala has had big-time decisions to make.

Instead of trying to figure out which gap he needs to fill or picking between pass-rush techniques, Moala's got a simple, cut-and-dry choice to make.

Rock, paper, or scissors.

In USC head coach Pete Carroll's competition-first program, it's not unusual to see two-or-more players square off in an eating contest, an impromptu race or even a fastest-guy-to-get-dressed challenge.

And, he's cool with all of it.

"We had a compliance meeting (Tuesday), and the format was 'Family Feud'. The offense faced the defense, and it came down to the end," Carroll said. "The defense stole for the final answer, but didn't have enough points to win. The guys were like, "Ohhh" when they found out they were 30 points short of the win."

Senior defensive end Kyle Moore said it's such a part of who the Trojans are that it can't help but show up.

"We're the most competitive people probably in the country. We compete everyday in everything, no matter what it is. We talk so much trash out here," Moore said. "It keeps us going. We'll play rock, paper, scissors in between plays or drills. You just walk up to someone and say, 'See me; rock, paper, scissors.'

"You just roll up on anybody and ask them to play."

"See me; rock, paper scissors" is the unofficial battle cry, meaning two Trojans are about to go at it no matter the situation.

"It could be a super intense moment in the biggest game, and all you need to be like is 'See me; rock, paper, scissors.' Then, it's on," Moala said. "We'll play to see who's the champion.

"It's funny. We have a blast with it"

Moala said the game took hold with the Trojans during a hot, sweaty day during fall camp in 2007.

"It got really big last year. We were bored with camp, and guys were just restless," he said. "Coach Carroll outlawed wrestling, and after that, everyone just started shooting rock, paper, scissors."

Carroll's more than amused that his guys are playing the classic hand-signal game in games, no matter the magnitude. He loves that his guys are absolutely comfortable in even the most challenging situations.

But this should come as no major surprise.

Carroll is the same guy who teamed up with Will Ferrell for a Halloween prank, with Ferrell dressed as a superhero named "Captain Compete."

"It's so much a part of what we're doing. It should find its way into everything. That's the whole idea. Either you're competing or you're not," Carroll said. "If you're really living the philosophy, then, you're living the philosophy. That's really the mentality we want. We want these guys to compete on a regular basis and to always want to have that competitive edge.

"The whole idea is to be comfortable with whatever we're encountered with. And that comes from competing all the time."

And on the USC defense, and in particular, the defensive line, it's gigantic men, living and dying each time rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper, and paper covers rock.

"We're always trying to do things better than anyone else," Moala said. "Paper, rock, scissors just happens to be our best outlet."

The Moody News

USC freshman running back Curtis McNeal has come a long way since early in the season. McNeal, a last-minute qualifier, got reps with the first team Wednesday, as Carroll continues to mix in younger players with the starters during the Trojans' bye week.

"It's wild. I was stressing about even getting into school for a while. I finally got here, and it was such a big relief. Now, it's just about accomplishing my dreams by playing football," McNeal said. "It's been great playing with the first unit these past couple of days. They've been plugging the younger guys in with the older guys to see what we can do."

The results have Carroll excited and intrigued to see more of the diminutive runner.

"He's been pretty steady. He's been pretty flashy right since the beginning as soon as he got his legs under him and got into shape," Carroll said. "I don't know how fast he is. I can't tell if he can run away from a defense yet, but he's very quick. He's made a bunch of long runs."

McNeal said he's feeling comfortable with football and with school.

"It's been great. I'm really having a lot of fun out here. I really learn new things every day. Coach (Todd McNair) teaches me a lot of stuff and has been helping me become a better ballcarrier," McNeal said. "And, school's going pretty good. I had a hard week my first week, but I've adjusted to the schedule, the time and the workload.

"Now that I'm used to it, I'm ready for it."

Extra Points

• With no game this weekend, Carroll and his staff will be out watching plenty of high school football, he said Wednesday.

"It's a big weekend for us this late in the year to see teams that have done well and had good years," he said. "We'll get to see a lot of young kids too. We're pinpointing a number of games to see young guys for next year's recruiting class and the year after that even.

"We can't get to all of them, but we're covering a bunch of games."

• Carroll praised linebacker Brian Cushing's tenacity, saying he's likely to move inside after reaching the next level.

"He's going to be really good," Carroll said. "I think they're going to wind up playing him on inside, and he's going to love that. I know he's looking forward to it."

Blake Ayles participated in Wednesday's practice, working at full speed.

• Safety Kevin Ellison was out on the practice field, watching in sweats. Carroll said he thinks Ellison could return to practice after the weekend off.

"We'll probably see what he can do on Tuesday," Carroll said.



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