For many, the summer months pass all too quickly. For Rodney Peete, it has been an endless summer.
Peete, USC's sophomore quarterback who tore his left Achilles tendon in a season-ending Aloha Bowl game last December against Alabama, has been counting the days until football practice starts again.
His time has finally come. The Trojans begin practice today.
All signs indicate that Peete has recovered from the injury that has ended careers of some other athletes. He will face the ultimate test, though, when he has to make a quick cut or take a hard shot from a lineman or linebacker.
Peete has worked out at USC the entire summer. Jerry Simmons, the strength coach, has devised drills to subject Peete's leg to the most stressful conditions. It has held up.
"I've been running and bursting and it feels OK," Peete said. "But you never know how it's going to be when someone tackles you, or you have to sidestep someone suddenly. I won't know until I do it in pads, but right now it feels fine."
There is another aspect of Peete's rehabilitation apart from his physical condition. Will the young quarterback subconsciously favor his leg, fearful of reinjuring it. "I've always been a person who does things 100% all the time and I don't think it will change just because I've had this injury," Peete said. "Will I be worried about someone hitting me? I won't know until someone actually hits me and what it feels like at that moment. But in my mind right now I don't think there will be any problem.
"I can't wait to put pads on. It's been a long time. It feels like I've been working out forever. I usually play baseball in the spring and then I have spring football, so I'm busy. But this year all I've been doing is rehabilitating."
The Trojans will put on pads for the first time Sunday, with two-a-day workouts leading to the season opener Sept. 13 against Illinois at the Coliseum.
Peete and junior Kevin McLean are listed in the depth chart as sharing the No. 1 quarterback position.
McLean was regarded as No. 1 after a productive spring practice, when Peete was unable to compete for the job.
Although McLean and Peete have equal billing, McLean believes he has lost some status since spring practice ended.
"It's a little disappointing," he said. "I was thinking during spring ball that if I do well that is how the depth charts are made. But I guess not. I'll just keep working to be the best and to be prepared. They said going into two-a-days that I have a chance to start. But realistically I don't know if that's true. I just want to work as hard as I can."
There apparently is not a quarterback controversy, though.
"We're really good friends, so it's not like this is a grudge match or anything," McLean said. "It's a good, positive situation and it should make us both better players."
Peete agreed. "I have a lot of respect for Kevin and when either one of us is in there, I think he'll do a great job," he said. "We're good friends, too. I'm just overanxious for the season to get here."
A year ago, USC was the consensus choice to win the Pacific 10 title and return to the Rose Bowl. But the Trojans stumbled to a 6-6 record, fueling speculation that Coach Ted Tollner's job might be in jeopardy if USC doesn't regain its 8-3, or 9-2 niche of other years.
Tollner said that he perceives a different attitude with this year's team.
"A year ago, we entered the season with high expectations," he said. "We had won the Rose Bowl and figured we were ready to take the next step and maybe go back to the Rose Bowl. But you know the results.
"We may have thought because we had won in the Rose Bowl that we had arrived and it would just happen again. I know our coaches didn't feel that way and maybe we didn't do a good enough job of getting that across to our players.
"So one thing we looked for this year was, did it bother them to go 6-5 in the regular season and then get their tails beaten by Alabama (24-3)?
"From indications I've seen, it bothers them a lot. We have guys who have fierce bitterness over what happened last year and who have made the commitment to do something about it. I see a genuine enthusiasm about the upcoming year."
Although UCLA is generally regarded as the team to beat in the conference, Tollner doesn't believe that here is much difference from a talent standpoint among the Bruins, Washington, the Arizona schools and USC.
The separation comes from an aggressive attitude and consistency, which the Trojans didn't have in 1985, he said.
"We weren't a hungry team last year," he said. "We had it against Illinois in the opening game and against UCLA, but not throughout the season. We just didn't get better. It's not going to get done by athletic ability alone.
"It takes hard work and determination and everyone has been working hard in the off-season. Most of the players hung out here during the summer."
Peete hung out the longest.