Dave Cadigan stands poised, all 6-feet 5-inches and 280 pounds of him, on the threshold of what he hopes will be a special season at USC.
He has gone through enough two-a-day practices, sweated through extra wind sprints and weightlifting sessions. He's ready to step into the spotlight as one of the nation's premier offensive tackles.
However, Cadigan's most ardent supporter--his mother--will not be there to see his maturation.
Barbara Cadigan, who died after a long fight against lung cancer in mid-August, just days before USC began its fall practice, primed him to be the best he could be, much more than any coach ever did.
She did not coddle him, Cadigan said, but worked with him, talked with him, gave him all the positive reinforcement he could ever need. She was critical, too, but praised him endlessly when he was deserving. Theirs was a special relationship.
"My mom, I think, helped me develop into a really quality person," Cadigan said. "She wants me to excel in football, to continue to excel, to be a disciplined, hard-working guy that always gets better at whatever he does. And never be a quitter and hold my chin up always and be a proud guy in whatever I do."
Cadigan attended his mother's funeral on Aug. 14, then stunned Coach Larry Smith by attending the Trojans' first workout the next day.
Smith told him to take as much time as he needed, but Cadigan was eager to begin practice partly because he has been looking forward to it since the final whistle ended USC's 7-5 1986 season. Also, playing football kept him occupied during a traumatic time.
"He's been out every day," Smith said. "He hasn't missed a stroke. Football, I'm sure, has helped him some."
Cadigan, who was an All-Southern Section player at Newport Harbor High School, has taken his mother's molding and become one of the country's best offensive linemen. The best, he believes. He has the kind of qualities NFL scouts look for--speed, agility and strength.
Cadigan ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds recently. Running backs, receivers and cornerbacks run 4.68. Most offensive linemen do not.
Cadigan has said his goal is to improve to 4.6 before he leaves USC.
Recently, Cadigan bench-pressed 485 pounds, a Trojan record, but he wants to become the first to press more than 500 pounds, something no one in the long tradition of great USC offensive linemen has done. Not Jeff Bregel, his former teammate and close friend, not the Cincinnati Bengals' Anthony Munoz, not the Raiders' Don Mosebar.
In addition, Cadigan's vertical leap has been measured at 31 inches, extraordinary for a guy whose build brings new meaning to the term barrel-chested.
"Dave is reminiscent of all the great USC linemen," said John Matsko, a USC offensive line coach. "He has the tools, work habits and desire to be a great one."
Some would suggest that he has already reached greatness. But Cadigan, once called a freckled-faced block of granite, isn't satisfied--he believes there is room for improvement.
Yet it's not for his personal gratification or even satisfaction. It's for his mother.
"To see my mom smile or even cry because of some of the things I've done, the successes I've had, is the nicest thing I can think of in the world," Cadigan said.
"I get more of a kick out of that than anything. More than receiving any kind of award."
Barbara Cadigan was diagnosed as having cancer when Dave was in fourth grade. She underwent a mastectomy, and the cancer spread into her lung. The cancer went into remission after five years until a few days before USC's game against Arizona State last October.
She was admitted to the hospital. Her cancer had reactivated and spread. She spent about four months in the hospital before returning home.
Her time in the hospital was the most difficult for Cadigan.
"I was playing football and going to the UCLA Medical Center every night, then I'd go to school from 8 a.m. to noon, then football, then from there go to the hospital from 9 to 11 at night," Cadigan said. "The hours were just tremendous.
"I even spent the night over there sometimes. We traded off. The family members would spend the night by her bed. She always wanted someone by her bed. We really wanted to have someone there at all times in case something happened because it was so critical."
Cadigan said the family support has helped him cope with his mother's death.
His father Patrick, who was a defensive tackle at Boston College in the 1950s, attends practice daily.
"I go any chance I can get," he said. "It's a great pleasure. When I have the time, I always go see David practice."
But this is nothing new. The Cadigans had attended every game Dave has played at USC. They even went to Tokyo in 1985 when the Trojans played Oregon in the Mirage Bowl.
"She was a remarkable woman," Patrick said. "She was inspirational for Dave. She even went to some of his practices."
Cadigan's career has been marked by consistent improvement from the time he was a freshman bench-warmer at Newport Harbor.