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Trojans' Buchanon now following in his father's footsteps


William Buchanon came to USC to catch passes, not break them up.

He arrived from Oceanside High in the fall of 2001, redshirted last season and was challenging for a regular spot in the receiving corps during training camp.

Buchanon's route to playing time, however, changed Aug. 21, the day the Trojans learned that senior cornerback Kevin Arbet would sit out the season because of a foot injury.

Suddenly, as Coach Pete Carroll searched for depth in the secondary, everything about Buchanon screamed cornerback. There was size: 6 feet 3 inches. Experience: He played the position in high school. And bloodline: His father, Willie, was a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback during an 11-year NFL career.

More than six weeks later, Buchanon is preparing for his third consecutive start at left cornerback. The No. 20 Trojans play California in a Pacific 10 Conference game Saturday at the Coliseum.

"I still miss being a receiver, making plays, making people miss, getting first downs and touchdowns," Buchanon said. "But I'm finding I can make plays on defense too."

Like father, like son.

Willie, also a two-way player, was recruited as a junior college wide receiver by San Diego State in 1970. When he showed up at training camp, Aztec coaches told him to spend the first five days of practice on defense and the next five on offense.

"But I only spent half a day on offense," Willie said. "I told them I would rather hit people than be hit."

Willie became an All-American and was a first-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers in 1972. He was more physical than finesse and intercepted 28 passes in his pro career, including a league-leading nine in 1978, when he picked off four in one game for the San Diego Chargers.

"People I talk to said he was like the Deion Sanders of his day," said Buchanon, who has seen tape of his father playing for the Chargers in the classic 1982 overtime playoff victory over the Miami Dolphins. "When I first switched over, my dad said he knew I should be a wide receiver, but deep down he wanted me to be a cornerback."

Buchanon, though, was not necessarily raised to be a football player. He played several sports in grade school and was not allowed to play tackle football until high school.

"I didn't want him to burn out," Willie said. "I told him coming into high school, 'You will be behind. As a sophomore, you'll have a little idea. By the time you're a junior you'll know what's going on, and as a senior, you can do some things.'

"He was so skinny, he looked like Bambi. My wife once said, 'If he ever learned to open up his stride, he would be fast.' "

Buchanon picked up speed, and the game, quickly. He helped lead his team to a San Diego Section division title as a junior and caught 30 passes as a senior before signing with USC.

"We saw him as a playmaker," said USC assistant coach Kennedy Pola, who recruited Buchanon. "We knew who his dad was and we knew along the way that William was going to get bigger and be able to play on either side of the ball."

Buchanon was just beginning to feel comfortable in the Trojans' multiple-receiver passing game when Arbet was declared out for the season. One day, Buchanon was emulating the moves of senior wide receiver Kareem Kelly and junior flanker Keary Colbert. The next he tried not to fall prey to them.

"I tell him, even after I catch a ball, to continue to go hard, try to poke the ball, that anything can happen and never give up on the route," Kelly said. "There are balls that may seem out of range, but he has such a long frame--everything is within range for him."

Buchanon did not play in the opener against Auburn. Junior college transfer Ronald Nunn started at left cornerback and was replaced at halftime by freshman Justin Wyatt after suffering a hip injury.

Buchanon played only a few series at cornerback in a rout over Colorado. But when Nunn injured his knee the next week at Kansas State, Carroll turned to Buchanon.

It was a trial by fire. Kansas State quarterback Ell Roberson came off the bench and passed for 134 yards in a 27-20 victory, including a nine-yard touchdown pass to James Terry in front of Buchanon.

Buchanon started for the first time the next week against Oregon State and made several impressive plays against the pass and the run as the Trojans shut down quarterback Derek Anderson and shut out the Beavers, 22-0.

However, last week's 30-27 overtime defeat by Washington State humbled Buchanon and a defense that had previously been first in the nation.

Buchanon knocked down a short pass in the end zone that he could have intercepted. Receiver Sammy Moore also got behind him for a 53-yard reception that set up a Cougar field goal near the end of regulation and sent the game into overtime.

"I missed a few opportunities," Buchanon said. "I'm kind of mad at myself about that, but overall, I thought I did a better job. I took a step forward and that was a positive."

Carroll sees brighter days for Buchanon, who will face another challenge against Cal quarterback Kyle Boller on Saturday.

"He's still just a pup at it, so he needs to just keep growing in his own confidence and be more aggressive," Carroll said.

Buchanon still watches closely when Jerry Rice and some of his other favorite receivers are playing on television. But lately, he also finds himself drawn to the cornerbacks covering them.

His future, he said, is on defense.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I'm going to get better and hopefully become a dominant corner."

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