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Grootegoed Remembers How to Run

October 20, 2002|Rob Fernas | Times Staff Writer

Having the ball fall into his hands was one thing.

When USC linebacker Matt Grootegoed also realized he had an open field in front of him after making the first interception of his college career, he couldn't believe his good fortune.

"I was like, 'Oh, my gosh. I'm going to have a touchdown here,' " he said.

But the running skills are not quite what they were when Grootegoed was a two-way standout at Santa Ana Mater Dei High. After returning the ball 49 yards, he was driven out of bounds by Washington quarterback Cody Pickett at the Husky 26.

Grootegoed's interception set up an 11-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Mike Williams, giving the Trojans a 24-point lead in the third quarter en route to a 41-21 victory. Grootegoed caught the ball after it bounced off receiver Patrick Reddick, who wasn't looking for Pickett's quick slant pass.

"I was hoping he would have caught it, then I would have got a hit on him," Grootegoed said. "But it popped up and I just happened to be right there.... It was a weird feeling, since I haven't touched the ball in three or four years."

Grootegoed touched the ball plenty during an All-American senior season at Mater Dei in 1999. He played running back and some quarterback in addition to anchoring the defense at safety. But he has played strictly defense at USC, switching from safety to strongside linebacker in fall camp last year after redshirting in 2000.

On his interception, Grootegoed ran along the sideline until Pickett closed the angle on him.

"I should have cut back," he said. "But I opted just to run out of bounds. The running back skills are lost, I think."

His defensive skills remain sharp, though. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound sophomore entered the game leading the Trojans in tackles and added three Saturday.


Strong safety Troy Polamalu returned to the USC lineup after sitting out a game because of a sprained ankle and had his first interception of the season.

Showing no ill effects from his injury, Polamalu made several cutbacks during his 33-yard return to the Washington 12. The interception was the sixth of his career and set up a field goal that gave USC a 34-7 lead late in the third quarter.

"For some reason, I really didn't feel it then," the senior said of the high sprain on his right ankle. "I let my emotions take over.... I think it was the energy of having the ball in my hands for the first time this season. It's always fun to run the ball."

Polamalu aggravated the injury breaking up a pass in the fourth quarter and took himself out of the game. Afterward, he said he was fine and expects to play Saturday at Oregon.


Tailback Justin Fargas secured USC's victory with a 13-yard touchdown run up the middle with 3:23 to play.

It was the fifth-year senior's first touchdown as a Trojan and the second of his injury-riddled college career.

"I was kind of hungry for that one," said Fargas, who scored for Michigan as a freshman in 1998. "I saw the end zone and smelled it a little bit."


Ryan Killeen was shaken up after kicking a 30-yard field goal in the second quarter that gave USC a 17-7 lead. He had the wind knocked out after teammate Alex Holmes accidentally ran into him. David Davis kicked off after the play, but Killeen returned and made a 33-yard field goal in the third quarter. ... USC receiver Kareem Kelly tied a Pacific 10 Conference record by catching a pass in his 42nd consecutive game. The senior shares the mark with Dennis Northcutt of Arizona (1996-99) and Oregon senior Keenan Howry, who tied the record Saturday against Arizona State.... Washington tailback Braxton Cleman caught a school-record 15 passes but for only 69 yards.


Former quarterback Pat Haden was among 24 inductees into the sixth class of USC's Athletic Hall of Fame, announced at halftime Saturday.

Also inducted were: Football--Nate Barragar, Paul Cleary, Marshall Duffield, Grenville "Grenny" Lansdell, Jim Sears, Stan Williamson and Richard Wood; Track and field--Ken Carpenter, Lillian Copeland, Howard Drew, Clarence "Bud" Houser, Fred Kelly and Dallas Long; Volleyball--Debbie Green; Basketball--Tex Winter; Baseball--Steve Kemp; Tennis--Dick Leach and George Toley; Swimming--Mike Nyeholt and Murray Rose; Administration: Gwynn Wilson and Don Winston; Sportswriting--John Hall.

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