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USC REPORT

Return Is His Ticket to Big Time

September 20, 2002|Gary Klein

Hershel Dennis expects to return a kickoff against No. 25 Kansas State on Saturday and show, for the first time, the open-field speed and moves that made him one of the most highly recruited players in the nation last fall.

Dennis, a freshman running back, returned seven kicks for touchdowns at Long Beach Poly High.

Auburn did not kick the ball to Dennis in the opener. Last week against Colorado, he fielded a kickoff deep in the end zone and took a knee for a touchback.

"I should be getting one this week," Dennis said Thursday. "I do what I do best with the ball in my hands, starting off in open space where I can make things happen. I can't wait till I get my first opportunity."

Dennis gained 32 yards in five carries and caught a pass for four yards in last Saturday's 40-3 victory at Colorado. Coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Norm Chow see Dennis as the heir apparent to senior Malaefou MacKenzie, a running back who catches the ball out of the backfield.

"I like that role, especially following Malaefou," Dennis said. "That's what NFL teams are looking for too. They like that Marshall Faulk type.

"I just try to have a good practice every day. Whatever comes at me, I'm going to do it."

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Kansas State quarterback Ell Roberson, who rushed for 119 yards in 21 carries in last season's 10-6 victory over USC, did not play last week against Eastern Illinois because of an undisclosed injury. Marc Dunn started and helped the Wildcats to a 63-13 victory.

Dunn and Roberson are expected to play Saturday, and Carroll said he would not be surprised if Roberson plays another position such as wide receiver.

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Tight end Gregg Guenther, who caught three passes and recovered a fumble against Colorado, said he hopes to build on that performance by improving his blocking against Kansas State.

"My blocking against Colorado wasn't as bad as I thought," he said. "But that's an area that is always going to be a challenge for me."

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Running back Sultan McCullough took limited repetitions during practice and wore an icepack on his left foot afterward. McCullough, who gained 110 yards against Colorado and scored on a 62-yard run, said a teammate accidentally stepped on his foot. McCullough said he would be at full strength for Kansas State.... Defensive tackle Shaun Cody has a sprained right ankle but will play Saturday. Carroll said Mike Patterson, Bernard Riley and LaJuan Ramsey could be rotated between tackle and nose tackle if Cody is slowed.... Senior Zach Wilson will start at right guard, Carroll said.... David Davis, who missed an extra-point attempt and had a field-goal and extra-point try blocked against Colorado, held off a challenge from Ryan Killeen and enters the Kansas State game as the No.1 placekicker.

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