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Nazel Isn't Just Talk

USC REPORT

December 29, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Senior defensive end Omar Nazel spent part of Sunday playing the role of an aspiring broadcaster during the Rose Bowl's official media day.

Later in the afternoon, the vocal Nazel proved he was worthy of an expanded role in USC's game plan against Michigan by demonstrating aggressiveness and stamina in what Coach Pete Carroll described as the Trojans' last major competition drill before the Rose Bowl.

"I think [coaches] may have underestimated my conditioning," said Nazel, who was cleared to play on Tuesday after having a pin removed from his right thumb. "I feel good about what's going down."

So does Carroll, who also serves as defensive coordinator.

Nazel, a two-year starter, sat out the last three games of the season and the majority of bowl preparations after having what was thought to be season-ending surgery.

Before Nazel was cleared to play, Carroll seemed pessimistic about Nazel's return and said he would adopt a wait-and-see approach about his ability to contribute against the Wolverines. But Nazel, wearing a cast on his right wrist, was impressive in his first practice Friday, took another step Saturday and made a leap Sunday.

A clearly elated Carroll said sophomore Frostee Rucker would start Thursday's game, but Nazel "would play quite a bit. He'll be a normal part of the rotation."

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Junior linebacker Matt Grootegoed, who has torn ligaments in his left ankle, made it through an entire practice for the first time in weeks and pronounced himself ready to play against Michigan.

"I can function," Grootegoed said. "I feel I could definitely back somebody up and play in the game."

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Senior offensive lineman Eric Torres said he would not play in the Rose Bowl and would have surgery on his right foot for the second time in a year a few days after the game. Torres broke his ankle in the Orange Bowl last season and saw limited playing time this season while trying to come back from major reconstructive surgery.... The Trojans will attend a taping of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

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