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Allmond Turns Corner at USC

Aggressive style works well on the field for former receiver, but a lack of self-control almost cost him dearly

September 10, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Marcell Allmond displayed aggressiveness and a fighting spirit almost from the moment he arrived at USC.

On the field it served him well. Off the field, it nearly cost him his career.

In the 1999 season opener at Hawaii, Allmond, then a freshman receiver, caught his first pass from quarterback Carson Palmer. A moment after Allmond had gathered in the ball, a Hawaii defender grabbed Allmond's facemask, ripping the helmet off his head.

Unfazed, Allmond kept moving and gained nine yards.

"I just lowered my shoulder and got hit by three guys," Allmond said. "Something in my head said, 'Keep running.' "

Allmond, now a 6-foot, 200-pound senior cornerback, does not intend to exact revenge upon Hawaii receivers when the pass-happy Warriors play the fourth-ranked Trojans on Saturday at the Coliseum.

Allmond, 22, still prides himself on the aggressiveness that helped him earn a starting position for the final seven games last season. But he said this week that he'd learned compelling lessons about self-control after USC suspended him from school for the fall semester in 2001 because of his involvement in a series of violent off-the-field incidents.

Allmond sat out the 2001 football season and said he was readmitted to USC the following spring only after completing an anger-management class, consulting with a psychiatrist and performing community service.

"It's a big awakening," Allmond said. "You see what you can lose.... I had to show them I could come back to school and behave."

Coach Pete Carroll, who took over the Trojan program in December of 2000, said Allmond had conducted himself without incident since returning in the spring of 2002.

"I've heard stories, when he was kind of the hothead and all that, but he has been very disciplined about stuff and never had any issues at all," Carroll said.

Talent was never an issue for Allmond, who starred at Santa Fe Springs St. Paul High and also was the nation's top-ranked junior decathlete.

He started three games for USC at receiver during his freshman season, and started the first five games in 2000 before breaking his leg against Arizona.

The following spring, Allmond punched another USC student during a fight at an off-campus cafe. During the summer, he was accused of scuffling with an opponent during a weekend basketball game on campus and was reported to university officials. He also was accused of hitting another student during an argument on USC's fraternity row.

"I can't really blame it on anything," Allmond said. "I was just being stupid. I was young and dumb."

A university panel heard testimony from witnesses and suspended Allmond from school in September 2001.

"I experienced the trauma of having your career taken away from you just in a flash. I'm thankful for that," Allmond said. "That and Coach Carroll switching me to defense -- obviously that's been basically the turning point in my career."

When USC lost starting cornerbacks Kris Richard and Chris Cash to the NFL after the 2001 season, Carroll said he suggested Allmond's move to defense because of his size, speed and makeup.

"He was real athletic and had an aggressive attitude about him that made you think he could be a defensive player," Carroll said.

Allmond jumped at the opportunity to deliver hits rather than absorb them. Greg Burns, who coaches the defensive backs, said Allmond was a willing pupil from the start during spring practice in 2002.

"It was transition for him -- it's totally different running forward like a receiver and running backward like a defensive back -- but he's determined and very coachable," Burns said. "He took to it with open arms."

Allmond's emergence was delayed when he was hit by a car while walking near campus before training camp began last year. When he returned, he practiced for two days, then was hospitalized for a week because of a staph infection.

He played in a few games as a reserve, even with a fractured right wrist, before moving into the starting lineup in the seventh game against Washington. Allmond intercepted his first pass against UCLA.

"At that point, I felt I could let loose," he said.

Allmond opened this season as the only returning starter in USC's secondary. He helped the Trojans shut out Auburn in the opener and intercepted a pass during last week's 35-18 victory over Brigham Young.

"The thing I like about Coach Carroll's defense is, it gives you the freedom to play," said Allmond, who also returned a kickoff 30 yards to set up USC's game-clinching touchdown drive against BYU. "He gives you the freedom to be yourself on the field and loves you to be aggressive."

Allmond said his off-the-field problems were behind him and that he had paid his dues. However, he added, he still performs community service on his own and attends anger-management classes once or twice a month as well.

"I met a lot of friends in there," he said. "And a lot of them are USC fans."

Carroll expects that Allmond's size and aggressiveness will translate well to the NFL, though his future could be determined by how well he runs at scouting combines.

"It's tough to find big corners," Carroll said. "He could match up with big guys and not be outsized."

Allmond said he would be prepared for the opportunity.

"That's the next step," he said. "After we win the national championship."

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