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Justice Says He's Not Considering the NFL

March 26, 2004|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

USC offensive lineman Winston Justice will almost certainly miss the 2004 season for violating the school's student conduct code, but the two-year starter said Thursday that he was not considering turning pro.

"I can't see myself playing anywhere else," Justice said in a telephone interview. "Right now, I can't see myself being anything but a Trojan.

He added: "I'm not ready yet" for the NFL.

Justice, a 19-year-old sophomore, was ruled ineligible for spring practice and has been suspended from school since his March 3 arrest on suspicion of felony assault with a deadly weapon for a February incident that occurred near campus.

On Wednesday, the city attorney's office filed three misdemeanor counts against Justice, accusing him of exhibiting a replica firearm. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Also on Wednesday, USC's Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards informed Justice of its disciplinary action.

USC officials do not comment on student conduct proceedings, citing confidentiality issues.

On Thursday, Justice declined to discuss the specifics of the incident that led to his arrest and the punishment he received from USC, though he confirmed that he remains suspended from school. He said he had not decided whether to appeal the school's disciplinary action.

Justice would be ineligible to play next season if he does not pass two classes.

"I'm just trying to get through it the best I can," Justice said. "I can't hold any grudges. I just made a mistake and I'm trying to get through it."

Justice, who is on probation after pleading no contest in July to a misdemeanor count of solicitation of prostitution in Long Beach, said he wrote a letter of apology to an administrator in USC's Office of Student Affairs after his latest arrest.

"I apologized for the incident even happening," he said.

Justice also said he met a few times with a counselor.

"I think it was very helpful," he said.

In 2001, Marcell Allmond missed the season after he had been suspended for a semester by a USC panel for his role in a series of violent off-field incidents. He returned to school and played cornerback in 2002 and 2003.

USC, which began spring practice March 6, worked out Thursday for the first time in nearly two weeks. Coach Pete Carroll said the university had not informed him about Justice's status.

"I've been told how to answer the questions, which is I can't comment on the situation right now," Carroll said after practice.

Kyle Williams, a redshirt sophomore, continued to work with the first team at right tackle in place of Justice, who would have been an All-America candidate next season.

"A lot of guys around the locker room, the offensive lineman are like, "Yeah, I miss Winston. I wish he was here,' but we're moving on," Williams said.

Several players and coaches said they expected Justice to turn pro rather than redshirt and possibly return for the 2005 season.

Justice, who is listed at 6-feet-6 and 300 pounds, acknowledged that he had explored the possibility of turning pro after former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett won a landmark decision that made all underclassmen eligible for the NFL draft. Former USC receiver Mike Williams took advantage of the ruling and petitioned by the March 1 deadline for inclusion in the April 24-25 draft.

"I was curious, but there wasn't anything serious," Justice said.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said underclassmen who did not meet the March 1 filing deadline would not be eligible for the April 24-25 draft. He said players applying for the league's supplemental draft, which is usually held in early to mid-July, are deemed eligible on a case-by-case basis.

Carroll, speaking generally about young players, said he does not encourage a jump to the NFL.

"I always think about the locker room -- it's just a different level of conversation and concerns and focus," Carroll said. "It's not a young man's, a teenager's game. That's not the world that they're in."

Senior tackle Shaun Cody encouraged Justice to remain at USC.

"If I was him, I think I could wait it out," Cody said. "He's a young player and he has a lot to learn and a lot to develop. I would definitely come back, but it's his decision."


Carroll said freshman receiver Fred Davis and senior defensive lineman Van Brown missed practice because of personal reasons.... Incoming freshman offensive lineman Jeff Byers of Colorado, who has been in Los Angeles since Sunday, continued to acclimate himself by watching practice. "I'm looking at it as a business trip more than anything," said Byers, who returns home Monday. "I wish I could put the pads on right now."

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