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Full Throttle

After injuries cut down their fullbacks last season, Trojans hope to have a healthy Havili to enable them to use their passing offense the way Carroll and Sarkisian want

August 29, 2007|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

USC fullback Stanley Havili poured through his playbook during training camp, breaking only for meals, meetings, practices and. . . dominoes?

"You have to think at both games," Havili said of the activity favored by many Trojans players. "At dominoes, you're going to get hit with points. In football, you're going to get hit by a linebacker if you mess up."

On a team that features a Heisman Trophy front-runner at quarterback, a seemingly endless list of tailbacks and a stable of talented receivers, Havili's health and fitness is of paramount importance for the top-ranked Trojans, who went through fullbacks last season seemingly faster than a Nicole Richie jail sentence.

Brandon Hancock, Ryan Powdrell and Havili all suffered season-ending injuries by the end of the third game, leaving USC without its signature pass-catching threat at the position.

"It really kind of took away a dimension of our offense that we like to rely on," offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said.

Havili is fully recovered from a broken leg and, as the Trojans prepare to open their season at the Coliseum against Idaho on Saturday, he is being counted on to evolve along the lines of Malaefou MacKenzie, Hancock and David Kirtman. All three former fullbacks provided the Trojans with highlight-reel plays as receivers.

After rushing for 1,500 yards and amassing 1,000 yards receiving as a high school senior at Cottonwood High in Salt Lake City, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Havili appeared to fit the mold.

It is a mold that has changed at USC during the last two decades.

Sam Cunningham, Mosi Tatupu, Dave Farmer and Lynn Cain were Trojans fullbacks in the 1970s. Ricky Bell and Marcus Allen also played the position before moving to starring roles as tailbacks.

"That was a different era," said Cain, an occasional practice visitor. "The fullback blocked and ran the ball a lot more."

Under former offensive coordinator Norm Chow, MacKenzie in 2002 gave the Trojans a new wrinkle as a receiver out of the backfield. Hancock, with his speed, took it another step, and Kirtman acrobatically brought it to its current state.

Havili did not require a hard sell to give the position a try.

"I realized you have to be one of the most versatile players on the field," he said.

Havili hoped to play as a freshman, but he understood that Hancock and Powdrell were more experienced.

Then the carnage began -- and those dominoes fell fast and hard.

First, Hancock injured his knee in training camp.

"I'm thinking, 'Man, you know what? I might be playing sooner than later,' " Havili said.

In the second game against Nebraska, Powdrell suffered a broken ankle.

"When he went down everyone was like, 'Let's go Stanley, you might get in.' But I didn't that game," he recalled.

However, Havili began working with the first unit during practice the following week and was in the starting lineup for the Pacific 10 Conference opener at Arizona.

Early in the second quarter, as he tried to block a linebacker, another linebacker accidentally kicked Havili's left shin. Havili got up in pain, headed for the sideline, got taped and continued playing.

Later, he caught a swing pass and heard a pop.

"When I got up I kept hearing a cracking, popping sound," he said. "Coach [Pete] Carroll was on the sideline telling me to just go down onto the ground."

Havili did not realize it at the time, but his season was over. So was the fullback pass-catching threat.

Former walk-on Mike Brittingham, Jody Adewale, tailback Allen Bradford and linebacker Thomas Williams all started games at the position.

"We have all kinds of cool plays that just diminished out of the game plan because we just didn't have the personnel," Carroll said.

Despite Havili's return, the Trojans remain thin at fullback. Adewale gave up football in the spring, but was coaxed back by the coaching staff. Junior college transfer Adam Goodman and freshman Jordan Campbell are learning the system.

Havili hopes to carry the load, but his goal -- that first domino -- is modest after last year.

"I just want to stay healthy," he said.


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